Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup

A Glitterbeat Records Double-Bill:-

Liraz ‘Roya’
(Glitterbeat Records) 7th October 2022

With one foot on the nostalgic dance floors of, a pre-revolutionary, Tehran, Cairo, Beirut and Tel Aviv, and another, sweeping a fantastical Persian landscape, pop princess Liraz oozes passionate yearns and diaphanous delivered protestations on her third album, Roya. In the adopted Farsi-tongue that title translates as ‘fantasy’. And this latest harmonious Israeli-Iranian traverse has plenty of it; swirled in vaporous whispers, veils and the airy across matinée romantic swoons and the yearning.

It’s a fantasy in the fact that Liraz has once more recorded an album in a clandestine manner, with musicians from Iran in Istanbul – a flavor of that city’s age-old cultural wellspring is evident in the music. Out of the shadows of Tehran’s secret police and having to remain anonymous, this form of fantasy imagines peace throughout the Middle East and good relations specifically between Liraz’s ancestral Iranian and adopted Israeli homes. The daughter of Sephardic Jews who left Iran at a time of cordial relations with Israel, in the time since, both countries have locked horns in a both cold and hot war. Although being Jewish in what was once the heartlands of the atavistic Persian Empire has never been exactly easy, with persecutions going back generations and a millennia or three. And so the ensemble cast of ‘tar’ lute, wasp-waisted wooden Iranian flute, viola and violin players and voices have taken a big risk in fraternizing and making an album with an Israeli citizen; especially one of Jewish heritage. It probably doesn’t help that Liraz also starred as a Farsi-speaking Mossad operative in the semi-successful Apple TV espionage series Tehran. And in light of the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, demonstrations and civil unrest is being met with extreme violence and subjugation by the state. We could even being seeing the catalyst of regime change, with talk of what comes next, power and administration wise, daring to be aired and seriously challenged by a more liberal generation of young Iranians: such has been the outcry.

As an actor, now in the role of her life, Liraz builds bridges across those barriers as she imagines and retells in song the stories and yearnings of women silenced in Iran, banned from singing. A union is formed between a life and ancestry she can only be a part of in the Iranian diaspora.

Musically this translates into exotic sweeps, bouncy and retro disco zapped pop with a Middle Eastern suffusion of familiar panovison framed fantasies. With a swell and weeping of moving strings it could even be a musical reference to the classical strained beauty and lament of the Eastern European Jewish community – although Liraz’s ancestry is connected to the Iberian Sephardic Jews.

The album’s bookended by two versions of the title-track. The first is a lifting of veils Arabian Kate Bush, galloping up that hill of sand, the second, a tearful, stripped of electronics traditional and classical-bowed farewell. Between those points there’s an incredibly voiced stirring of disco, pop, psychedelic and Middle Eastern fusions; the near-halcyon against retro throwbacks to more liberated freer times in the region. Yet all thoroughly invigorated, refreshed and given a suitably contemporary electric feel.

Contouring the piques and lows there’s a dance of disco-funk (with even the fuzz whacker-whacker buzz of Fred Wesley & The J.B.s) and kitsch Franco-Arabian pop, soulful longing and Moroder-esque synth-electro pop. Liraz is all the while the perfect enchantress or moving vocalist, with a beautiful voice, cadence and articulation.

By far Liraz’s greatest adventure and sound, this is a fantasy with an all too real, alarming undercurrent of suppressed voices, forced to go underground in the act of creating some magical pop music. Please venture further than the myopic pop cliques and commercial output of the UK, America and Europe, as Roya is a stunning, sublime electro-charged album imbued with a myriad of forbearers from the Iranian, Egyptian, Turkish disco, psych, funk and balladry scenes of better times.    

Tau & The Drones Of Praise ‘Misneach’
(Glitterbeat Records) 21st October 2022

The second in a Glitterbeat Records double-bill and another fantasy-inspired spell of ancestry and magic, Seán Mulrooney’s led Tau & The Drones Of Praise band reconnect with their Celtic roots.

A return to an Ireland of myth, fables, enchantment and allurement, Mulrooney and his core of foils Robbie Moore (who also recorded this, the band’s third album, at the Impression Studios in Berlin), the TindersticksEarl Harvin and Iain Faulkner (who ‘helmed additional recording at the Sonic Studios in Dublin’) are bolstered further by a large cast of musicians and voices. None more congruous and influential to the overall Celtic feel as the new age misty Irish veiled Clannad, who lend Damien Dempsey and Pól Brennan to this ensemble piece of folk and beyond theatre and reconnection.

Like a Mummers troupe, a merry procession, this harmonious bunch pay reverence to the tree spirits; homage to the ancestors; and fall at the feet of enchantress muses. With a concertinaed air of Breton, a Men Without Hats vibe and a singer who sounds like an Irish Michael Stipe or Alasdair Roberts, they invoke nature’s children making amends with the evergreen sprites on the opening, and brilliant, chorus call of alms, ‘It Is Right To Give Drones And Praise’.

From then on in we’re pulled into a world and across timelines: from atavistic Ireland to the Medieval, Georgian and Present. Old traditions via the folk-psych of The Incredible String Band, Pentangle and Sproutly Smith merge with the already mentioned misty-mystique of Clannad – but also their former ethereal siren Enya too –, The Polyphonic Spree, Flaming Lips and Octopus. Although the group’s lasting message and finale, ‘Hope’, reminded me of both Echo And The Bunnymen and The Mission. An atmosphere of bucolic wistfulness and idyllic idling prevail as the rhythm and soft marches change between the dreamy and courtly, the folksy and anguished. Always melodious in whatever realm, there is however a moment on ‘The Sixth Sun’ when the beautiful if longed female choral voices swim against a more wild, dissonance of noise. But that is the exception. Yet despite the challenges, the history Misneach (from the Old Irish lexicon, it translates as ‘courage’ and ‘spirit’) is a fantastical wilding, droning mélange of Celtic influences, the psychedelic, ancient and folk. And at its heart is a story of reconnection and an environmental yearn.

And A We Jazz Double-Bill:

Carl Stone ‘We Jazz Reworks Vol.2’
(We Jazz) 21st October 2022

Three years on and out the other side of the pandemic, my favourite contemporary jazz label is releasing a second volume of “reworks”.

The Helsinki label, festival and magazine has once more opened up its back catalogue to reinvention/transformation, inviting in the reputable and noted American artist/electronic composer Carl Stone to work his magic on another chronologically ordered stack of ten albums from their growing discography. Inaugural guest Timo Kaukolampi of K-X-P fame conjured up an ambiguous cosmic mix of We Jazz’s first ten albums on Volume 1 of course. And now Stone likewise takes familiar phrases, riffs, rhythms and performances somewhere entirely new and out there. Although both exciting and equally daunting, overwhelmed by a sizeable chunk of material at his disposal, Stone favoured intuition and feel over everything else. That process (re)works wonders as the already experimental and brilliant music of acts and collaborations like Terkel Nørgaard (his album with Ralph Alessi), OK:KO (Syrtti), Jonah Parzen-Johnson (Helsinki 8.12.18) and traces of 3TM, Ilmiliekki Quartet, Peter Eldh and Timo Lassy & Tappo Mäkynen are sent out towards the stars, expanse or morphed into gauzy states of untethered freeform hallucinations.

The opening circular-wafted peregrination ‘Umi’ is more like a mirage of snozzled and snored saxophone cycles, undulated piano and space vapours: Pharaoh Sanders, Donny McCaslin transmogrified by Brown Calvin on the edge of the Milky Way.

A suffusion of drifted, woozy and more hysterical horns, submerged double-bass runs and noodling sporadic and more rhythmic rolling, crescendo drums and ghostly tinkled, hazed piano is handled differently on each track. On the quickened to slow counterbalance timed skiffle and stuttered ‘Sasagin’ Zorn and Haas skit-scat and dream with Tortoise on the NYC underground jazz scene of the 80s, whereas the strange ‘Hippo’ sounds like some kind of Baroque holy ritual piece as reimagined by some kosmische act on Sky Records.

The action is often chaotic and in freeform discourse: like Chat Baker on speed or Oscar Peterson running out of notes. Yet somehow these transformations keep moving in the right direction; finding a rhythm and even a touch of melody on occasions. Avant-garde, free jazz, the cosmic and electronic converge on another alternative vision of the We Jazz catalogue. Stone creates some incredible, even beautiful, experiments; probing the ether, void and hyper-stellar realms of his imagination.

Say What ‘S-T’
(We Jazz) 7th October 2022

Shrouded with a certain mystery, the second We Jazz label release this month is tight-lipped in the information department. There’s very little to go on other than that this was a never to be repeated, existing just at that specific time in that arena (Austin, Texas’ Sonic Transmissions festival), performance, the trio’s defacto leader and saxophonist luckily names his bassist and drummer partners on this wild, contorted free jazz with a punk and no wave attitude recording. The Black Myths partnership of Luke Stewart and Warren ‘Trae” Grudup III join forces with our unnamed saxophonist across riled, spiritual funking, post-rock and avant-garde frenzy growled, swinging and dynamic performances. Taking no breaks, but sorted into seven Roman numeral marked tracks, the obviously versatile/talented trio turn our idea of jazz music inside out.

