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’



Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Each month Dominic Valvona brings us the most eclectic recommendations roundups, with reviews of albums, singles and EPs from across the globe and genres.

 

This latest edition includes a brand new album of unsettling cosmic traverses from Krautrock and Berlin guitar legend Günter Schickert – working with Ja, Panik main man Andreas Spechtl – based around the concept of his home city’s transport system and a moth; the return of the peaceable voiced folk maiden Katie Doherty and her The Navigators pals; the debut album of Latintronica, psych, prog and Kosmische peregrinations from the Argentine artist Santiago Córdoba, ‘En Otres Lugares’; a trio of World Music showcases from the prolific ARC Music catalogue, with collections from the Vietnamese zither maestro Tri Nguyen, the co-production and musical Sufi mystical transforming partnership of Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine and traditional Thrace mythological imbued Rodopi Ensemble; the debut solo album of ‘attic noise’ from Benelux alt-rock scenester Heyme Langbroek; and the brilliant new album of sentimental dreampop from Toronto musician Charlie Berger, under his newest incarnation With Hidden Noise.

There’s also the upcoming playful psychedelic pop and tropical lilted dance around the Berlin architecture EP, Rooftop Trees, from Aurélien Bernard – under his 3 South & Banana alter ego; the latest in a line of singles from the Oxford-based Swedish angulated indie pop songstress Julia Meijer;and the profound afflatus elegiac opener, ‘When You’re Gone’, from the marital fronted Settle band Society Of The Silver Cross.



Albums

Günter Schickert ‘Nachtfalter’
(Bureau B) 15th February 2019


Notable progenitor of flanging echo-pedal guitar, free-jazz instigator of the traversing cosmic GAM, No Zen Orchestra and Arumaruma (among the least obscure succession of groups), the Berlin Krautrock legend Günter Schickert continues, like so many of his surviving WWII born and Boomer generation comrades, to circumnavigate the sonic unknown; probing for tears in the fabric, looking to penetrate new horizons.

An extension of Schickert’s previous solo flights of guitar exploration – the 1975 Brain label debut Samtvogel, and the Sky label follow-up of 1980 ÜberfälligNachtfalter features all the signature echo-y reverberations and waning searching guitar accentuations. Recorded back in the summer of 2018, in collaboration with Ja, Panik navigator Andreas Spechtl, who refashioned Schickert’s untethered live performances, adding his very own drum accompaniments and loops, this instrumental album evokes both the cosmic mysticism of Ash Ra Tempel and the more haunting, ominous deep space Kosmische of Tangerine Dream. Spechtl’s production, drum patterns and effects however, add a touch of tubular metallic sheen, futuristic tribal percussion and nuanced Techno to the otherworldly, often threatening, mood.

There are two inspirations at work on this LP; the naturalistic progress and presence, and then demise, of the moth that this album is named after (this said moth also features in the artwork) and the motion, rhythm of public transport in the city of Schickert’s birth. As the artist himself says, “I was born in Berlin and I am a true city child.” And like so many before and after, the city has left it’s indelible mark; the beat (not to be confused with the Dusseldorf birthed ‘motorik’ rhythm of Klaus Dinger) on Nachtfalter mirrors the industrious clang, rattle and cycle of Berlin’s metro and buses to an extent, though the northern European atmosphere of the city’s psychogeography attracts a more darker, eerie misaim throughout. The opening ‘Nocturnus’ (as the title might imply) is especially creepy with its Kubrick monolith pulse and unsettling conch shell horn – imagine Faust and Tangerine Dream invoking the arrival of a cosmic Viking long ship, emerging from the mists. The final all-encompassing merging of Schickert’s full gamut of guitar manipulations and strides, ‘Reflections Of The Future’, even evokes moments of John Carpenter’s synth-tracked horrors.

Despite the heart-of-darkness moods and craning instrumental eulogies to the moth that by happenstance entered the studio (clinging to the ceiling all night before dropping dead the next morning) during recordings, there are occasional bursts of energetic thumping rhythm: bordering on juddering Electro on the gliding, county bowed guitar arching and leaning ‘Wohin’ (which translates as ‘Where’: indeed where?!!). There are glimmers of light to be found amongst the darkened unknowing mystery, and far from suppressive and heavy, Schickert’s guitar roams freely, drifting, wafting and expansively has he accents the spaces before him.

An impressive cool transformation of the guitar innovator’s echoed enveloping signatures and traverses, Nachtfalter benefits enormously from Spechtl contemporary and energetic production. A dynamism and touch of modern electronica is added to the Krautrock messenger’s articulations to produce a most unsettling, interesting of musical experiences.




Santiago Córdoba ‘En Otros Lugares’
(Sounds And Colours) 8th February 2019





A gateway to everything worth celebrating (as much as it might also be confounding and a mystery to many) about the South American and Central American continent, the Sound And Colours hub, which includes one of the most in-depth of reference and news sites, guide books and events, has proved a rich essential source for me. Whether it’s through the site’s cultural, political and historical purview style series of accessible guides to Peru, Brazil and Colombia, or their considered catalogue of music projects, I’m kept up-to-speed and introduced to some of the continent’s most interesting artists and scenes. The latest of which is the emerging and burgeoning solo artist Santiago Córdoba, who releases his panoramic multi-city composed suite En Otros Lugares on the site’s in-house label this month.

 

ormerly a percussionist band member of the ‘revolutionary’ Tango outfit Violentango, the Argentine born Córdoba left his native home in 2016 for a ‘peripatetic’ life, moving from one place to the next; making a fleeting base of operations for himself in Madrid, Italy and Beirut. Backpacker travails and the sounds of each short-stay imbue this eclectic travelogue; though these often free-spirited peregrinations also stir up cosmic, magical and transcendental horizons as much as the Earthly: As the album title itself alludes, En Otros Lugares translates as “in other places” or “elsewhere”.

Both geographically and musically diverse, the opening panorama, ‘La Llamada’ (“the flamed”), traverses an amorphous Andean outback landscape, filled with ghostly echoes, arid hums and a trance backing, whilst Fuck Buttons meet School Of Seven Bells astral planning over the Amazon on the progressive psychedelic ‘A Dos Leagues’ (“two leagues”).

Post-rock influences merge with Latintronica, 2-Step, free-jazz crescendos, the Kosmische, Refree like harmonic plucks and brushed guitar, and radio transmissions tuned to poignant past figures of interest on a condor flight of fantasy and mystical voyage of thoughtful meditation.

