A Look At What’s Out There
Dominic Valvona

Singles/Videos/One-Offs/EPs:

Raf And O ‘Tommy Newton’

The ever incredible idiosyncratic dream reality duo of Raf (Raf Montelli) and O (Richard Smith) furnish us with another sublime avant-garde yearned imagining from their on-going David Bowie and Kate Bush imbued online tour. Finding inspiration from Nicolas Roeg’s iconic visionary, tragic interpretation of Walter Tevis’ 1963 sci-fi novel The Man Who To Fell To Earth, the often otherworldly musical partnership have penned and performed a spellbinding lamentable love song from the dream melancholic perspective of Mary-Lou – the often hapless and much put upon partner to the book’s alien visitor, stranded on Earth, Thomas Jerome Newton (played of course by Bowie in that film).

A bittersweet plaint that could all just be in the unraveling mind of Mary-Lou, this reflective song casts moon bending yearns over a dramatic malady that is both captivating and kookily jarring enough to send shivers down the spine. You should really all try to catch the remaining dates of the duo’s The Tour Online, which continues until September 2021. Alongside renditions and interpretations of Kate Bush and David Bowie songs, they also perform original material from their back catalogue and new material like ‘Tommy Newton’. Remaining dates are as follows, tickets and details are available on Raf and O’s website.

10 July

24 July

7 August

28 August

11 September

Also Read:

Raf And O ‘The Space Between Nothing And Desire’

‘Time Machine EP’

The Albums Trove:

Manzanita y Su Conjunto ‘Trujillo, Peru 1971-1974’
(Analog Africa) 2nd July 2021

Once more sending us sauntering and swaying into the summer months, Analog Africa can always be relied upon to release the sort of carefree, infectious rhythms we hunger for at this time of the year: pandemic or not. The label returns once again to the South American continent, showcasing the quickened glissando, melodious licks and riffs of Peru’s electric guitar legend Manzanita.

Thankfully brought to the attention of that label’s chief honcho Samy Ben Redjeb by the record collector and passionate, all things ‘cumbia’, blog founder Victor Zela – who graciously let Samy have ‘one of the best records ever recorded in Peru’, Manzanita’s Manzaneando com Manzanita LP, from his enviable collection -, the 60s and 70s six-string idol can now be heard by a much wider international audience with this new highlights compilation.

Imbued by the continent’s breakout musical fusion of cumbia (hailing originally from Colombia, this genre gets its foundation rhythms from Africa and everything else from various indigenous styles), the psychedelic (a brief flash of which could be heard on Peru’s airwaves before Juan Velasio’s coup in ’68 and the country’s cultural shift towards only promoting local culture) and the rapid tempo with comic or picaresque lyrics Cuban ‘guaracha’, Manzanita became a real trailblazer.

From his iconic 72-73 album sessions on the Virrey label, Samy has chosen fourteen tracks of sizzled exotica and tropical dancing to tantalise the listener. The main man’s guitar playing style itself is a sort of mix of Dick Dale, Link Wray, a more peaceable blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Ritchie Havens, with crisscrossing excursions across the Tex-Mex border. There’s some very quick finger work, a lot of slipping and sliding, and vocal line imitation, yet mostly nothing that shows off: no ridiculous lengthy soloing. His band tap away all the while on rustic, scrappy and brushed percussion, lightened horns and the odd chorus effort of wandering, sighed or serenaded vocals. It’s everything you need for a summer soundtrack.  

Jason Nazary ‘Spring Collection’
(We Jazz) 25th June 2021

In an age in which, thanks to a global pandemic, the joys of spontaneity have almost vanished it’s great to hear such spontaneous immediacy in the untethered improvised solo and collaborative work of Jason Nazary. Confined like most of us over the last 17 months to home and neighbourhood meanders, the Brooklyn drummer and producer’s concentrated mind wondered elsewhere for something to concentrate on; turning in the end, as it did, to a caffeine-fueled experiment in reassembling and fiddling around with his modest modular set-up ad a sparse kit of bells, shakers, pots and pans.  The results of which fill this avant-garde haven of barely recognizable jazz, electronica and library music; spurred on by an equally experimental guest list of both US and European mavericks, and Nazary’s foil in the Anteloper duo, Jamie Branch.