With the welcoming pleasantries out of the way we’re straight out smacked-up with a badass merger of Miles’ The Last Septet whomp, the sinewy rage of a wrangled Fugazi and the whelp, wail and manic expressive experiments of Roscoe Mitchell doing ‘Ornate’ doing Ornate Coleman, Sam Rivers and The Chicago Underground. That’s only the opening number. It gets even more free range and hysterical with Stewart’s blurred bass slides, crazy frictions and thick-stringed scuttles and slippery entanglements up against Grudup’s splashes, crescendos, tight rolls, slips and smashes all growing ever more experimental and probing.

Track ‘III’ finds a sort of strut and attitude with sax toots, trills and stresses over a busy drums and gnarly bass. It changes from a warped Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Zappa to something approaching the spiritual. That spiritual, almost oboe-like sax carries over into track ‘IV’, like some kind of Pharaoh Sanders Egyptian odyssey. But then Stewart descends his instrument like a scratching spider, sliding in tandem with Grudup’s quickened drumming until both synchronize in a quivered blur before imploding.  

With some of these parts running to well over thirteen minutes in length, it’s an incredible energy that keeps the gig continuously moving and bursting into the purely psychical. Say What enters and exits on a high; an energetic, moody and powerfully adroit expression of riled-up tensions, rage and the explorative. One of the best slices of jazz you’ll hear all this year. 

Aucoin ‘Synthetic: A Synth Odyssey Season 1’
19th October 2022

Given an enviable access to The National Music Centre in Calgary’s extensive archive of rare and historically iconic synthesizers, Rich Aucoin as artist-in-residence models the first chapter in an ambitious seasonal project.

 A Synth Odyssey Season 1is the maverick composer’s latest magnum opus; a four-part work released in six month intervals over the next two years.

Such ventures have been tried before, although a decade ago with his debut album proper, the orchestral rocking We’re All Dying To Live, which included untold collaborators. Ten years on with a grand project interrupted by the Covid pandemic, the first fruits of his synth palace residency are about to be released.

Originally conceived and let loose in 2020 on a synth collection that features such prized and cult apparatus as the Supertramp-owned Elka Rhapsody 610 String Machine, the ARP 2600, Selmar Clavioline CM 8 and Oxford Synthesizer Company Oscar (analogue boffins’ wet dreams), the pandemic restrictions, lockdowns and such put the project on hold. In the meantime, Aucoin carried on producing film scores, most notably for the No Ordinary Man documentary about the trans-masculine jazz musician Billy Tipton. Picking up again in 2021, he was finally able to finish this wonderful synth cosmology.  

No doubt enthusiasts will know every waveform, arpeggiator, knob-tweaking signature but as a handy guide of a sort, some of the tracks on this inaugural seasoned album are named after the synths used in the process. It all starts with the multitimbral polyphonic analogue synth, the TONTO (or ‘The Original New Timbral Orchestra’). On the opening suite it turns from a moody kosmische shimmer into a more upbeat Orbital acid dance track. During that transformation you can pick up the German New Wave, early Warp and R&S Records. 

A bit later on and it’s the turn of a Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments company synth – named after its Californian innovator Don Buchla. In this capacity it sounds suitably retro-futuristic, crossing towards a cosmic void on fanned rays, orbiting bit-crush handclaps and bobbing synth tom rolls.

Elsewhere Aucoin slips into, or surges towards moments of EDM euphoria, Vangelis peregrinations of gravitas, simmered techno, electro and House music – especially on the female vocal N-R-G club track ‘456’. However, the vapourous, prowled and cinematic ‘Space Western’ theme teleports a Moroder vision of the Blood Meridian to a venerated chorus Arrakis.

Sophisticated and well crafted throughout, these aren’t so much experiments or synth showcases as hopeful and more moody traverses and cerebral dance tracks. Iconic synths are given a contemporary feel both playful and adroit, a balance of both serious knowledgeable musicianship and welcoming levity. I look forward to next season’s accomplishments in the field synth escapism.  

Montparnasse Musique ‘Archeology’
(Real World Records) 7th October 2022

What was a chance encounter on the busy Montparnasse-Bienvenüe subway interchange has led to a far wider Pan-African sonic adventure. From Paris to mother Africa, the sophisticated dance music production of South African House DJ Aero Manyelo and his foil, the French-Algerian producer Nadjib Ben Bella, transforms the street cultural electronic and more traditional sounds of the continent for a congruous fusion of collaborative polygenesis energy and warmth.

Wiring into the various electrifying movements of the D.R.C. and South Africa, the burgeoning duo met and worked with the leading lights of Kinshasa and Johannesburg. Members from such trailblazing combos and collectives as the Kasai Allstars, Konono No. 1, Mbongwa Star, Bantou Mentale and Kokoko weave, bob and express themselves over and to the attuned but deeply felt synthesized House beats, Acid burbles and squelches, polygon Techno evocative vapours, and pulsating dance music.

The familiar sounds of Congolese rock-blues-soul guitar, voices both earthy and pure, the lilt of sunny joy and a constantly moving assemblage of African percussion meet synthesised, sub-bass throbbing and zapping electronica in a almost perfect synchronicity.

At times it reminded me of Khalab’s similar African productions, at others, like a remixed Francis Bebay, some Clap! Clap! and Four Tet. The Menga Waku featured ‘Makonda’ evoked the early Detroit House and Techno scenes of a toned-down Kevin Saunderson, whilst the following, more moody, piped and experimental ‘Plowman’ (featuring the voice of Cubain Kaleya) had me thinking of Black Mango. However, all things change on the sand dune Arabian fantasy score ‘Chibinda Ilunga’, which moves to Northern African and a romanticised, mysterious Bedouin court; the music more like a film score, or Finis Africae traversing a trinket-percussive and synthesised Arabia.    

Whatever the methodology the results are as welcoming as they are entrancing, with a pathway formed towards the dance floor. Archeology is neither an ethnography-type dig or revived language of sonic forms, but a lively and inviting great fusion of Congotronics, more traditional sounds and the European club scenes. Definitely an album for the end of year lists.

   

CAN ‘Live In Cuxhaven, 1976’
(Mute/Spoon) 14th October 2022

1976 the year of the bandy reggae waltzing, discothèque probing Flow Motion album, and CAN’s only bonafide hit, ‘I Want More’. It’s also a treasure trove year of bootleg material if Youtubes anything to go by, with countless live dates across Europe and the UK.

Almost two albums into their 1975 contract with Virgin, recording wise, the Cologne band were loosening up with a sound that moved ever closer to world music fusions and even the commercial: well, of a kind. Not universally a welcoming move with diehards and the head community however, the results were mixed at best. Performance wise, in concert, CAN still riffed off an admirable, innovative and experimental legacy, right up until the end of that year.

Although no gig is the same, you can find transformed, explorative version jams of material that stretches right back to the Galactus sported Monster Movie debut. Popping up like a signature anthem, ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ from the 1974 space-programmed trip Soon Over Babluma appears as a staple groove and prompt on the latest, and third, CAN Live album. Officially sanctioned by the band’s Spoon and Mute label custodians, this previous sneaky bootlegged recording captures them on stage in the German (Lower Saxony to be exact) seaside town of Cuxhaven, on the North Sea coastline – as a bit of useless trivia, its twinned with, amongst others, the English port town of Penzance.

I don’t think this time, like previous bootlegs, it was recorded by the sadly, recently, departed Andrew Hall, who’s handed over a bounty of such material to CAN’s sole survivor Irmin Schmidt and producer/engineer René Tinne to be brushed-up and mastered to acceptable aural pleasures. But why the need for this bootleg series? Well, as I lay out in previous CAN Live reviews, the band were always victims of bad luck when attempting to record any sort of official, legitimate “live” album performance. Gremlins in the works – once failing to record someone’s entire part – the technical glitches meant that there was never a proper live CAN record as such. Mind you, this was a band that more or less played live in the studio setting, making albums out of countless hours of extemporised or improvised sessions. And, as I’ve already said, CAN never quite played the same thing twice, let alone an entire set.

Here on the ’76 special you will hear a once more transformed, in-the-moment vision of tracks from Future Days (‘Bel Air’), Soon Over Babluma (‘Dizzy Dizzy’, ‘Splash’, ‘Chain Reaction’) and Landed (‘Full Moon On The Highway’). There may very well be even traces of Tago Mago, and the yet to be released, Flow Motion albums too in that heady mix.

Across four Germanic-numerical sections it’s the lunar, wailed, bendy, squalling whacker-whacker guitar contours, licks, chops and phrases of Michael Karoli that win out. Ten Years After blues meets the whomp-whomp of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew live band and the psychedelic, Karoli transforms familiar album cut riffs into fuzz-scorched, garbbled, loose and seared cosmic acid rock magic.

Other live performances from the same year include far more vocals, with Karoli having to take over after the departure of the mushroom haiku incanting Damo Suzuki after Future Days. Here his barely audible enervated whispers can just about be detectable during one bout of locked-in grooving.

Keyboards chopping aviator Schmidt offers up another suitable chemistry of the celestial, tubular and avant-garde, going as far as to start laying down something approaching gospel, or Southern Blues on the first track, ‘Eins’.  As always, Jaki Liebezeit keeps that human metronome ticking, holding flights of fantasy, tangents and spacey ascendance all together with his impeccable sense of rhythm and time. Dare I say, he ventures into funk at times, and during part of track ‘Drei’ bobs and rattles out a tin and bottle percussive Latin-soul passage: the sort Santana would happily embrace.