The former Tango agitator expands his tastes and picks up a host of new instruments to fashion an impressive ambitious slow-burner of a debut album. Another brilliant South American export.






Katie Doherty & The Navigators ‘And Then’
(Steeplejack Music) 25th January 2019





Sidetracked, in a positive and inspiring way, by a detour into stage production, folk maiden Katie Doherty has probably taken a lot longer than she envisioned to release another album.

The award-winning songwriter released her debut, Bridges, to favorable reviews back in 2007 and went on to share the stage with such luminaries as Karine Polwart, the McGarrigle Sisters and Ray Davis on a giddying trajectory, before (as Doherty herself puts it) ‘life got in the way’. In that time Doherty, far from idle, took on roles as both a composer for a number of Northern Stage productions and as a MD for a Royal Shakespeare Company production. It is these roles, and ‘broadening’ of horizons that now inform Doherty, her Navigators (Shona Mooney on fiddle and vocals and Dave Gray on the button accordion melodeon) and wider backing group (which includes more chorus vocalists, a cellist, percussionist and double bassist) on the concertinaed pastoral theatrical And Then.

Three tracks specifically sound like they were plucked from the stage. And in a roundabout way they were; the peaceable air-y bellowed shanty dedication to ‘leaving a beloved city behind’ ‘Yours’ and gentle-building lulled symphony finale ‘We Burn’ were both originally commissioned by the November Club for ‘Beyond The End Of The Road’, and the enchanting picturesque scene-setting waltz ‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ was commissioned by the Wallsend Memorial Hall for the reopening of the town’s grandiose ballroom.

Marking ‘change’ in various forms and analogies Doherty’s themes encompass the change of the seasons, the life-altering change of bringing up a child in a changing society hooked-up 24 hours to, an often, poisonous internet, and the rapidly escalating changes in society as a consequence of the equality debate: Doherty, in the shape of an enervated ‘anti-apology’ framed protest, takes a dignified stance on the album’s title track, giving a more considered intensity to a R&B pop-folk backing as she reassures us that “This is not war music. This is not a fighting song.”

Such heavy important anxieties, such as the pressures of expectation (epically in our validation age of social media shaming, easy inflamed indignity and virtue signaling) and responsibility are woven into a lovely songbook, as Doherty’s lightly caressing vocals waft and dance to a mix of Celtic tradition, snow flurry landscape malady, buoyant sea motion affairs of the heart and Eastern European travails.

After years spent away from the studio, Katie Doherty emerges with a purposeful and composed reflective collection of distilled folk.




Heyme ‘Noise From The Attic’
(Jezus Factory) TBA





Spending much of his formative musical education in the Benelux, playing with a litany of alternative underground rock and experimental angulated Antwerp bands (Kiss My Jazz, IH8 Camera and Lionel Horowitz & His Combo), the Dutch-born musician Heyme Langbroek now sets out on a solo mission with his curious debut, and self-explanatory entitled, album Noise From The Attic.

Settling (for the last six years at least) in Poland Heyme puts all his past experiences into an understated album of songs and instrumentals created by the use of a loop station; Heyme using this unit to build a basic track which he then plays over the top of with various overlapping melodies, rhythms and improvisations. A quaint routine, Heyme’s attic noises, as the title makes clear, were all recorded in the said attic garret of his house, mostly on alternate Sundays. It might be nothing but by choosing the traditional day of liturgy worship to record his music on, it could be read as a metaphor for cathartic release; unburdening ideas, sentiments and regrets at the altarpiece of a home-recording studio.

Tethered to the past as much as moving forward experimentally, Noise From The Attic is imbued by many of the same performance recording techniques as used by the Antwerp collective of Kiss My Jazz; a group that Heyme served with alongside members from, perhaps Belgium’s most revered and recognized alt-rock group, dEUS. Heyme even reprises one of the band’s estranged songs, ‘Burn In Hell’; a woefully mooning ‘fuck you’ break-up submerged beneath a vacuum of Hawaiian rock’n’roll warbles. On the remainder of the LP he despondently wanes to a suffused template of Casio keyboard like presets, snozzled oozing Roxy Music and Hansa Studio Bowie saxophone, forlorn northern European melodies and chugging guitar. Within those perimeters the moody attic troubadour of alternative lo fi brooding pop does a Sparks, on ‘Klara’, evokes 70s era Floyd, on the mentally fatiguing ‘Paranoid’, adopts Blixa Bargeld’s tonsils and trans-European malady, on ‘Where She Goes (She Goes)’, and channels Eno’s ‘Another Green World’, on the far from discordant row, ‘Noisz’.

Showing the ‘proverbial’ Dutch courage, unloading worn, grizzled sentiments the solitary Heyme provides one of the year’s most peculiar reflective solo experiments. Fans of the solo work of the former dEUS guitar triumvirate of Rudy Trouve, Mauro Pawlowski and Craig Ward will find a fourth such inspired maverick to add to the list.






With Hidden Noise ‘Beside The Sea’
(Loss Leader Records) 18th January 2019





Rising with a certain languid tremble from the nocturnal wintery Canadian frontiers before dissipating back into the ether of a somnolent dreampop soundscape, Charlie Berger under the guises of his newest project, White Hidden Noise, wafts in and out of a fluxes state of pining and sighed romanticism.

Well versed in the dreampop, shoegaze and slowcore departments the Toronto musician-singer-songwriter’s diaphanous brooding album is a congruous continuation in a career that includes stints with Soft Wounds, Slowly and Tone Mirrors, and the launch of his own diy label, Loss Leader Records – of which this LP is released through. In that mode, with influences like Low (a huge influence in fact), Cigarettes After Sex and The Red House Painters lingering throughout the wistful fabric, the veiled Beside The Sea opus dreams big. Berger woos expansive heartache across the panoramas; meditating on the loss of memory to a considered purposeful backing that builds from suffused lulls to gradually built-up and swelled indie-shoegaze choruses.

The album title and gentle prompts, including the artist’s own guidance that this eight-track suite could be “moody late night driving music”, pretty much sets the listener up as to the mood, environment and sentiment. Amongst the bendy tremolo flanges and placid rhythms of the brushed cymbal and echo-y forlorn, the trio of songs, ‘The Other Korea’, ‘Close The Door’ and ‘Look’, placeably break out from their dreamy state into beautiful shoegaze-y Britpop anthems – hues of Slowdive, Gene and Sway drift around in the general absorption of influences.

