Essential Hip-Hop Revue: Words: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

The bunting’s down, the facepaint has been ruined by teardrops, the class of 2018 failed to graduate…but worry not, Rapture & Verse is here to wipe the World Cup slate clean. Starting with some jazz to get horizontal to from Talos, with Coops stopping by and making the ‘Lowlight’ EP one to reach for when your soul needs a spritz of aftersun. Cross the Final Boss and expect to get your crash helmet cracked through the seat of your pants on the intriguing ‘Renegade’, a juddering slalom mixing joypad sci-fi and rock ready to brawl, piloted by a maverick on the verge of dangerous. ‘Est 92’ has Farma and Remus putting in a diverse five-track shift and pushing chips off the old block the size of boulders that shatter the mirror dividing fantasy and reality.





Doing what he does best with all of his strong arm steadiness, Rasco’s ‘Where the Heart’s At’ stomps down, a rugged size 9 carrying a little club favour to it thanks to Tom Caruana. Unashamedly summary, The Aztext will have you a blast once ‘Everyday Sun’ hits your speakers; the honeyed hook, the pianos and horns, and rhymes rolling up their sleeves, get parasols popping. Get yourself to the low-rider showroom as well and demand a Sean Elliot paint job while you’re at it, ‘Big Boy’ a funky-assed baller blasted with Southern rays and Big Sant on the passenger side. Madison Washington continue their hot streak with the laidback ‘No Cliché’, an after-party groove with the right amount of nous behind it.




Albums

Take a look ‘Under the Patio’ and you’ll find the excellent return of The Last Skeptik, stumping up a string of vibing, dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach. Star turns around the honeypot from Bonkaz, Mikill Pane, Cosmo, Kojey Radical and plenty more feed off the unseen electricity that eventually overloads into a sneering punk climax. An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness, but Skeptik’s lot ain’t soft by a long stretch.

Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing are unequivocal on ‘Finish What We Started’, mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration and consumed by the decency of “this is real, this is raw, this ain’t pop shit”. Park-E’s unmistakable stony flow draining stamina from challengers, and Thing adjusting the degrees of boom bap drama – including scheming countdowns and old skool windmills landing like a haymaker – have all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall.





‘Sugar Like Salt’ is the taste of Louis VI. A cunning operator sounding a little like Loyle Carner, the Londoner flavours the album just as the title says by working jazz angles and stories from midnight into the sunshine, and smarts from both sides of the equation. Hazy, but a firer on all cylinders. A third round of ‘Blackcurrent Jazz’ has Funky DL reaching his usual pro-jazz professionalism. Smoothness shaking out all the strains of the day comes with some refreshing twists on love and life, and even when the album’s at its most down in the mouth, the funky def lyrics can raise spirits and get a toe tapped.





Roll up roll up, Vanderslice is offering you the chance to grab ‘The Best Album Money Can Buy’. Ghostface, Freddie Gibbs, Prodigy, Slug and Evidence on guest duties up the exchange rate of the producer’s skinny set, a mob playground slash foreign film dub with Vic Spencer’s ‘Bone Museum’ the heaviest on the door, and rubbed up the wrong way by J-Zone crashing a ‘Chevrolet’.

You only have to skim through past R&V columns to see old skool institutions coming a cropper in the modern game. AG isn’t one to stumble, ensuring ‘The Taste of AMbrosia’ doesn’t lose any of that DITC flavour. “For mature rap devotees who’ve grown tired of contemporary rhymesayer laziness”, sounds like corporate blurb: “the flow is so simple but the words are so heavy” is AG chasing artificial additives out of town.

After last month’s explosion of seven track elitism, we should probably give a mention to Drake’s ‘Scorpion’. The good quality moments and educated/cryptic referencing are overcome by the usual sing-song peacocking (you don’t judge a battle by Drake out-singing Pusha T), and a tracklisting that’s in itself seems like a direct response to his competitors’ funsize selections. That hasn’t stopped it selling/streaming by the squillion, so what do we know.