Unfortunately I couldn’t hear all that much of the designated bassist Holger Czukay; it’s there but very much lost against a louder Karoli, Schmidt and Liebezeit, the frequencies a bit foggy.

Still, this is yet another example of a band in total synchronicity, no matter how wild or off the beaten tracks the direction taken. Though to be honest, this is nowhere near CAN at their wildest or avant-garde, nor most dynamic and interesting. In fact the performances are a little more composed and tight. Not disappointing, just not so amazing.

A different time, a different version of CAN, Live In Cuxhaven offers yet another side to the feted band; a bridge towards Flow Motion for a start. It will be interesting to see what follows: my own particular interest being their expansion of the lineup and the Saw Delight album period.  

Puppies In The Sun ‘Light Became Light’
(Buh Records)

A slow release of maximalist energy and cosmic explosions the Puppies In The Sun duo conjure up a big sound on their debut album, Light Became Light.

Buddies since childhood back in Peru, but serendipitously crossing paths a longtime later in Barcelona, Alberto Cendra and Cristóbal Pereira made base camp together in Rotterdam. But despite the European-wide travelling it’s the great universal void and expanses of space that they’ve chosen to sonically navigate and transcend, with just the use of a drum kit, apparatus of synths and open mind.

The notes, quotes however mention the duo’s noise rock credentials, which despite a lack of any guitar or bass is nevertheless present on these peregrinations, vortex hyper-drives and odysseys.

Locked in to each track of starry wonder and languorous crescendo, the pace of direction is often in slow motion. Dissipated crashes and rolls, slow dives and frazzled oscillations head towards the explored and unexplored realms of Mythos, Embryo, Adam’s Castle, LNZNDRF, Angels Die Hard and the Secret Machines. Although the N-R-G pumped ‘Raging’, They Came To Dance’ sounds more like Cabaret Voltaire and FSOL at a space cowboy hoedown.     

Space is deep, as Hawkwind once aggrandised. And so it is too on this light travelling discover of a big-sounding kosmische. Krautrock, prog and controlled noise rock score.  

Spelterini ‘Paréidolie’
(Kythibong) 4th October 2022

Named in honour of the 19th century Italian tightrope walker, Maria Spelterini, who’s death-defying stunts included numerous handicapped (blindfolded, manacled or with weighted peach baskets strapped to her feet) walks across the Niagara Falls, the quartet Spelterini pairing of Papier Tigre and Chasusse Trappe members do a bit of their own tightrope walk on this new peregrination and driving motorik long form performance. Keeping balanced whilst straddling modes, chapters and movements, Pierre-Antoine Parois, Arthur de la Grandière, Meriadeg Orgebin and Nicolas Joubaud embrace kosmische. Krautrock, psych and the esoteric on a continuous, thirty-five minute opus. 

After the phenomenon in which the brain creates optical illusions of familiar faces or shapes where there is only abstraction, “Paréidolie” progresses from hymnal drones and rays to something far more haunted, uneasy and razored – the notes reference the Lynchian (think the most recent Twin peaks series return mixed with The Land Of Ukko & Rauni era live documented Faust). And so, incipient and building from the kosmische and reverent ambient the direction begins to drive towards rhythmic and totem ritualistic evocations of both Embryo and ‘Rainy Day’ and later Just Us/Is Last Faust (them again). This in turn sees a real physical weight start to embody the hypnotising knocks, hi-hat scuffs and beat.

Elements of The Velvets, avant-garde, France and Neu! all get drawn into the pummeled march before the portal opens up a far more ominous world of shadows, metallic abrasions and bestial industrial squalls. It’s Bernard Szajner holding a cosmic séance with Emptyset and Jóhann Jóhannsson if you like.

That alien leviathan suite passes as a reverberated cacophony of percussion shimmers and splashes away until a final crescendo-like beat of a thousand butterfly wings. 

Spelterini mystify and invoke a locked-in rhythm across a half hour of probed illusion, disillusion and inter-dimensional abstraction. Imbued with krautrock they magic up an impressive drum and drone journey. 

No Base Trio ‘II’
(Setola di Maiale) 14th October 2022

It’s a port we at the Monolith Cocktail have seldom sailed to, but Puerto Rico boasts an impressive contemporary jazz scene; one that the adroit and accomplished No Base Trio endeavor to export to the global community.

In the field for twelve years as a unit, horns and EWI practitioner Jonathan Suazo is flanked by the versatile guitarist Gabriel Vicéns and drummer Leonardo Osuna on another intuitive, fully improvised work of free jazz, jazz rock, fusion and beyond.

A grandiose, nigh two hour extemporized septet of performances – recorded the day after a highly successful concert at the El Bastión in Old San Juan – work II finds the trio in perfect synchronicity ready to probe and venture forth with atonal, tactile and juddered rhythmic explorations.

Across passages that last over twenty minutes in length, the recognisable jazz elements are stretched, repurposed and entangled in various bendy mirages and naturalistic atmospheres as ascending and descending patterns and more serialism type abstract musicality takes shape.

Suazo moves between flighty flute and windy spiraled alto/tenor saxophones like some sort of expressive natural force, caught up in mysterious soundscapes that evoke both fertile environments and more arid landscapes. Vicéns guitar accents, twangs and nimble finer work reminded me a little of the South American jazz guitarist Rodrigo Tavares, and on ‘ST 4’, a little bit of Ry Cooder articulating a mysterious psychedelic desert setting. Osuna’s drums meanwhile, sound out the tribal, spiritual and freeform, often sophisticated, quiet and spindled, or, taking time to find a rhythm. In action, all together, the trio varies the mood from the more abstract and avant-garde to built-up dynamic tumultuous climaxes: that translates as croaked and plectrum scratched guitar and industrial detuned sounds on ‘ST 2’, and a Hobby Horse meets head-on with Irreversible Entanglements in a rock-jazz crescendo squall on ‘ST 5’.    

Each track is like a score in itself, cast adrift of a subject, theme or visual inspiration; a mix of jazz with various percussive influences and sources that swings between Buh label outsiders to the ACT label, Donny McCaslin, an avant-garde Americas and Ornate Coleman. It’s an impressive album of synergy that manages to probe the wilds without bombast and total dissonance; kept together at all times with the most intuitive of unsaid musicianship and deft foresight.          

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ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Can ‘Live In Brighton 1975’
(Spoon/Mute) 3rd December 2021

From the highly experimental and omnivorous German legends, who once proclaimed ‘all gates’ are ‘open’, another ’75 special from the ongoing Can “live” series.

Plagued by gremlins when attempting to record their own concerts, it’s been largely down to the bootleg head community of fans to make this latest series in the Can archive release schedule possible. They couldn’t possibly have known it at the time of course, when smuggling in their rudimental equipment, but these clandestine recordings now form the foundations of this live cannon. Tidied up and processed under the watchful eyes of the group’s only surviving founding member, Irmin Schmidt, but left mostly unedited and flowing (that includes leaving in all the downtime quiet breaks and the audience shout outs: I’m sure that bloke from the previous Stuttgart live volume is back at it again, heckling out “Amon Düül!”), these improvised live recordings capture both a band in a constant state of flux yet still attached to what many Krautrock aficionados would call their “golden period” of the early 70s. In this case, at this time on the live album that means a grand cosmic and drum hurtling transformation of ‘Vitamin C’: the closet it gets to a Can standard. The main guitar riff and shadowing bass, if a bit more languid, and Jaki Liebezeit’s bounce remain but that Ege Bamyasi classic is sucked, vacuumed up into a galloping dark star for this Brighton audience. If you happened to love this version above all other at the time, tough, as they never played the same track in the same way ever again.

It must be pointed out at this stage that there’s no date or venue listed, only that it’s Brighton 1975. I’m sure it’s not the same concert but live versions of ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ and ‘Vernal Equinox’ (both reoccurring Can peregrinations in the live catalogue) appear on the millennial-approaching Can Live Music: 1971-1977 compilation. The lunar, Michael Karoli hushed ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ appears here too, albeit the familiar “Got to get up/Got to get over it” lyrics and essence of the original appear fleetingly, immersed in a climatic star burst of heavy pummelled kick drum, proto-reggae gangly chops (bit of Afro-rock feel too) and bended, mooning solo guitar wanderings. The ridiculously sublime experiment in acid celestial magic ‘Vernal Equinox’ also appears in various altered states; unleashed in a solar rock jam that also puts out feelers to the daemonic psychedelic parts of Tago Mago and takes on the more outlandish freeform live playing of ELP and a leaderless Miles Davis Band of the whomp, heavy psych jazz era in the 70s. Possibly seen showcased on a 1975 transmission of the Old Grey Whistle Test (if you haven’t viewed that incredible footage, please seek it out) this epic odyssey formed the grand finale of side one on the group’s Landed album, released in the September of 1975.

Although it’s difficult to spot, the Landed album’s signature appears scattered throughout these seven live performances. Landed but also the emergence of the more relaxed swimming and liquid rhythms and bobbing that would be heard on Can’s next studio album proper, Flow Motion, can be detected as sonic bridges, connections to past psychedelic, avant-garde triumphs. You can also hear the resonating reach of Soon Over Babaluma and Future Days in that heady mix: An apparitional glimpse of ‘Bel Air’ here, a Hammond horror mystery from Tago Mago there.