It could just be me, but I can even hear a touch of early REM in the fanned-drift and soft pained harmony of ‘Further More’ and The Bends era Radiohead on the opening tenderly swooned ‘Window’ metaphor heavy plaint.

Berger’s yearned and pined ‘drive time’ soundtrack beckons the listener into a moody dreamy atmosphere of emotive outpourings; the subject of these songs remaining a lingering presence, lost, with only the traces of those memories remaining. Beside The Sea is a beautiful album – ok, some tracks do overstay their welcome – that reimagines Low as a British 80s dreampop combo.






Rodopi Ensemble ‘Thraki-Thrace-The Path Of Dionysus’
(ARC Music) 25th January 2019

Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine ‘JEDBA-Spiritual Music From Morocco’
(ARC Music) 25th January 2019

Tri Nguyen ‘The Art Of The Vietnamese Zither-Đàn Tranh’

(ARC Music) 22nd February 2019




Among the most prolific of world music and folk labels the ARC Music catalogue spans eras, genres and geography: In-depth surveys, collections and performances from the Welsh vales to Andean Mountains, from the South African veldts to Arctic Tundra. Probably sending us the most CDs of any label on a weekly basis, ARC’s diverse schedule is always worth further inspection, even if the cover art and packaging suggests the kind of CD you might pick up from a garage – filed under ethnocentric muzak. Far from it, each release is always a showcase of adroit musicianship with only the best examples of every style and tradition covered.

Usually built on the foundations of each respective artists or troupe’s heritage, these albums offer a contemporary twist on occasion: even a fusion.

Not so much randomly but just taking a trio of recent releases from the ARC stable we find three very different examples of this with the music of the atavistic recalled Thracian imbued Rodopi Ensemble, the masterful Vietnamese zither expert Tri Nguyen and Sufi-inspired advocates of Moroccan spiritual music partnership, Abdesselam Damoussi & Nour Eddine. All three commit a new energy to very old forms, and merge with influences outside their source material.

 

The first of this trio reverts back to the ancient moniker of what was straddling region that encompassed Southern Bulgaria, North West Turkey and the tip of Greece, Thrace; an area dominated by the 240 Km stretching mountain range behemoth that lends its name to this quintet’s ensemble, Rodopi. Steeped in Greek mythology, the Rodopi is synonymous for being the final resting place of Queen Rhodope and her husband King Haemus of Thrace; the lovers, so it is told in legend, rather unwisely offended the Gods Zeus and Hera, and were punished by being turned into the said mountain range.

Inspired by this homeland, Rodopi musically travel through Ottoman dervish, fluting Egyptian and Balkan folk on an erudite and immaculately performed collection of matrimonial, free form and scarf-waving giddy dances. Providing a swirling, but when acquired equally poised forlorn performance, the spindled spiraling lute and Kanun, heavy range of percussion (from the exotic ‘riqq’ to ‘dara-bakka’ and bendir’), swooned clarinet and weeping violin conjure up a vivid homage to a continuously changing landscape. In dual-language, songs and titles cross between Greek and Turkish; wrapped up in the obvious history of the two former dominant Empires: whether it’s in the traditional romantic flower and fauna metaphorical accompaniment of Asia Minors Greek refugees ‘Menexédes Kai Zouboulia’ (Violets And Hyacinths), or, in the tribute to the ensemble’s late clarinetist, Sol Hasan, on the improvisational ‘Roman Havasi’ (The Air Of Gypsies).

A wonderful dance of yearning remembrance and tradition, the music of Thrace is brought back to life with a touch of contemporary dynamism, flair and love.



Presenting the Vietnamese Zither, otherwise known as the sixteen-string Đàn Tranh, in a new light, ‘bi-cultural’ practitioner Tri Nguyen uses both his classical Western training and Vietnamese ancestry to delicately accentuate a collection of poetically brush-stroked scenes and moods. This congruous marriage of forms and cultures often results in moments and swells that evoke the gravitas of the opera or ballet, yet seldom drown out the light deft touches of the lead instrument.

Just as renowned for his adroit pianist articulations as he is for bringing the Đàn Tranh – a cousin of the Chinese ‘guzheng’, Japanese ‘koto’ and Korean ‘gayageum’ – to a wider international audience, Nguyen caresses a diaphanous web of descriptive quivers over classical strings and percussion on this latest showcase.

Emphasizing his native homeland and the countries that border it he mirrors the elements (the flow of a stream; the droplets of gentle rain), wildlife (the blackbird singing proudly; a galloping stoic horse) and moods (a contemplative sad refrain that ushers in a seasonal and metaphorical change; the joy of returning home after a sojourn spent away).

From lullaby to the Imperial, whether it’s a picturesque meditation or a tale from the time of China’s Three Kingdoms, the musical performances are beautifully immaculate. In truth, too classical and varnished for my taste, I have to admire the faultless musicianship.






Personally the more interesting for me of these three ARC titles is the co-production partnership of Moroccan composers Abdesselam Damoussi and Nour Eddine, who bring together a cast of authentic Sufi singers and musicians on the dynamic Jedba album showcase.

With backgrounds in everything from Hip-Hop to Jazz, Rock, Electronica, World Music and (in Eddine’s case) the Vatican’s vaults of Classical music, both musician-producers provide an exciting backing of bombastic percussion and hypnotizing rhythms to the venerable spiritual mystique of the Sufi tradition. Literally invited and transported into the studio from their impromptu performances in the famous walled marketplace of Jemaa el-Fnaa, located in the heart of Marrakech, a cast of mystics, poets and players from various tribes and disciplines gathered together for one collective exchange: The “Jedba” of the title referring to a collective dance in which people from multi faiths including Jewish, Christian and Muslim hold hands in a symbol of harmony and friendship; “united in love of the divine”.

The magic is in the fusion, as instruments as exotic and diverse as the wind equivalent of the Scottish bagpipes, the ‘ghaita’, rasps over a swanning break beat like percussion on the opening title-track, or, Arabian female tongue trills excitably warble in divine celebration over a dramatic filmic bounding accompaniment on the song-of-praise ‘Allah Hay’. Encompassing Berber desert rock, the adoring commanding vocals of Yemdah Selem (the ‘diva’ of desert music as Damoussi puts it), the solitary prayers of the bred and born Sufi and imam of a mosque in Tangiers, Said Lachhab, and giddy dance, the chants and exaltations of these Marrakech street performers is given a new dynamism and energy via the dual purpose of preservation and in beaming this entrancing mystical tradition to a new audience.