Nazary’s inaugural release on the most brilliant Helsinki label We Jazz (I personally think this is one of the best contemporary jazz labels of recent years) is a both sporadic and kooky freefall of science fiction atmospheres, sonic flotsam, and bubbled and burped chemistry. Off-kilter, stumbled and galloping bursts and more singular hits on an unconventional drum kit face off against static raspberries, dreamy floatation, primal soups and twinkled circuitry on what is a truly ‘out-there’ album. 

As for those many guests, fellow Brooklynite-based musician, the Cuban-American reeds specialist and producer David Lean, puffs away on various hinging and whittled flutes and a piccolo on the Sergei Prokofiev like (as transmogrified by fellow label mate Otis Sandsjö) ‘Pulses Of Wind, Real Or Imagined’. And Jamie Branch’s trumpet gargles and makes wispy sounds that evoke Jon Hassell being sucked backwards through a vortex on the cosmic scramble ‘Dust Moth’Tongues In Trees co-leader, guitarist, singer and producer Grey McMurray uses his surround voice to dreamy echoed and multi-layered effect on the Tomat-esque, and most flowing track, ‘Days & Nights, For Em’.  

If the idea of Ornette Coleman and his drummer extraordinary foil Ed Blackwell being fucked-up and tripped-up by Flying Lotus and µ-Ziq sounds like a joy then Narzary’s Spring Collection is the album for you. Challenging most certainly, but moist and tricksy enough to offer a playful avant-garde burst of spontaneity to your life. 

Passepartout Duo ‘Daylighting’
(AnyOne) 25th June 2021

Taking quite a gamble travelling once more across various borders in both China and the surrounding areas, and negotiating various diplomatic headaches in a pandemic, the avant-garde Passepartout Duo must have had their work cut out producing this latest album of ‘timbrical, rhythmic and melodic’ explorations.

Once again in partnership with the AnyOne Beijing Arts Company label and curatorial platform, and invited by the design hotel, Sunyata Meili, to continue their work, the freely traversing partnership of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito roam inspiring landscapes to feed their curious performative practice.

This time around it’s the awe-inspired realms of the Meili Snow Mountains, Lijiang and the fabled imaginations of Shangri-La that enthuse such ambient, textured suites. As with the last project, 2020’s Vis-á-Vis, they layer personalised, purposeful built instruments (the ‘fuzzy synth’) with a portable mix of percussion; in this instance the familiar chimes and resonated rings of spiritual and mystical Tibet.

As the duo themselves put it, the ‘overall structure’ of this experiment is ‘built through momentary collisions between layers of sound that exist in parallel dimensions, continuously and independently’. The results evoke stillness on the beamed Moebius and Roedelius melodic title track, and build up abstract environmental contemplations and Himalayan scenery on others. Crystallised flakes, subtle arpeggiator, bobbing spheres and bass drones converse or merge with clopping percussive rhythms, sharper ringed piques and herded cattle bells on a tactile mission of visceral geography.

Chris Sharkey ‘Presets’
(Not Applicable Recordings) 25th June 2021

More demanding than most ambient music, the improvised textural mood music on the acclaimed electronic musician and producer Chris Sharkey’s latest album is far from background noise and atmospheres.

Inspired by the long hours waiting in airports and longer journeys on the motorway, both travelling to and in-between gig dates across Europe and beyond, and by the slowly building experiments of Ghettoville and Hazyville era Actress, Sharkey’s Presets album exists outside the usual perimeters of time. For this is an improvised soundtrack left to develop, progress and roam wherever the initial sounds and moods take it; fizzing out or reaching a climatic point unburdened by the constraints of time.