An interesting period in Can’s history is represented in the year when Cologne’s greatest exports released their first album, Landed, for the Virgin label; a stipulation of which resulted in a studio upgrade for the group: more tracks to play with, greater separation, and a better sound quality didn’t necessarily mean better music though. And the studio albums during this period, as excellent as they are in my opinion, seldom make the top five lists of Can triumphs. Yet live, and even without their previous mushroom haiku chanting and wailing vocalist Damo Suzki (leaving the band after laying down vocals on the sublime Future Days album), they could still match their earlier days of exploration, improvised on the stage. 

Here in the Brighton recordings you can hear sonic worlds collide. Proton waves and radiating organ lines from Schmidt’s box of tricks build atmospheres around a stargazing funk (imagine Funkadelic’s mother ship landed in the Inner Space studios) and sonorous and craning, aching ascending Holger Czukay bass lines on the opener (just marked down as the numerical ‘Eins’) whilst a rewired vision of ‘Moonshake’ gets turned on by a more soulful Floyd, reggae and what could be a taste of ‘Hunters And Collectors’.  Telephone dialled bells, generators, haunted fairground creeps and an impressive barrage of drums all get sucked into deep space on the off-script ‘Drei’. Bendy, luminous, transcending and in interstellar overdrive, Can lock-in to their untethered, leaderless sense of place and time; remixing their own ideas in real time whilst probing sonic possibilities and stretching the imagination. The Brighton live tapes prove to be a congruous shadow of the previous Stuttgart recordings, released just a couple of months ago. Yet both live albums spotlight entirely different performances; proving the old Can adage that you never hear the same band twice: a lesson for all musicians. If proof were ever needed of Can’s appeal, venerated worship and incredible musicianship then the Brighton live album will make converts of us all.

The Can Archives on the Monolith Cocktail (Further Reading):

Monster Movie

Soundtracks

Tago Mago

Ege Bamyasi

Future Days

Soon Over Babaluma

Landed

Saw Delight

The Lost Tapes

Live In Stuttgart 1975

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

ALBUM REVIEW/PURVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Can ‘Live In Stuttgart 1975’
(Spoon/Mute) 28th May 2021

It’s 1975 and Cologne’s lauded cosmic couriers of omnivorous experimental rock Can are beamed into the living rooms of an unsuspecting late-shift British audience, tuned into whispering Bob Harris’s presented Old Gray Whistle Test. The hippie on flying saucer oscillating keyboards is wearing Barbarella’s chainmail, and the Teutonic mustachioed Asterix character on bass is dressed like a biker gang mime-artist sheriff, as the quartet conjures up both a mystifying and explosive tumult vision of ‘Vernal Equinox’: the Landed album’s peregrination epic sonic set piece.

For many this will have been the ‘moment’; their first “what the fuck’ exposure of a band already seven years into a career that generally remained underground, confined to the ‘heads’ until ’72 and the relative successes of both the Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi albums and the single ‘Spoon’ (which sold 300,000 copies after featuring as the signature theme for the popular German television thriller Das Messer).

It’s 1975 and a time of change, new horizons as it were, for Can. Signing only the year before for the hippie Svengali Richard Branson’s Virgin label, the first few months of ’75 were spent, in between touring, recording the group’s sixth studio album proper, Landed. Following in the lunar radiance of Soon Over Babaluma, Landed marked a number of alterations. For one thing they brought in Olaf Kubler, who’d fallen out big time with Amon Düül II’s John Weinzierl, to perform swaddled sultry and squawking prompt tenor saxophone (namely on the ‘Red Hot Indians’ album track) and asked their friend and author journalist Peter Gilmour to co-write the album’s opening track ‘Full Moon On The Highway’, and the more languid, sedate ‘Half Past One’.

The direction of that album is almost glam, Floydian and polished in contrast to earlier records. In part this was down to certain stipulations in the record contract, with an upgrade in recording apparatus that made it possible to use more multi-tracking and break the band’s cardinal rule of overdubs. Yet Landed, caught between rosy-lipped avant-garde Weimar hedonism and a strung-out, scuzzed Roxy Music, still had its share of incredible cosmic adventures: The already mentioned Alpha 77 vessel emitting ‘Vernal Equinox’ for one.   

It’s 1975 and Can are still without a talisman vocalist figure, after losing the jazz beat lost poet Malcolm Mooney and mushroom haiku incanting Damo Suzuki (leaving after 1973’s Future Days opus). Can experimented amongst their ranks, usually pushing forward their gifted, transportive guitarist Michael Karoli to preen, issue lulled and breathless languid vocals.

In one of the most unlikely episodes from rock’s back pages Can are said to have trailed the idea of inviting the troubled American folk troubadour Tim Hardin to front them. He lasted all of two gig dates in the UK during the November of ’75. Though its rumoured he was never formerly asked, nor even realistically considered for the role, he managed performances at the Hatfield Poly and the Drury Lane Theatre before spectacularly falling out with his German partners: a bust-up that’s said to have involved Hardin throwing a TV set at a car window – look out! The fatalistic folkie was after all a former marine. With too much ‘Peking ‘O’ for his own good, Hardin would eventually succumb to his heroin addiction: taking an overdose five years later.

It’s 1975 and Can take to the stage in Stuttgart; never once believing that forty-six years later the fruits of that freeform jam would eventually form the contents of the record you now have in your hands (if you’re lucky); the first official sanctioned live Can album proper.

It’s now 2021 and Can custodians Spoon Records in conjunction with Mute are set to release later this month the most anticipated album in the group’s history since the mind bending Lost Tapes archives in 2012.

Live In Stuttgart 1975 is the inaugural release in a series of saved and reconditioned live albums; the source of which derived from bootlegs provided by Can nut Andrew Hall – just when you wait fifty odd years for one live album, along comes a whole series of them; though don’t expect anything to turn up from the band’s inaugural years in the late 60s. 

It worked out rather fortuitous for Hall, as Can’s own attempts to record their live concerts were constantly fraught by technical fuck-ups: not just gremlins, but Gizmo pissing in the works. Rob Young, author of a recent sanctioned tome on the band and linear notes contributor on this record, informs us of a litany of such failed attempts: In ’72 at the legendary concert at Cologne’s Sporthalle a mobile recording unit outside the venue succumbed to fickle technical glitches, leaving only the poor sound quality of camera mics inside the arena to pick up the performance (quite poorly as it transpired), and in Edinburgh in ’73, whilst really making an effort to capture their first live album venture, the multi-track recordings had completely failed to pick up Karoli’s visionary prodigious guitar playing.

Run through a modern technical wringer as it were by the band’s only remaining founder member Irmin Schmidt, and producer/engineer René Tinner, that forty-six year old performance now sounds anything but an artifact; lifeless and dull. Scrubbed up well, in good shape, Can’s ’75 live peregrinations still echo a future that hasn’t arrived.

In five parts, Can riff, take to town set pieces that seem to make some connection to, and transform the Landed album material. There’s also glimpses in the more baggy, loosened quasi-reggae gait parts to what was to come: the group’s next album for Virgin, Flow Motion for one, but also ‘A Spectacle’ from the even later self-titled album of ’79. The Stuttgart recordings however pull you in with the incipient worldly intergalactic soul-funk opening jam, which travels light years from Schmidt’s crystalized Gallo cathedral rays to Persian exotic meanders and Cosmic Slop era Funkadelic jiggle and sway grooving guitar riffage. Within that theatre of amorphous influences you can pick up hints also of Landed’s ‘Red Hot Indians’ and the ethnography alchemist traverses of Saw Delight (another release on the Virgin slate). Funk chops, a sort of whomp like bass and Jaki Liebezeit’s chuffing steam locomotive metronome come barrage drum rolls, all builds towards one of Can’s famed (as Young calls it) ‘white drawf’ sonic meltdown moments, nicknamed ‘Godzillas’. It’s a stoned, gauzy vibe that’s similar to the bootlegged University Of Essex concert material.

The audience, who seem a pretty polite lot, clap in appreciation at this display of acid-rock and beyond, as Can now slip into a more sauntered groove vision reminisce of the ‘Future Days’ and ‘Bel Air’ moiety and the Landed tracks ‘Hunters And Collectors’ and ‘Half Past One’ (albeit via John Peel’s legendary sessions version). On this second interstellar syncopation voyage, Schmidt’s keyboards apparatus actually threatens to take off; oscillating like a UFO towards the Forbidden Planet.

The third venture offers up light dappled square waves and quivers and a more relaxed bluesy psych guitar meandering from Karoli (bordering on the Grateful Dead and even Quicksiliver Messenger Service) before building up towards an erratic polka turn cavalry charge of drums and primal heavy rock.

Stirrings of fellow cosmic explorers and compatriots Ash Ra Tempel mingle with Pink Floyd and Santana on the leviathan space craft circling fourth installment of this live thrill – that same spaceship sounds like it goes onto ditch into an entanglement of sonic distress.