EPS

3 South & Banana ‘Rooftop Trees’
(Some Other Planet Records/Kartel) 1st March 2019





Stepping-out from the sunny-dispositional ranks of the psychedelic indie and tropical lilted London-based Cairobi – formerly, for a decade previous to the name-change in 2017, Vadoinmessico – the group’s drummer Aurélien Bernard follow’s up on his last two singles with a new EP of bright disarming soft-shoe shufflers.

The French-born but Berlin-based all rounder uses his adoptive home as inspiration, though musically the compass is pointing towards the tropical equator. The angulated skip and catchy opening track, ‘Magdalen Eye’, treats Berlin as a jump-off point; its architecture and history (where do you start?!!) echoing and reverberating in what sounds like a psychedelic dream pop with Nirvana grunge drop Ariel Pink. It also reminds me of the recent brilliance of fellow French new wavers, grunge and indie sensations Brace! Brace! The very French-esque float-y and whistle-y ‘Soleil’, sung in the native tongue, wistfully bids farewell to the long Berlin winter as the “first warmer sunny days of April” ease in.

Named after one of Bernard’s previous singles, the four-track EP includes 2018’s ‘Rooftop Trees’ and ‘Fake Jungle’ records. The first of which poses a meditation on the tensions between man-made and natural structures to a woozy psychedelic jaunt: Literally dancing to architecture, Bernard dapples the catchiest of psych and cool Gallic pop on a concrete environment. The latter, rather unbelievably, was inspired by a one-off jam session with James Brown (a throwback to Bernard’s days as a session drummer in Las Vegas), and sounds like a swimmingly Malian Syd Barrett produced by Nino Ferrer.

Light and jaunty but with a depth and sense of concern, Bernard’s oddly entitled 3 South & Banana alter-ego delivers a sumptuous cantaloupe lolloping EP of playful catchy brilliance.







Singles

Julia Meijer ‘Train Ticket’
15th March 2019





It seems almost obligatory, at least in the last decade, to affix the fatuous term of Scandi-pop to every single artist or band emerging from Sweden: whether they play guitars or programme synths. Native Swede songstress-musician Julia Meijer is no different. Even though she lives in Oxford her taciturn, slightly skewed angulated indie-pop sound falls easily into the Scandi-pop fold of classification.

With a string of singles behind her, Meijer is finding her feet; trying out new things on every one, with the only real consistency being quality and depth.

The latest, Train Ticket, is no different. A collaborative affair that features a couple of Guillemots in the ranks (Greig Stewart on drums and Fyfe Dangerfield on suffused low-ray burnished Hammond organ) and Oxford’s busiest polymath of the moment Sebastian Reynolds (Flights Of Helios, the Solo Collective, Mahajanaka project) on swallow undulated synth duties, Meijar’s musical partners construct a counterbalance between a Kate Nash fronted New Young Pony Club version of art school indie and looser, almost, quasi-Talking Heads African lilted mirage-y chorus.

Every bit as taut and tense as Meijer planned – reflecting the lyrical anxious sentiments of uncertainty, expectations and disappointments –yet bendy and supple when that same tension is lifted, the page-turning autobiographical Train Ticket proves to be yet another sophisticated slice of unsure protagonist yearned pop, and wrangled, just raw and edgy enough, indie.

Still adapting and evolving, Julia Meijer has laid down a quality series of singles thus far, all slightly different. We’ll be able to soon experience the full effect when she delivers that debut album, Always Awake, in May.




Society Of The Silver Cross ‘When You’re Gone’





Feasting out on the strength of their most afflatus (and only) single, ‘When You’re Gone’, the venerable marital-fronted Society Of The Silver Cross have built up quite a momentum and drawn some considerable weighty acclaim. Wafting on to my radar at the end of last year – included on the last Monolith Cocktail ‘choice’ playlist of 2018 – this bellowed harmonium and zither-droned esoteric profound elegy reimagines the Velvet Underground led by a lapsed-Catholic Kurt Cobain.

Achingly diaphanous despite its forlorn succinct wise cycle of lyrics (“When you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone. We’re only here for a while. We’re only here for a day.”), this humbled sea shanty-motion mystery was in part inspired by the band’s husband and wife protagonists’ travels across India; part of that Velvet imbued sound enacted by the Indian auto-harp, the shahi baaja.

With the spotlight drawn towards this Seattle outfit’s Joe Reineke and Karyn Gold-Reineke partnership, the Society Of The Silver Cross does also include a small but extended cast of enablers on an accompaniment that features the mellotron, accordion and host of similar evocative instruments.

Vividly dreamy in a plaintive humbled atmosphere filled with various visual references of haunting iconography, Society Of The Silver Cross’s inaugural single is a most sagacious opener; a stark but confident creation of real quality and depth that merges the underground with Gothic Americana. Brilliant.





Words: Dominic Valvona


Review & Recommendations Roundup – Dominic Valvona




Kicking off 2019 this inaugural edition of Dominic Valvona’s eclectic roundup of new releases includes the new, and only second solo, autobiographical framed album from art/sex/music icon Cosey Fanni Tutti; the dual-album celebration of Germany’s Station 17 collective (originally formed as a musical therapeutic experiment between a Hamburg group of mentally handicapped residents and musicians), marking thirty years of experimental sonic sculpting and collaboration; the dazed jingle-jangle shoegaze from the London outfit Deep Cut – releasing their first album for the Gare du Nord label –, a new album from Tim Presley’s White Fence of soft psychedelic, new wave, fragile troubadour and yearning off-kilter analogue electronic bulletins; a single-type release of bewitching romantic morose from the Uruguay duo Clovvder and a real bona-fide 7” slice of vinyl from legendary English psychedelic luminary Twink and the Gare du Nord label’s unofficial house band all-stars, Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox.

 

Chasing up releases from the fag-end of 2018 I also take a look at the repackage appraisal of the rare and much sought-after 1978 Celtic-folk album from Flibbertigibbet, Whistling Jigs To The Moon, and a collection of previously unreleased recordings from the obscure 60s/70s, genre spanning Paraguay duo JODI, plus delve into the mind of the music composer artist Garrett N., who follows up (tens year later) on his debut album with an ambitious progressive suite of high quality-produced hard rock, funk, sound collage, Hip-Hop, psych and astral synth, Let’s Get Surreal.