Sharkey, who only used an electric guitar and some tech hardware, set the only limitations as such. Without any prepared music he just hit the record button to see where sonic sparks and drones would take him. These experiments sound sonorous and often full of gravity, slowly shifting from an opening position to something you can’t ignore: something that called be said to be penetrative even.

There’s as much beauty (believe it or not), hint of melodies, as there is machine music. Yet it all still sounds very organic, if alien.

It reminded me in some ways of His Name Is Alive, and the hummed generator cyclonic motors, hovering forces and organ like stirrings of the 17-minute epic, ‘The Sharecropper’s Daughter’ brought to mind Popol Vuh’s Affenstunde.

Reverberating guitar harmonics and notes linger whilst fizzled and fuzzy crisp effects buzz. Atmospheres gradually fluctuate or climb, offering some surprising, moving dramatics. One standout track, ‘Evangelist (Salvation History)’, is an incredible hallowed cosmic mysterious evocation if ever I heard one: an ambiguous grand spiritual ascendance towards space. The eventual metallic rippled oscillations, movements and airflow suffused finished pieces (whittled down from over four hours of recordings) are deep and anything but contemplative, anonymous and monotonous; layered and striking enough to touch and feel.

Karen Zanes ‘Cloaked’
(Aumega Project) Available Right Now

Uncoupling from the futuristic rays of the synthesized Violet Nox collective, Karen Zanes is away with the fairies once more as the singer-songwriter returns to composing bucolic like tapestries on her new acid folk light album, Cloaked. Treading like a barefoot contessa in a hazy landscape of psychedelic dreams, Zanes meanders and winds down the forest path, conjuring up Fairfield Parlour visions of romantic yearning and fate, tragic pre-Raphaelite maidens and the airy mystical mists of Avalon.

An album of poetry put to a subtle accompaniment of both suffused hallowed and more esoteric vintage organ drones, gently brushed guitar and spindly, plucked harp-like tones, Cloaked sounds like a less Gothic Jodie Lowther of Quimper infamy, performing Astral Weeks.  From disarming daisy-chain swoons to more giddy rides on the carousel, Zanes exudes a certain languid air of the mysterious vocally, with unhurried breaths of dreamy intoxication and calming ethereal balms. This delivery might well hide some of the more haunting seriousness of the lyrical themes, which in this feudal psych troubadour environment sound timelessly enchanting and even unearthly and sad.

Talking of that sadness, this album is dedicated to the late music writer blogger Mark Barton, who sadly passed away last year. His Sunday Experience blog proved a comforting haven away from the hype and overly promoted mainstream; Barton championed many obscure talents and would no doubt have found room to herald this album. In tribute, Zanes penned the album’s title-track sonnet, which is a beauty. As is this entire songbook of wistful dreamy abandon.

The Corrupting Sea ‘Chamber Music For The Dead’
(Somewherecold Records) 18th June 2021

A soundtrack fit for these challenging times, Somewherecold label boss and electronic music explorer in his own right, Jason T. Lamoreaux once more sails The Corrupting Sea alias as he crafts a moiety of pandemic inspired industrial-ambient-trance chamber suites.

The Shelbyville, Kentucky-based artist navigates the miasma, anxieties and sense of helplessness on the fateful bell tolled Chamber Music For The Dead album. Yet though this timely ill-wind of feudal electronica and highly atmospheric uncertainty fits in perfectly with the dread and drag of the Covid pandemic, the album is both a distillation of six years worth of mixed emotions (both disconnected and deeply personal ones) and a concept plague story set against the backdrop of a ‘tin-pot dictator’ controlled society (plenty of challengers to that title). In practice this sounds like the last broadcasts, the last sense of hope, recorded under ominous vapours and wisps, and the chilled hand of death.

Relief from an icy lament and the funeral service choral synthesized voice waves arrives in the shape of ether-penetrated passages of cloud gazing and with cathedral expansive breathing spaces.

A balance is struck between the foreboding and the lighter periods of reflection, release and airy escapist hope on a soundtrack of plague-riven doom.

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.

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