Like a paranormal Fugs the finale part of this live vision drums up some esoteric spooks (walking across ghost house floorboards) and primal avant-garde boogying. It all begins with a sonorous foghorn, a rumble and strange but lovely cascaded waltz. Yet after various changes and noodling lands back in the crypt. The whole set is an example of relaxed intensity. 

I’d proffer that this was a more loosened, sagacious Can at the height of their prowess; still inventive yet held and concentrated in exploring the ever-widening boundaries of experimental rock music and beyond. You can hear Can searching for that next leap into the unknown however; never quite breaking with the United Artists epoch, and in between the total embrace of the more languid, tropical wash and reggae of Flow Motion, and the worldly Saw Delight albums. Still, only four years away from packing in touring completely, the Stuttgart Live recordings are as close as any of us will ever have got to experience Can’s full-untethered force of Sci-Fi acid rock on stage. It just seems so crazy that we’ve had to wait so bloody long for it!

Can Archives At The Monolith Cocktail:

The Lost Tapes (here)

Monster Movie  (here)

Soundtracks  (here)

Tago Mago  (here)

Ege Bamyasi  (here)

Future Days  (here)

Soon Over Babaluma  (here)

Landed  (here)

Saw Delight  (here)

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.

Dominic Valvona’s Reviews Roundup

The Invisible Sessions ‘Echoes Of Africa’ (Space Echo) 29th January 2021

The very first sounds you hear on the long awaited follow up to The Invisible Sessions last album in 2006 are those of an aircraft touching down on the runway, somewhere between a straddled geography of Lagos and Addis Ababa. From then on in those compass points of inspiration permeate the collective’s first album for the newly launched Space Echo imprint.

An odyssey across the motherland, The Invisible Sessions instigator Luciano Cantone (also the co-founder of the Schema label) is joined by the multi-instrumentalist and trombonist Gianluca Petrella, poet, rapper/MC, lyrist Martin Thomas Paavilainen, and a host of respected players on this respectful homage to African music, culture and consciousness. A congruous display of riches, from Egypt 80 Afro-beat epiphany to trinket shimmering spiritual jazz, the extended ranks of this group benefit from the stirring spindled and spun weaving of the Gambian kora maestro Jalimansa Haruna Kuyatech and the rhythm setting Ethiopian drummer and percussionist Abdisa “Mambo” Assefato.   

In the intervening years, busy with other projects, running a label and sow forth, Cantone has taken note of all the world’s ills and woes, from BLM to the climate change emergency: two themes that dominate what is a loose drift, limped and brassy heralding strut through the continent’s rich musical heritage. Ethio-jazz, and more specifically, the vibraphone spells, reverberations of the iconic Mulatu Astake inspire tracks like the bandy, bendy guitar lolloping reggae gait motioned ‘Journey To The East’, the more quickened, sprouted ‘Breathe The Rhythm’, and the Addis Ababa version of The Shadows casting dreamy vibrato and twanged shapes over the city ‘Entoto’.  Elsewhere it’s a fluency of Kuti and Tony Allen that is suffused throughout the simmering upbeat ‘West Island’ and funkier, skipping, knowing ‘Pull The Handbrake’. Both of which also evoke hints of Orlando Julius and The Heliocentrics recordings.

It’s soul music that sumptuously seeps into the tunes with either a conscious stream of narration or repeated silkily voiced enforced message of social commentary action. In that mode there’s the Issac Hayes in Africa, or even a touch of Curtis Mayfield and The 4th Coming, echo-peddle dreamy ‘Ideas Can Make The World’, the Undisputed Truth affirmation, horns rising ‘People All Around The World Can Make It’, and Gil Scott-Heron (at a pinch), earthly plaint ‘Mother Forgive Me’.  Paavilainen is joined in his loose style of spoken wake-up calls, despair and half-sung laments by fellow stateside vocalist Joyce Elaine Yuille, who shadows, harmonizes and wafts along.

A conscious ark of funk, jazz and soul; a homage and thank you to a continent that has heard, inspired Cantone and his sparring partners, Echoes Of Africa is a travelogue of protestation, spiritualism and love performed by a most impressive tight unit of African music acolytes. 

Don Cherry ‘Cherry Jam’
(Gearbox Records) 26th February 2021

On his way to becoming the restless musical nomad of jazz lore, the mid 1960s Don Cherry was already well acquainted with Scandinavia, especially Denmark. The burgeoning trumpeter and cornet star played in the country’s capital of Copenhagen in ’63 with Archie Shepp, and in ’64 with Albert Ayler before returning in the pivotal year of ’65 to record a quartet of original and standard performances for Denmark’s national radio station.  Though often dismissed by cats like Miles Davis for a lack of technical proficiency, Cherry’s constantly evolving visceral style had gained him an envious apprenticeship, partnering up as a foil to a litany of be-bop, hard-bop and free jazz doyens: from Sonny Rollins to John Coltrane and Ornate Coleman, appearing in the pioneer’s groundbreaking Shape Of Jazz To Come quartet of ’59.

Just a short time from releasing his first album as band leader – the “landmark” Complete Communion for the prestigious seal-of-approval Blue Note – Cherry once more found himself in the northern European hub of jazz, collaborating in a jam session mode with the Danish pianist Atli Bjørn. It was this set up and communal that attracted local attention, leading to the session recordings that until recently lay dormant in the radio station vaults: only ever heard when first broadcast over the airwaves in ’65.

Those sessions was collected together as the Cherry Jam EP by Gearbox Records;originally for Record Store Day. Now in 2021 and to tie-in with the recent opening of offices in the land of the jazz obsessive collector, Japan, the label is making this record more widely and worldly available – previously part of the Japanese Edition series that GB launched exclusively for the far east.  

Mastered from the original tapes and showcased in the label’s customary well-furnished style and linear notes, this four track EP is neither wholly rehearsed nor spontaneous in the way it sounds; capturing as it does a still reasonably tethered Cherry, yet to completely immerse himself in those out-there traverses and world fusions.  

Working with the Danish quartet of tenor saxophonist Mogens Bollerup, double-bassist Benny Nielson, drummer Simon Koppel and the already mentioned, and future Dexter Gordon foil, Bjørn on piano, Cherry toots, pipes, trills and spirals through a trio of his own compositions and the Broadway legend Richard Rodgers alternative, sassy stage ballad ‘You Took Advantage Of Me’.

In an expressive, playful mood Cherry and his troupe provide a disarming, bluesy rendition of ‘The Ambassador From Greenland’ – written by Cherry in his youth. Too light to be bumbling, there’s a certain hang low like noodling, descending feel to this one. The sax and cornet almost override, bump into each other at certain moments, with even a few muffed notes and a piano style that moves between stage and striking, struck high notes.

The second Cherry original, ‘Priceless’, has a bop-like swing to its jamming candor. Duel horns contort, swan and blurt as the drums bounce and double-bass runs away with it. Everyone gets at least a spotlight opportunity on a track that sends the listener back to NYC. ‘Nigeria’ is the most obvious example of Cherry’s Marco Polo spirit of embracing international sounds: a more freely flowing bluesy performance that saunters along to Afro-Cuban influences.  

To finish it off, the cover of Rodgers stalwart theatre number is soulfully handled, the playing like a sort of mating-call serenade: a dinner jazz sorbet.

There’s nothing especially dynamic about this captured performance, but as a lost recording chapter in the development of Cherry’s time in Denmark and his craft it is an intriguing link in the story; and a testament to the icon’s abilities in the run-up to his first album as a band leader.  

Omar Khorshid ‘With Love’
(Wewantsounds) 26th February 2021

It seems there were few styles the dashing and tragic Middle Eastern hot-trotting Omar Khorshid wouldn’t weave into his Egyptian imbued guitar-led music; from the cinematic to rock and roll, Arabia to the giddy spindled Hellenic chimes of Zorba the Greek.

As it would seem in the land of his birth, most of Egypt’s stars diversified as matinee screen idols, singers, musicians for hire, and Khorshid was no different; pursuing a career in the film business before dying in a motorbike accident at the age of only 36, in 1981 – apparently speeding down Giza’s El Haram Street, his pillion passenger, the third of four wives, Dina miraculously surviving the head-on collision with a pole.

Born in 1945 and wasting no time in picking up the violin and piano, it would be a third instrument, the guitar that would make him famous. By the mid 60s he had attracted wide attention as part of the Western-influenced, pop(ish) act Les Petits Chats, invited to play with fellow compatriot and legend Abdel Halim Hafez, who in turn led him to the country’s most celebrated, accomplished and rated of divas, Umm Kulthum.

A new decade brought civil and international strife for Egypt and its neighbours: war with Israel, the oil embargo. Khorshid upped and left the homeland for the Lebanon in ’73, where he began recording records for the Voice Of Lebanon and Voice Of Orient labels. As peace was finally agreed between Egypt and Israel later that decade, the Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadet invited the roaming guitarist to play at the celebrations that came after the famous Camp David peace treaty, taking part at the White House. For a brief time during that same period he hopped over into Syria, where he acted and soaked up even more musical influences, before once again returning to his roots in ’78: the year that this instrumental classic, now remastered and reissued for the first time on vinyl by those Arabian specialists Wewantsounds, was originally released.