Albums

Cosey Fanni Tutti ‘Tutti’
(Conspiracy International) 8th February 2019




After five decades at the cutting edge of subversive performance, conceptual art, and with pushing the envelope of cerebral industrial electronic music there’s no sign of stopping the grand dame icon of the leftfield Cosey Fanni Tutti from continuing to deconstruct and contextualise the limits of the sonic abyss.

Even in recent framed ‘autobiographical’ years, Cosey could hardly be accused of languishing on past glories; the results of a pinnacle year in retrospection revitalized and worked to produce this, Cosey’s only solo album since 1982’s Time To Tell. It could be said that the controversially open artist’s – who has all but laid herself bare physically and sexually in the pursuit of pushing the boundaries of morality, taste and censorship – practice is wholly autobiographical; Tutti being no different in that respect.

Originally created as a soundtrack for the Harmonic Coumaction film as part of a wider COUM Transmissions retrospect (the Dadaist, and to an extent, Fluxus inspired enfant terror group of which Cosey, alongside Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge, co-founded in 1969) that opened the Hull, UK City of Culture celebrations in 2017, the caustic but often vaporous diaphanous eight soundscapes that make-up this latest album can be read as a continuum of Cosey’s biography (published in the same year) and on-going assessment.

Untethered to any particular place or time, spanning the decades to inform both present and future, Tutti is meant to be both an extension yet ‘stand alone document’. Transformed, manipulated and re-processed in the ‘now’, the various abstract perspectives and past incarnations are presented as a sophisticated soundtrack of mostly serialism shifting moods and evocations.

Nuanced and subtle, Cosey refines a legacy that includes Throbbing Gristle and various Chris Carter partnerships to produce a minimalist Techno with ominous otherworldly atmospherics, wafting esoteric style jazz pines and both inner and outer minded cosmological elemental style conceptual album. The title-track itself layers lingering mysterious exotic lingers of jazzy saxophone over distant pounded kinetic beats, cutting tetchy subdued mechanics and suffused drones that touch upon that sonic legacy.

Elsewhere on this series of suites pattering beats cloak alien avian squawks on the wilderness of ‘Drone’; hollow winds blow through metallic rotations on the wizened alluded ‘Sophic Ripple’; Cosey’s veiled apparition lulls drift amorphously in liquid reverberations on ‘Heily’; and leviathans pass over a bending Tangerine Dream like expanse on ‘En’.

Those more familiar with Cosey’s history might recognize title references, sonic prompts, and the use of atavistic arcane spiritual language (the album’s cascading crystalized mirror, ‘Orenda’, using and channeling the Iroquois group of Native American tribes’ name for the spiritual power inherent in people and their environment; the force behind divination, prophecy and soothsaying, amongst others), yet Tutti is a deconstructive breakdown of that same past, built back-up and put together to offer a new dialogue and visage going forward.

Not so much a revelation as ‘continuum’, Cosey’s first solo album in over thirty-six years is a clever atmospherically mysterious and sagacious soundtrack that transmogrifies a lifetime of ‘art, sex and music’ into a most recondite purview of effective electronica.









Station 17 ‘Werkschau’ & ‘Ausblick’
(Bureau B) 1st February 2019




Growing and developing way beyond the initial perimeters of a social experiment between the mentally handicapped residents of a Hamburg community and the independent musician Kai Boysen, Station 17 (as they would become known) has made a sizable and influential mark on the German music scene. From humble beginnings as a stimuli therapeutic project in 1989, the always evolving collaborative group has blossomed into an internationally acclaimed touring band, released over ten albums of eclectic experimentation and worked with an enviable cast of cross-generational artists: from members of the old guard such as Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream and Neu! to more contemporary Techno and electronic artists as DJ Koze, Datashock and Kurt ‘the Pyrolator’ Dahlke.

Spontaneous throughout, the constantly-changing lineup behind Station 17 effortlessly merge and rework Krautrock, Kosmische, Pop, Post-Punk and Techno music into something unique and, above all, democratized: the varying disabilities of the collective’s cast inevitably feed into the process, yet offer no barrier to creativity.

Celebrating thirty years of such experimental and inspired music exploration and performance, on the 1st of February Station 17 will both pause to take stock of the back catalogue, with the retrospective collection Werkschau, whilst looking forward to new sonic horizons, with the release of their eleventh LP proper, Ausblick – a companion piece to last year’s Blick (which made our albums of the year features). The first of these albums – sporting a homage to Can’s Landed album cover art – Werkschau crisscrosses the group’s cannon; from the 1990 self-titled debut album right up to the already mentioned 2018 triumph, Blick.

Certain albums gravitated towards the trends and zeitgeist of the times, but tracks, often a decade or more apart, sit together well with no discernable difference in quality or production. The first trio of tracks for instance, stretch across three decades; moving between the panted, mooning and gasped vocal free-form post-punk of ‘Feeger’, from the Debut LP, to the industrial drum’n’bass, Kraftwerkian meets NIN ‘Budemeister’, taken from the 2006 LP Mikroproffer, and the shimmery bossa electro-pop of ‘Techno Museum 2’, taken from the 1997 LP, Bravo. Elsewhere there are shades of limbering DFA Records-sign-Populare Mechanik, on the 2011 Fieber album track ‘Uh-Uh-Uh’; Bowie oozing over the Art Of Noise on, what could be homage to the Hamburg district and city’s infamous pirate insignia football club, ‘St. Pauli Der Hat Heute Geburts Tag’; and the luminous lunar bound’s of Can’s ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ can be heard permeating another 2011 track, ‘Zuckermalone’.



Guest appearances/collaborations being Station 17’s forte this retrospective includes an abundance of them; including the gangly-Hip-Hop Fetter Brot match-up ‘Ohne Regen Kein Regenbogen’ and the slick sonar reverberated Yellow Magic Orchestra hued, Michael Rothar travelling ‘Bogie Bogie Báka’. (Both tracks of which are taken from the collaborative dedicated 2008 album, Goldstein Variation). It also neatly ties-in with the group’s upcoming album rather well, featuring as it does Station 17’s bridging collaboration with Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! fame, ‘Dinge’, taken from the last album Blick: The upcoming Ausblick conceived in the PR spill as that record’s congruous twin. A companion piece, it shares more or less the very same lineup of guests, featuring once more the mischievous faUSt instigators Zappi and Jean-Hervé, new wave pop appropriator Andreas Dorau, the power-up Düsseldorf and Berlin straddling duo of one-time Ashra and Klaus Schulze drummer Harald Grosskopf and former Kraftwerk, Neu! and Pissoff journeyman Eberhard Kranemann, Tangerine Dream convert Ulrich Schnauss, contemporary electronic artist Schneider TM and of course, Spechtl.

Though this time around tracks seem to be far more expansive on the whole, loose and cosmic, especially the Pyrolator team-up ‘Geisterstunde, Baby’, which bounds and bends to a craning Jah Wobble-esque elasticity, and the Soon Over Babaluma galactic dusting ‘Un Astronaut’, which features both Schneider and old Krautrock hand, founder of GAM and echo guitar pioneer, Günter Schickert.

Wafting aromas of Eastern mystery, free-form jazz and liquid serialism permeate this album as Techno meets with Industrial, post-punk funk and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts era bass lines; resulting in one of Station 17’s most sophisticated, mature and thoughtful albums yet. A Teutonic odyssey, Ausblick’s enviable guest list certainly helps, yet it is the enthusiasm and spirit of the collective’s ‘wohngruppe’ that enrich and offer a distinct perspective.

Not resting on their laurels, Station 17 simultaneously looks back whilst cosmically being propelled forward, releasing both their new and retrospective albums on the same day. Thirty years in, those humble origins far exceeding expectations, Station 17 continue to produce the goods.



White Fence ‘I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk’
(Drag City) January 25th 2019




The unassuming maverick artist Tim Presley paints outside the lines; his idiosyncratic applied coloring-in like a double vision of kaleidoscopic floating blurriness. Deeply felt yet softened and often languid in practice, Presley’s off-kilter musings blend lo fi psychedelia with quirky troubadour sadness, jilting punk, library music, and early analogue synthesized music, and on this latest album of sweetened, hazy malady, the Kosmische, to create the most dreamy of soft bulletins.

Wise in his choice of associations, Presley has in recent years formed a fruitful bond with fellow American maverick Ty Segall – their latest collaboration, Joy, was released back in the summer of 2018 -, and Welsh artist Cate Le Bon – pairing up to form the odd lolloping DRINKS. It was whilst bunking down at Le Bon’s grotto in the Lake District in the winter that he wrote the songbook that would eventually become I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk; the admittedly rudimental skilled Presley, sat crafting ideas on Le Bon’s piano whilst she was out adding another string to her already stretched polymath bow, designing wooden furniture at night school.

Once back in the States, imbued even further by his recent move from L.A. to San Francisco, Presley called upon fellow lo fi graduate and face of Lazy Magnet, Jeremy Harris, to help mold and transform his halcyon transatlantic sketches. Harris is credited as the all-round talent that learnt and then, more or less, played and recorded this curious collection in the San Fran located studio of former Bees founder and producer, Paul Butler.

Amorphously wafting between the bucolic and tragic psychedelic whimsy of England, the Warm Jets era of Eno, the fragility lament of Nilsson and the cerebral lurch of The Swell Maps, Richard Hell and David Byrne, Presley’s bendy vulnerabilities sound understated and lo fi but dream big. The title-track, with postmodernist élan, embodies this spirit perfectly; merging the magical if unsure twinkle of Willy Wonka with Pete Dello, Syd Barrett and a slacker Ray Davis. Suffused venerable organs, monastery-like intonations, and the lightest of washes all sit well with the gangly disjointed lolloping guitars and the woozy drug-induced new wave rock’n’roll longing of such tragic mavericks as Johnny Thunders, who Presley dreamt appeared before him, from beyond the grave, with a message of encouragement: “To be honest and simple”. Opening up to a point, Presley’s sighed, understated vocals deliver lyrics swaddled in psychedelic analogy and lazed daydreaming resignation.

Closing the album, the final two-part suite of Ham Reductions, is an experiment in perpetual arpeggiator analogue-electronics. Split in to ‘A: Morning’ and ‘B: Street & Inside Mind’ bookends, these pleasant retro-futurist never-ending instrumentals both evoke the familiarity of Cluster and Eno. Reconfiguring a binary computerized language, each piece is probed and piqued by glistened but more caustic harsher interruptions flows and the sound of the traffic: The inner workings of Presley’s mind transduced into calculating, ruminative passages from another era.

Tethering a multitude of ideas and influences to something more concrete and solid can’t have been easy, but I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk captures those blurred reimaging’s within the amorphous boundaries of a successful off-kilter album of dreamy magnificence and wonky indulgences.





Flibbertigibbet ‘Whistling Jigs To The Moon’
(Sommer) December 5th 2019

JODI ‘My Espontáneo’
(Out-Sider Music) December 5th 2019




Feeding an insatiable hunger for obscure (sometimes for good reason) missives and forgotten links in the chain of music history, the Spanish Guerssen hub of multifaceted labels dishes up an abundance of rarities from around the world, and across time. Two such rare finds have piqued my interest this month, the first from the Paraguay duo JODI, and second, a reissue of the fleeting Celtic lunar imbued Flibbertigibbet album, Whistling Jigs To The Moon.

Faithful to the name, the Out-Sider Music imprint digs out a hotchpotch of previously unreleased recordings from the Wenger brothers, Joem and Dirk. Gathered together under the Pop Espontáneo title – a title that only goes so far in describing the duo’s highly diverse styles and influences – this compilation captures the brother’s at their most experimental, as they graduated from the schoolmates band The Rabbits to the sibling duo JODI and later still, after signing a contract with EMI-Argentina, IODI.

Isolated to a degree in their Paraguay homeland, cut-off to an extent from their peers, an unburdened and unpressured JODI relentlessly recorded an abundance of genre-bending songs and instrumentals at their 8-track studio in Asunción. The results of which, in the main, were self-financed and released in very small numbers privately.

Early adepts of the Moog, which they use with a cosmic relish throughout the majority of these recordings, the Wenger’s could be said to have been innovators in South American psychedelic boogie and space-age disco rock. Aggrandizing the brothers further, the PR spill and accompanying linear notes hold them up as pioneers; diy and lo fi doyens whose sound was ahead of its time. To be fair, at times you think you’re hearing the kernel of Ariel Pink or R Stevie Moore, but far from humble beginnings, the Wenger’s certainly had the cash to spill, owning as they did a state-of-the-art studio, a mellotron, moog and clavinet, which were hardly cheap or even easy to come by at the time of their late 60s and early 70s flowering.