A rich tapestry of Egyptian and extended Arabian fusions, With Love offers up a serenade and desert-romance camel led caravan of transformed timeless cover versions from some of the regions greats. Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s ‘Ahwak’ in the deft hands of Khorshid sounds like some undersea enchantment with its mermaid-like sung aria high quivers and submerged production. But then just when you think you have this song pegged, this beautifully ethereal composition suddenly comes up for air in a sort of Joe Meek version of Egyptian rock and roll.  

An interpretation of Farid El-Alrache’s ‘Hebbina Hebbina’ (a favourite we’re told of Eno), with its tambourine trinkets, heavy flange and galloping tremolo, could be an Arabian Shadows. Whilst the Rahbani Brothers‘Rahbaniyat’ slides towards rattled hand drums, synthesizer laser bobbing Arabian disco.  

I’ve already referenced that famous Greek signature evocation, ‘Zorba’, which Khorshid plays with dizzying skill, spindling that original into a sort of mix of Anton Karas zither and an old fashioned fairground ride. Unfamiliar as I am with much of the remaining material, ‘Habibati’ saunters and trots between romantic thriller and a Wurlitzer matinee soundtrack, and ‘Beyni Ou Beynak puts vibrato siren like spooks amongst cult Italian 60s cinema.

Almost at odds with the times it was made, yet ahead in adopting subtle hints of synth and Western musical influences, this gift from the Egyptian icon swoons in and out of the decades that preceded it. With Love is a dreamy fantasy of balladry, surf-y twanged cult rock and roll and film scores; an Arabian adventure amongst the sand dunes and Cairo discothèques that serves as a showcase for an artists able to flip between Mambo, music hall orchestration, the blues and even psychedelic. A tribute to an Egyptian musical innovator that can now, at last, be yours to own.

His Name Is Alive ‘Hope Is A Candle: Home Recordings Vol.3’
(Disciples) 12th February 2021

His Name Is Alive with the sound of beatific abrasive reversals on the third such collection of untethered incipient sonic renderings from Warren Defever’s creative process archives. Part of a much wider survey of the prolific HNIA appellation Detroit artist, producer, engineer and remixer that now includes (with this latest volume) a trio of albums of home-recorded developing material, Help Is A Candle features much of the nucleus of music that was duplicated on the “infamous” tape that first caught the ear of Ivo Watts-Russell, leading to a seven album run for the 4AD label in the 90s. Elements of which were reworked for the album Livonia: the title a reference to his birthplace in Michigan.  

Circulated in a bootleg form for many years, Defever now showcases this archival scrapbook of sonic ideas in a new light; remastered from the original tape reels so that the quality now shines through.

Guides, impressions and slowly, gently unfolding, the candle light is never in danger of blowing out as atmospherics and ascending tones emerge from blessed post-punk ambience and industrial, coarser reverberations. You’re going to hear many comparisons to both This Mortal Coil and The Cocteau Twins, and that’s more than fair. But much of this material remains cut adrift of either example, neither dissonant nor vaporous. Traces and lingers of familiarity offer a semblance of Daniel Lanois, Eno, and the collection’s most caustic, sharpened knife cutting reversal of dark matter, ‘Halo’, evokes a vision of a fuzztone Hendrix as lead guitarist in The Telescopes. 

Murky, lurking moods sit alongside tingled enchantments and even country music ragas, as hints of rattled, transformed hand drums, spindled zither-like spiritual crystal shimmers, slapped and crying, waning bass guitar and mechanical tic-tocking devices resonate.

Envisioned as his very own Reichian Music For 18 Musicians, though falling short at the first hurdle having few friends let alone 18 to enact such a grand scale performance, Defever instead contributed to developing a rafter of music scenes off the back of his 80s home recordings. You can hear the seedlings, inspiration in the work of artists as diverse as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dean Blunt, Inga Coupland and Land Observation. It’s no wonder he was on Bowie’s radar and playlist.

Following on from All The Mirrors In The House and Return To Never, and part of a greater light shedding exercise in evaluating, elevating Defever’s formative experiments, Hope Is A Candle is subtle and minimal. This album points the way to some of the more developed pieces in the series. It works though as a showcase for the visions to come; tracks that you can take a lot away from; tracks that evoke; tracks to mull over.  

Camera ‘Prousthuman’
(Bureau B) 19th February 2021

Third, fourth generation disciples of Krautrock, the decade-old Berlin instigators of “guerilla” tactic performance art-rock Camera once more shed band members for a new intake (well, partly) of idea-bouncing reciprocators on the fifth studio album, Prousthuman.

With all the connotations and baggage that title’s titan of prose holds, the newest conception of the trio thrash, jerk, limber and lollop through familiar influences in the Teutonic cannon. Anchored by the only original, remaining, founding member Michael Drummer, Camera moves away from the dual keyboard dynamics of the previous album (Emotional Detox) for a more squealing, flange and phaser swirled new wave, psot-punk and even C86 guitar suffusion. Drummer, who unsurprisingly is the band’s drummer, but also weighs in on the guitar riffs, ropes in the composer and musician Alex Kozmidid as a six-string sparring partner. To finish this trio off and informally first joining Camera for their 2017 USA tour as a performance and video artist, Tim Schroeder unveils a talent for the synth.

Locked down in self-isolation for at least some of the recording sessions and jams for this latest Krautrock replica, the trio’s methodology and process has obviously been affected by the raging pandemic. Rather then claustrophobic, the latest chapter contorts or glides out of confinement in the search for space, room. Even when coming on like the sound of Island Records ’79 new wave meets the Gang Of Four, Wire and Neu! on the opening guitar squall and no-wave disco hi-hat action jam ‘Kartoffelstampf’ (that’s “mashed potatoes” in English).

They’ve already changed the timings and mood style by the album’s next track, ‘Alar Alar’; bounding to a stretched quasi-dub gait that also features the drifting melodies of something Egyptian or Turkish: plus loads of dial bending Kosmische fun.

It’s a soundtrack that weaves motorik Klaus Dinger with the solo Kosmische scores of his brother Thomas; the Au Pairs with Sky Records’ greats; Dunkelziffer with Holgar Czukay; and Faust radio broadcasts with Cluster and early 80s Tangerine Dream soundtracks. Though at its most spiky, wrangling and fuzzy, tracks like the buzzy ‘Schmwarf’ mash NIN with Kriedler and Can. Skying in synthesized harpsichord mirrored circles, grinding out a submerged woozy and gauzy dream envelope, and tuning into old frequencies, Camera emerge from their basement studio and the pandemic with a brilliant and knowing post-punk-krautrock-kosmische trip. 

Mapstation ‘My Frequencies, When We’
(Bureau B/TAL) 26th February 2021

A second album on the Bureau B imprint roster this month that benefits from and taps into the Hamburg label’s ever-expanding catalogue of Kosmische and neu-electronica explorers: even some of the form’s progenitors, from Roedelius to his early foil Conrad Schnitzler. Both of these doyens can be heard permeating this, the 8th album under Stefan Schneider’s Mapstation alias, the former, prolific soloist and co-founder of the Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc and mini Kosmische supergroup Harmonia, Roedelius even paired up with Schneider for an eponymous entitled collaborative album in 2011: A very congruous union as it turned out.  

The Düsseldorf artist and label honcho (running the Tal label) channels that Kosmische first, and second, generation influence on a highly sophisticated minimalist traverse if Sci-Fi, futuristic and tubular metallic looping and warping environments. An album for the times we find ourselves in – at least methodology and production wise -, for the first time in years Schneider flies solo. This stripped down, undulated pulsing and rhythmic album is marked by an absence of collaborators and guests.

Simplification is key it seems, with Schneider aware that the intensity of some of his past productions may have got lost in the enthusiasm to add too many instruments and sounds. My Frequencies, When We then is very considered sparse production of lo fi futurism; rich with reverberations, signals, squelches and the chiming acid-techno rings of early Warp Records, 90s Seal Phuric and Kreidler; even touches of Matthew Dear and a stripped Boris Dzanck. 

On the opening mused ‘No No Staying’ Schneider adds Eno-esque hushed voices to a pared down form of techno. Whilst tracks like ‘My Mother Sailor’ evoke images of Tangerine Dream standing in front of a large patch bay apparatus, plugging leads into various holes as gaseous and reversed loops swirl around them. Elsewhere you’ll hear the motor buzzing hum and throb of Affenstunde era Popol Vuh, synthesized bells, 808 drum machine pre-set percussion, slithered electronic magnetics and Schneider’s whispered underpass anxieties about the, now distant, movement, bustle of cities.

I’d suggest that Schneider has found a good balance in creating intensity, and setting moods with a more sparse, minimalist intelligent sound. Lean but just as expressive, this new Mapstation album might be amongst his most sagacious and sophisticated; a coming together of various strands in the electronic music sphere that soundtracks the current emptiness and unsure atmospherical moods of the present.

Julia Meijer ‘The place Where You Are’
(PinDrop Records) 26th February 2021

A consolidation if you like of recent singles and the self-titled song from the debut album, Always Awake, the Swedish singer-songwriter and guitarist’s latest EP seems a good opportunity to catch up with Julia Meijer’s tactile songbook.

From glacial enormity to the more intimate; the hymnal to indie-pop; Meijer has proved a very interesting artist over the last few years, and this showcase offers a full oeuvre.

The glimpse into a dream EP opener is sparse but full of depth and moving atmospherics. It’s a lushly conceived slice of folk and pop, with Kate Nash-esque tones and an air of Fairfield Parlour about it. Next we have the first of a couplet of singles to feature ex-Guillemot and regular foil Fyfe Dangerfield. ‘Under Water’ is submerged in a suffusion of both lulling and sighed harmonies, dreamy undulations (again) and splashes of cymbal. The song melts between two rhythm signatures on a snorkeling meditation beneath an aquatic expanse.

Scandinavian illusions are cast on the EP’s third song ‘Skydda Dig’; a song originally even more intimate, performed as a solo live that’s now given a steady and minimal augmentation by guests, guitarist Andrew Warne and bassist Jamie Morris, who actually turns to the keyboard for this recorded version. A protective plaint theme wise, Julia’s Swedish evocation resonates with haunted sorrow and almost otherworldly trembles as turns over a sort of late 80s, early 90s, American indie riff.

The finale, and second song to see Julie accompanied by Dangerfield, ‘The Place Where You Are’ expresses loss to an ebb and flow of subtle organ and Irish folk lament.   Beautifully conceived as ever, flowing between a never world of dreams and indie guitar music reflections, Julia’s latest showcase serves her talent for experimenting without the loss of melody and songwriting craft well. I recommend you seek her back catalogue out.

Obay Alsharani ‘Sandbox’
(Hive Mind Records) 19th February 2021

Finding solace and escapism in equal measures in the colder Baltic air of Sweden, Syrian migrant and beat-maker Obay Alsharani, forced to leave behind the chaos of an imploding homeland, takes in the awe and beauty of his Scandinavian refuge on the debut album Sandbox.

For despite a background in composing lo fi productions of dusty Arabic samplers under the Khan El Rouch moniker, Obay now reaches out into more glacier tonal ambient soundscapes; finding sanctuary in icy snow-covered and woodland gladded environments on an album geographically remote from the heat and sandy horizons of the Middle East.

It’s good to hear a success story in the convoluted tumult of the Syrian crisis. A decade on from the civil war that has now engulfed almost the entire region, and grown into the most complicated of proxy wars, Syria’s ruling Bashar al-Assad regime may yet collapse due to an economic fall out prompted by neighbouring Lebanon and the catastrophic failure off its government and banking crisis. As it stands, and now with the global pandemic just another tier of burden upon a region and population that’s suffered beyond any of our imaginations, Russia now has that foothold it always wanted on the Mediterranean coastline of Syria; Turkey has widened its own borders, unopposed in threatening the Kurds in the south, who are fighting for autonomy; and ISIL have been all but beaten, with fragmenting survivors scurrying away to spread panic and their death cult into Eastern and Central Africa. Those resistance groups that grew from the oppressive clamp down by the Syrian government remain in small clusters, holding on, whilst Iran without its nebulous mastermind and death-bringer general Qassim Suleiman, remain in the area holding up Bashir’s regime.

The fallout has resulted in eye-watering numbers of displaced people, with more than six million Syrians forced into neighbouring safe havens or further overseas into Europe and North America. Obay gained a lifeline himself through a scholarship in Sweden, leading to an extended period of stay in refugee accommodation in the far north of the country. After finally gaining a permanent residency, Obay was able to resume his music, whilst also experimenting with visual art (providing the colourful-feedback cover art for the limited edition cassette format of his debut album).

Branching out sound wise, Obay now captures the breath-taking spectacle and calmness of his new home. Literally, those breath-chilled winds of the far north can be heard channeled through often majestic, gliding and crackled static textured ambient suites: all of which evoke a certain stillness and sense of spaciousness. Less sandbox and more Artic, frozen tubular and piped notes, haunted but lovely church music and icicle-like droplets drip, drift and are cast across a snowy pine-covered land as the Northern Lights shimmer and play with the refractive light overhead. ‘Release’ evokes a far breezier scene though, out on the porch of some woodland cabin, with birds chirping away in the noisy movement of branches and leaves. Added to this weather recording are glassy piercing bulbs of synthesized music and what sounds like a lingering electric-organ. From coarser static grains and blowing, to soft bellows and concertinaed wisps, and even a bestial landscape of unidentified wildlife, Obay subtly creates a moving scenic and reflective study of a very different horizon to the one that he was forced to abandon. It sounds as if the Syrian beat-maker turned assiduous composer has at least sonically found a semblance of solace and a safe environment in which to reflect and heal. Music almost as therapy, Sandbox without any context is really just a deeply affected fine example of minimal and ambient mood music: A most beautiful conception.

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

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

University Challenged ‘Oh Temple!’
(Hive Mind Records) 29th January 2021

A cosmic couriers union of transcendent, experimental and Kosmische scions the University Challenged play-on-words entitled trio of Ajay Saggar, Oli Heffernan and Kohhei Matsuda make their 2021 debut on the adroit and carefully curated Hive Mind imprint. Synonymous for its eclectic output of global releases, with albums by the late doyen of Moroccan gnawa music, Maalem Mahmoud Gania (and his son, Houssam Gania) plus volumes dedicated to Indonesian Jaipongan and the Atlas Mountains electric music of Moulay Ahmed El Hassani, Hive now expand their already amorphous perimeters to include this expansive cosmic egg of an opus.

Bringing together the holy guitar trances and dreamwave of Bhajan Bhoy and Deutsche Ashram instigator Saggar, the prolific maverick behind Ivan The Tolorable, Heffernan, and the Japanese nosieniks Bo Ningen band member Matsuda for a convergence of ambient, entrancing, dubby, psychedelic, shoegaze and Krautrock inspired drifting suites. Nailing the performances of their 2019 shows in Holland, the Oh Temple! album saves on wax the cerebral space music triumvirate’s untethered wanderings: both inwards and out. 

It begins with the post-rock phaser waves and skying transcendental furnished reference to the 4th century Greek-Christian martyr “Serenus”; a pious unfortunate known widely for his horticultural skills, fitted up for an affair he never had. That poor saint was immortalised for his stoic commitment to the Christian faith in the face of death: he was duly decapitated for his troubles. Whatever the use is here, the trio set out sonically on a vaporous ascent that reimagines the purposeful neo-classical renderings of Qluster and the Kosmische tarot mysticisms of Walter Wegmüller, whilst channelling Spiritualized’s venerations.

Closer geographically to Heffernan’s base of operations, ‘On The Banks Of The River Swale’ washes in the atavistic waters of a tributary that’s played host to a history of settlements dating back as far as Mesolithic times. Probably on Archdruid Cope’s monolithic tour, certain stone assemblages and formations lie near to the Swale. Here, we experience the running and whispery waters and psychogeography of place, as sounded by Eno, The Velvet Underground and Ash Ra Temple.

A strange sizzled and fluty resonating crispy buzz is joined by a vision of Peter Green fronting Pink Floyd on the languid cricketing termed ‘Reverse Swing’. I’m not sure what the trio were attempting musically, but to these ears it evokes a semblance of a lunar Ry Coder floating over a tropical island in space.

Another real location, mapped out this time by a dubby bubbled ghostly fog of Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones, Alan Vega, The Orb and The Cosmic Jokers, the Jamaican beach resort (constantly rated, I found out, as one of the world’s ten most desired beach fronts) of “Negril” (‘Choppers Over Negril’) is immortalised with a both hallucinogenic and gauzy soundtrack.  Famous for featuring in Ian Fleming’s The Man With The Golden Gun bond caper as a location for a meeting with the arch-villain assassin-for-hire Scaramanga, Negril (the “little black one” when translated from the Spanish) was named by the Spanish transgressors, who it’s believed were referring to the abundance of black eels that were found in its waters. The chopper of that full title is represented by a rotor like enveloping guitar, which in cyclonic mode fans a vapourous Rastafari atmosphere of toaster call outs and adulations.

Black Lives Matter seems to have prompted a number of tracks on this mesmeric and reverberating album epic. Reference wise anyway, with certain undertones in some titles to black culture, history: Negril perfectly happy enough no doubt without the intrusion of 15th century Spanish colonists. The Cluster arpeggiator and lunar Theremin spoke-y radient synth zapped ‘Shibboleth’ even features an interview with Malcolm X; one that focuses in and out, masked by a crackled wavy wash of effects. If I’m not mistaken (by the content) this was a pivotal moment, caught not long before his assassination in 1965. Though the eloquent orator he always was, Malcolm’s life was made a hell of a lot more dangerous as he left the anti-Semitic and arguably racist divisive Nation Of Islam, who (allegedly) carried out his murder (most of the gun men involved were members of the NoI, though some were acquitted later and the waters remain muddied as to who organised it). Moving away from the Nation’s rhetoric towards a more inclusive message, his staunch faith and protestations no less diminished, this captured dialogue is really about the failure of America in dealing with the question and freedom of its black citizens. The space drifters send this message into a celestial Kosmische, leaving interpretation and a lost moment in time out there in the universe. I could be reading too much into it all, but this track is followed by the enchanted Thomas Dinger and Cluster (again), with tonal evocations of the Spacemen 3 and The Telescopes, encrypted ‘Black Smoke’, which seems to carry over some of the mood from ‘Shibboleth’.