If you’ve already heard Out-Sider’s repackage of the duo’s 1971 album, Pops de Vanguardia – possibly, as claimed, the first lo fi diy garage-psych album to be produced on the continent – you’ll be familiar with their method of blending Santana-like Latin rock with clavinet croaking heavenly funk and psychedelic garage to produce melodious pop. Digging deeper into the archives and stockroom, their ‘sound-alikes’ collection unearths such hidden gems as ‘Change Your Mind About Me’, which pitches soft American 70s rock with phaser-guitar and tropical percussion; the Steppenwolf-in-leather bastardized Beatles riff at the discotheque Glam-rocking, ‘Take Me Higher’; the Brian Auger rock’n’roll meets psych sermon, ‘Sunburst Of Bees’; and The Monkees harmonize over The Smoke, ‘I Will Wait For You’. But you’re bound to hear smatterings of Bolan, Mick Ronson, Sensations Fix, Amen Corner and The Kinks on this crisscrossing compilation.

Technically proficient they use all kinds of tricks, effects and overlays to skewer their visionary rock music pop. And if this kind of thing interests you, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the booklet describes all these various methods and the instruments used in great detail – guitar wise, the brothers showed a penchant for the Fender Jaguar and Jazz bass. Unfortunately enervated by the pressures of recording for a major label, the German-Paraguay brothers were forced to record more commercially viable hits. And so these recordings are only seeing the light of day forty odd years later, after the JODI heydays of the mid 70s.

This is a worthy collection and obscure curiosity that could lead to revival of forgotten treats from 60s/70s Paraguay; the sons and daughters of the German diaspora that ended up there, sharing an unconscious link to similar pioneering musical innovations back in the Krautrock homeland.












In a different direction entirely, the Sommer imprint revival of the critically well-received but commercially poor Whistling Jigs To The Moon album by Flibbertigibbet looks to place the Celtic-South African troupe in the upper echelons of prog and psych-folk greats.

Formed after the break-up of the earlier cult Irish group Mellow Candle by band members Alison O’Donnell and David Williams, after an unsuccessful 1972 album release for the Deream label – Swaddling Songs despite the attention and band’s reputation, failing to revive the Candle’s fortunes -, the prevailing Flibbertigibbet was born in the immigrant and local communal houses and clubs of the South African folk scene. Leaving the Emerald Isle after that Candle’s light went out for good, O’Donnell and Williams hooked-up in South Africa with ex-pats Barrie Glenn and Jo Dudding to form the earnest, romantically lamentable band of well-travail(ed) musicians.

From initial live performances in a homely community, the obviously gifted and talented group of like-minded folk lovers were soon patronized; their admirer and facilitator, Prof. David Marks soon offering them the help to record and release, what would be, their debut LP. Expanding the ranks further with classical first violinist Francesco Cignoli, jazz bassist Dennis Lalouette, string-bassist Nippy Cripwell, flutist Colin Shapiro and fiddle player Dave Lambert, they recorded an attentive songbook of beautifully lulled traditional folk sagas.

Taking old Irish standards, but also weaving their own deft tapestries, they dance jigs in drunken stupor to the moon cycles and swoon like the French Lieutenant’s Woman, waiting on the smugglers cove for loved-ones to return. They do this with the most understated of lilting charm, evoking the subtlest hues of Fairport Convention prog and the softest of psychedelic rock influences.

The stalwarts of bucolic and coastal folk are all present and correct – from English Oak and seafaring analogies to the protestations of the oppressed working classes -, as Flibbertigibbet travel back and forth across timelines. Special mention must go to O’Donnell’s voice, which is diaphanous and longing, channeling Sandy Denny, Linda Ronstadt and The Poppy Family as she woos and sighs over both the perfectly administered acoustic and electrified backing – itself a mix of the Trees, American country-folk rock, Fotheringay and Fleetwood Mac, but also a faithful interpretation of far older, more bodhran frame drum led, traditional forms too.

Saved hopefully from obscurity and the clutches of record-dealers – the original 1978 album fetching a pretty price online, if you can indeed find a copy – this repackaged appraisal of a folk rarity should be well-received by the folk and head music communities. Beautifully crafted storytelling from a band with much to offer, Whistling Jigs To The Moon is an enjoyable and stirring treat for the soul.




Deep Cut ‘Different Planet’
(Gare du Nord) January 25th 2019




As if Ian Button isn’t busy enough already juggling a multitude of projects, he’s not only the drummer in the London-based Deep Cut band but also facilitating the release of their third LP, Different Planet, through his very own Kentish cottage industry imprint, Gare du Nord (a good time to mention that labels impressive showing in our albums of the year list).

Formed around the dreampop shoegazing indie pop songwriting of the group’s founder, Mat Flint, and Emma Bailey, Deep Cut could be said to appeal to the Gare du Nord label’s penchant for nostalgia. Squeezing plenty of mileage out of The Byrds (8 Miles of it in fact on the track ‘Washed Up’), Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain, Throwing Muses and Ride, they inhabit another decade – though considering how bloody popular the 80s and Britpop eras both are, they’ve probably hit upon a winning formula.

In a spirograph haze of jingle-jangle paisley hued fuzz, drifting lingering cooing vocals and attitude power pop, the former Revolver frontman and Death In Vegas bassist Mat adds shades of his previous bands sound to the make-up; pitching up with trip-hop indie beats on the baggy-candour ‘Spiraling’, and switching on the Fujiya And Miyagi version of the motorik, on the early pulsing Sheffield electronic ‘Alarm Button’.

Playing with that lush signature of cracking indie pop, Emma (shadowed on backing vocals and harmony throughout by Mat) can at any one time channel Tanya Donelly, Sonya Madan and Miki Berenyi simultaneously. Though as breezy and shrouded in vapours as it is, Emma has a certain swagger and attitude that manages to pierce the daze.

The backing meanwhile shifts between all those already mentioned reference points, but can also throw up a few surprises, especially with vague passing influences such as Cabaret Voltaire, Ringo Deathstarr, Teenage Fanclub, Altered images and the Happy Mondays all swirling around.

A decent sound with plenty of variation, subtitles and energy, Deep Cut refine and breathe life back into the yearning shoegaze and Britpop of another era. With conviction, well-crafted songwriting and a captivating lead singer, they manage to stand apart from their influences just enough to avoid cliché and a reliance on the nostalgic.