An efflux of dream realities, marked places of interest, histrionics and astral planning, the exclaimed Oh Temple! elevates as much as it distorts and warps the Kosmische fashioning’s of this congruous union. Consciousness floats free in a universe of expansive liquidity, on a mirage of space and ether probing trance music. Top quality and depth all the way; already a highlight of 2021 for me: expect to see this opus reach the choice end-of-year features.  (Dominic Valvona)

See also from the Monolith Cocktail Archives:

From the same label:

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’

Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’

From Kosmische/Krautrock sphere:

Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’

Ash Ra Tempel ‘Ash Ra Tempel’

Can ‘Lost Tapes’

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

ALBUM REVIEW/DOMINIC VALVONA




Gunther Wüsthoff  ‘Total Digital’
(Bureau B)  Album/10th July 2020


Attuned to the signals and broadcast traffic chatter of a very different kind when serving out his military service as a naval radio operator, the one-time Faust instigator and soloist Gunther Wüsthoff tapped into that formative training to search and tune-in to more imaginative and alien frequencies when set loose from the tumult of post-war Germany.

As the legend goes, Wüsthoff’s pathway towards sonic experimentation was laid out in art school, where he met future Faust comrades Rudolf Sosna and Jean-Hervé Peron. All three musical malcontents came together in the late 60s to from the band Nukleus. It was during this point that former leftist mouthpiece publication Konkret editor turn ad hoc record producer and scout for Polydor Records, Uwe Nettelbeck (through his filmmaker contact Helmut Costa) was introduced to the trio. Nettelbeck was handed the task by the label’s A&R honcho Kurt Enders, to find a German version of The Beatles, but also to tap into the burgeoning “Krautrock” scene that was emerging. What they got was something far more revolutionary and avant-garde: at their most confrontational and hostile they made Throbbing Gristle sound like The Beach Boys. As opposed to their compatriots Can, Faust excelled at breaking things.

The musical trio was merged with members of another Hamburg band, Campylognatus Citelli, whose ranks included Werner “Zappi” Diermaier, Hans-Joachim Irmler and Arnulf Meifert. Instead of a Teutonic Fab Four, Polydor were delivered an unruly fist full of industry dissonance and barracking noise. Wüsthoff for his part would play both synthesizer and the saxophone during his time with the often-fractious group; lasting through Faust’s most important and influential run of records during the first half of the 1970s (from the X-Ray iconic sleeved debut to the only album Wüsthoff would design the cover for, Faust IV).

Following his departure, Wüsthoff would take on roles at both Studio and Filmhaus Hamburg; but also take further studies in editing so that he could work freelance. Continuing his musical practice however, Wüsthoff’s sonic experiments became more and more informed by the aleatory.

Looking for imperfections and friction in the increasingly repetitive and slick production of the Western canon, he found that in explaining his theory to those accustomed to playing music in the doctrinal fashion, and against the intuitive grain of human instinct that the machine might be better placed to his musical methodology and motto: “Due to previous but also temporary excesses of mainstream consumption and the omnipresent, repetitive emissions of the western world’s music industry, devoid of contours and as slick as possible, we are faced with an indissoluble weariness. A criterion for music one can listen to today is, for me, that an element of friction is present: temporally, metrically, rhythmically, tonally or harmonically. Or that somewhere, something is somehow imperfect. Only then can music be truly alive.”[Gunther Wüsthoff 2005]

“Today I would add: Regardless of whether it is created by man or machine.”

And so, becoming a “music machinist”, Wüsthoff relinquished the idea of virtuosity for good, handing over a major part of the process to the machine. A compositional counterbalance between the synthesized and the human touch you could say: not “total digital” but getting there.

Collected in this retrospective compilation is a scattering of tracks from a twenty-year time span; from a trio of solar orbiting ‘TransNeptun’ suites to a number of more rhythmic erratic dashes and tubular metallic chimes. Tuning into planetary waves, the three-part (‘Anflung’, ‘Ankunft’ and ‘Begrüßung) ‘TransNeptun’ traces the tones and contours of cosmic satellites with a sonic generator palette of lunar delay, arpeggiator, whining dialed squiggles and hums. Through this off world broadcast, Wüsthoff traverses the Kosmische, hints of Bernard Szajner, a dance of binary languages and ominous prowling shadowy dwarf planets.

In a different direction the avant-garde ‘Dragon Walking’ sounds like a convolution of Populäre Mechanik and Reich; with touches even of Eno’s off kilter Warm Jets. Going through numerous cycles, from post-punk to robotic ballet, instruments are introduced in stages: a real sounding drum kit, hand drums, marimba (I think) and pizzicato notes. ‘Alien Crosstalk’ is a strange one. Bagpipe type bellows and concertinaed sounds are integrated with fucked-up House music, out-of-time piano and titular’s “crosstalk” of obscured voices. Though far too sophisticated as to sound distorted or a mess, the elements all seem to fit together in the end. And even when erring towards the disturbing and dark, seems less chilling but mysterious.

Wüsthoff’s philosophical driver, the “transitory nature of life”, is evident in the fleeting presence of those random generated sonics and instruments, which pass through an evanescent process.

Perhaps Wüsthoff doesn’t enjoy the profile of some of his former Faust comrades, but if your only knowledge of his experiments were from that period then make time to explore the solo work. A good place to start will be with this handy compilation, from a label that seems to act as a hub for members from that group’s subsequent work.





Faust Faust, So Far, Faust Tapes’

Faust ‘Faust IV’

Faust ‘j US t’



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

Album Review/Dominic Valvona




Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. Ft. Geoff Leigh   ‘Chosen Star Child’s Confession’    (Riot Season)   LP/15th May 2020


Krautrock replicates, bowing in reverence at the temple gates of their German inspirations, but also carrying on the lineage of their native country’s own experimental doyens (groups like Les Rallizes Dénudés and the Far East Family Band), the Acid Mothers Temple have carried the torch for acid-rock, the avant-garde and progressive when forbearers and contemporaries have faded or disbanded. Coming on like a Japanese distortion of Amon Duul II, the group has thrown themselves into the cosmology of moonage daydreams and vortex space rock for the past twenty-five years, through many lineup changes.

Continuing with the renewal incarnation of the legendary acid-rock psychedelic transcendental freak out that played on the 2018 Reverse Of Rebirth monolith, founding instigators of the Mothership, Kawabata Makoto and Higashi Hiroshi, are once more joined by worthy new disciples Jyonson Tso (vocals and ‘midnight whistler’), Satoshimi Nani (on drums) and the mysterious Wolf (on bass). Making this celestial troupe up to a sextet, English avant-garde jazziest and progressive rock doyen Geoff Leigh, of the highly influential Henry Cow icons, joins the ranks as fleeting collaborator; lending warped out, contorting and suffused atmospheric saxophone and flute to the dream weaving psychedelic acid test.

This inauguration of the infamous Japanese legends refreshed and transformed previous sonic stunners and rituals from the extensive Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. back catalogue on the last LP; part of an on-going repackage of the iconic troupe’s music that has recently seen, for the first time, a cassette tape release of both the In C and La Novia opuses by Kamikaze Tapes. Broken in, as it were, Chosen Star Child’s Confession is the troupe’s debut album of new material.

The fruits of a session with Leigh, laid down at a recording studio in London in July 2018 (with further work completed back in Japan in 2019), the Chosen Star Child’s Confession opus ticks all the right boxes in the sphere of cosmic acid indulgence. Oozing from an Egyptology of jazzy spiritual occultism, the opening totem of ‘Nightmarish Heavenly Labyrinth’ features a languid vocal drifting over wisps of flute, rapid noodling bass nuzzles, flaying guitar and cymbal swishes that evoke hints of ADII Dance Of The Lemmings and Yeti, and Embryo. Softer, laidback stirrings appear on the Stereolab acid-jazzy ‘Diamond Eyes Are Hurt’; a sort of staccato shutter echo and mild honked and spirally distant saxophone punctuated vortex of Rite Time Can, Vitamin C period Damo Suzuki, Andy Haas and, when it gets going a bit later on, West Coast acid rock. The rest of the album tunnels and bursts into action across a background of flyby comet wizzes and frizzles, high-pitched frequencies, Hawkwind mad dashes, shimmers, wild guitar, Tibetan and Afghan evocations and contorting saxophone.

If you happen to purchase the CD version, the bonus cosmic mess of eastern brassy resonance and heavy tripping experimentalism ‘Santa Maria Enfance’ is a transmogrified vision of part of Hector Berlioz’s biblical opus: the flight of the holy family from Egypt. Original performances of this suite in the mid 19th century were less than well-received, provoking hostility for its bizarreness and discordance. No wonder it proves fertile material for the Mothers.

Chosen Star Child’s Confession is a celestial rites of passage for the new intake of converts on yet another essential Mothers odyssey.






In these unprecedented times the Monolith Cocktail has never needed your support more:

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

REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona




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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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





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



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

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

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

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





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



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

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

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

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

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

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





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



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

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

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

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

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






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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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



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

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

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

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

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



Elizabeth Everts ‘Contraband EP’
25th May 2019



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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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


Reviews Column: Dominic Valvona




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

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



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

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

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

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

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










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

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

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

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

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

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







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

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

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

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

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

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




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

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

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

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

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

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







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

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

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

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

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

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




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

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

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

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

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







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

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

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

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

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







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

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

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

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

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







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

Both out now

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

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

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

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








Words: Dominic Valvona


Playlist: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver




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



Tracklist in full: 

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


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