Garrett N. ‘Let’s Get Surreal’




Channeled into an eclectically blended opus of a showcase, in a sense a purview of Garrett’s tenure as a composer and sound designer creating incidental music and soundtracks for a litany of American networks, the pun-tended riff entitled Let’s Get Surreal runs through the full gamut of its creator’s skillset and tastes. In the decade since his first and only other album thus far, Instrumentals And Oddities, there’s been a hell of a lot water-under-the-bridge, and Garrett’s album at times seems like one out-of-sync with its time: Leitmotifs and themes, including a growing cacophony of multiple George Bush Juniors reading out his infamous address to a nation speech on the eve of the second Gulf War (overlapping and twisted until the word “terrorism” echoes like a broken mantra), are evoked on the WMD condemnation, undulated by a Kubrickian menacing drone, ‘Saddam/Espace’ – just one example of a subject overtaken by a catalogue of equally destructive and important events; the incessant hunger for stimulation, reaction and validation of 24-hour news feeds quickly replacing world events at such a rate as to make anything longer than a few years back seem ancient history.

The sound quality indicates a talent for production: Garrett N. is attempting to bring hi-fidelity and a verve of polish back to music production; arguably a lost art in so many ways, especially in an era when availability and convenience is valued above audio quality, and when music is accessed, predominantly, through compressed digital streaming platforms on smartphones. If nothing else, Let’s Get Surreal sounds good in its bombast; loud when it needs to be, clean and crisp when more thoughtfully meditative and ambient. It makes a refreshing change to hear it.

The music itself is epically framed, following a concept that errs towards progressive rock and beats opera; there’s even an ‘Overture’ to kick things off, part of a triple suite of tracks that (surreal indeed) morphs Michael Caine’s anecdotes about gay slurs and allusions to a changing musical landscape of 70s Floyd, ethereal synth work, hues of heavy Muse prog guitar gestures, brighter shades of MGMT and psychedelic pop and Todd Rundgren. Continuous with recurring hooks, bridges and fades connecting each track on this hour plus filmic soundtrack, Let’s Get Surreal blends lofty noodling with longing composure as it confidently zaps and fuses the cosmic with Hip-Hop instrumentalism, library music with 80s flange rock, 8-bit robotics with conga funk, and low-riding RNB with the psychedelic.

A curious album from an obviously talented music producer and musician, this ambitious suite does seem like a home-studio project from a bedroom maverick, dressed-up as a resume, yet remains an impressive expansive astral oddity of constantly progressive and twisting musical tastes: An album where nothing, quite literally, is spared!




Singles

Twink ‘Brand New Morning/ Dream Turn into Rainbows’
(Gare du Nord) February 1st 2019




A match made in halcyon nostalgic haven, quintessential English psychedelic journeyman Twink (the nom de plume of former Pretty Things, Pink Fairies, Tomorrow, and the fleeting Stars instigator, Mohammed Abdullah John Adler) breaks bread with Ian Button’s Gare du Nord label’s unofficial house bands, Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox, on his latest bucolic single.

Taking a while to materialize on wax, the Gare du Nord lineup of Button, Robert Rotifer, David Woolf and Robert Halcrow first worked with Twink back in 2017; backing one of the doyens of early psych for a series of ‘rare’ shows, which included a guest slot at Kaleidoscope’s 50th anniversary Tangerine Dream jamboree.

Essentially Twink’s spotlight, the (traditional) A-side, ‘Brand New Morning’, was co-written with Picturebox main man Halcrow. A genital kind of vicarage Baroque-chimed harpsichord period Syd Barrett dream capsule from psychedelic rock’s back pages, this earnest Village Green enchanted ditty breaths in the optimism of a sunny-side-up kind of day. The more interesting companion B-side, ‘Dreams Turn Into Rainbows’, is a flute-y and mellotron dreamy romantic yearned number. Building from folky psychedelics echoes into a diaphanous Moody Blues fantasy, Twink’s repeated sentiment of, “I still dream about you/ But dreams they turn into rainbows”, is carried on the currents and vapours of his backing troupe’s melodious lush lingers.

Ever expanding the catalogue of nostalgic and halcyon age signings, Ian Button’s label dissects the past but lives in the present, whether it’s the 60s, 70s or even 80s (see the label’s Deepcut LP, which also features in this roundup): The metaphors and analogies proving timeless, even if the music isn’t. Twink is an obvious fit and addition to a label so endeared with England’s less celebrated mavericks.

By the time this review reaches you, the limited-to-200-copies vinyl single should be available via the shared Twink Bandcamp page. A digital copy for streamers is also being made available.





Clovvder ‘Traits’
November 13th 2018




Invoked during an ‘astral winter by the seas’ of the Uruguay port city they call home, Montevideo, the Gothic atmospheric conjurers Clovvder and their most recent couplet of eerie and poetically forlorn bewitching drones (Traits) merges the ominous with the ritualistic diaphanous surrealism to unsettling, spiritualist effect.

Channeling the unconventional morality of the celebrated surrealist Uruguayan-born French writer/poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse’s Les Chants de Maldoror, ‘old gods’, magik and hermetic beliefs, the duo’s Tanky and CO3RA personal peer dramatically into the void as they navigate the aloof philosophical quandaries of existence and self: The second of the two tracks, ‘Solipsismo’ can be translated as both ‘alone’ and ‘self’, a prompt in this case to the eternal downer that the ‘self is all that exists’.

Tar black waters, swirls of minimal dark majesty, resignation, and wispy apparitions posing descriptive esoteric longing lyricism (“Black abysses, swirling/I felt born in me”) materialize in waves across both of Traits haunted soundtrack evocations. A sad melancholic beauty and glints of escapism however lift the mood of the drowning-in-the-River-Styx vibe.

Relatively obscure, with only a handful of singles online, Clovvder may well dissipate back into the ether that they appeared from; their non-linear visions and dark arts sorcery poetic minimalism (imbued in part by the genius experimental cinema of Russia’s exalted Andrei Tarkovsky: Scenes from his loose amorphous interconnected autobiographical movie The Mirror are used to accompany ‘Hydrophila’) demand total absorption and the time to take hold.

Difficult to place; neither electronica, field recordings, drones or that dismissive ‘Witch’ prefix trend, Traits is closer to the perimeters of occult soundtrack magic realism poetry and despondent esoteric romanticism.






Words – Dominic Valvona

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