Don’t expect ‘Therapeutic’ by A Minus and Chanes to take you somewhere New Age. Do expect plenty of that ol’ Detroit drowse button to blow you on course, smog soul and rhymes keeping upright but never uptight and with some good plots to pore over. One to spend time on the couch with. An even bigger smoke break with levels submerged until eyes turn red, MIKE’s ‘Renaissance Man’, with a Guilty Simpson-esque swagger, teeters through heavy cloud cover, an unfazed baritone dragging the lapse-hop project up by its bootlaces. Roughness around the edges that can still strike a chord with the keep it realists. No nonsense, WYSIWYG, Ronseal hip-hop from Scoob Rock – ‘Be You’ is his uncomplicated proclamation, and he follows his own advice with a weathered, hoarse flow dipping into a patois that maintains a snake-like squeeze on the beats. Will stare you down, administer a one punch TKO before continuing about his day.

L’Orange continues his long and successful run of collaborative albums with ‘Marlowe’, in partnership with fellow North Carolinan Solemn Brigham. As usual the producer’s beats are full of character, detailing colourful scenarios, surprise witnesses and funkiness found in every archive discovery. Brigham clamps the mic from the get-go and is an imperious ringleader to the circus, challenging but never difficult. Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your tooth comb for the umpteenth time.






Mixtapes/remix LPs

Fans have thought it; purists have wished for it, speculators have theorized it – a whole album of Nas rhyming over DJ Premier beats. Shortee Blitz and Turkish Dcypha give you a taste of what might have been (and what still could be), their dexterous, catalogue-cherry picking ‘NaSir’ mash-up supplying enough theoretical bangers to get petitioners for the real thing hot under the collar. Not to be outdone, the Steel Town Sounds Crew remix their own Nas favourites, prepared to push out the boat and up the risk factor (as well as keep the peace) with a collection of familiarities and the lesser picked – worth a listen on a name your price basis. Golden agers wanting some of that DITC TNT for the ear are in luck as well. Donnie Propa steps back up to the mixtape plate for a ‘Diggin in the Crate Cave’ double sider, Big L, Fat Joe, OC and co replayed in all their suede Timbs and sleigh bells finery. 90s quality to make your jeans that lil’ bit baggier.

Two DOOM features to gaze at: one with DJ Muggs and Freddie Gibbs, the other overseeing the Youth of the Apocalypse. Plus Wiki and Your Old Droog hit the city.










Words: Matt Oliver


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ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER





What a blockbuster month in hip-hop it’s been… Snoop setting the world’s biggest gin and juice record. Eminem and Nicki Minaj reportedly going steady. 50 Cent against Ja Rule, episode #89. Seven tracks being the new 18 tracks plus intro, outro and skits, plus bonus disc.

And there’s also been Pusha T versus Drake: ‘Daytona’ is a significant, title belt-claiming blow that’ll take some recovering from – the latter’s ‘Scorpion’ is imminent, with the additional angle of Martin Shkreli weighing in. Kanye’s ‘Ye’ poses more questions than answers, which is precisely what makes the man, while Nas & Kanye’s ‘Nasir’ has its moments, but falls short of what the dream team billing promises and certainly needs more room than the running length du jour. This is before we’ve even had time to take on Kid Cudi & Kanye’s ‘Kids See Ghosts’, or attempted to try and keep up with The Carters.

 

Singles/EPs

Dead Residents’ ‘Style Terrorist #1’ weighs an absolute ton, a clunky renegade barking like a sergeant major wearing influences as badges of honour. Heist vibes in full effect when Mr Brown sets a tripwire and infra red assault course and Confucius MC and Jehst come abseiling in through windows, all in the name of protecting ‘The Art-form part 2’, warning that “the ultimate high is the overdose”. One man’s lazy day on the river is another’s circled by sharks – Benofficial’s ‘Machine Gun Benny’ perfects the casual-smarting look. On the edge of grime and trap, VersesBang is sonically and sartorially sharp with seven tracker ‘Dressed to Kill…Myself’, well-paced so as to let listeners take a peek behind the big time persona (“I need to take control, like playing FIFA when it ain’t my go”).





After destroying airwaves with one of the freestyles of recent times, Black Thought rises above all of the aforementioned hullaballoo with the six track ‘Streams of Thought’. Augmented by 9th Wonder’s telepathy, soulfully shaded but a no-go zone for suckers, it’s an absolute lesson in politics, autobiography and pure battle-hardened craftsmanship that number one spots are reserved for. Parading the glamour life before denting it hard, Conway the Machine and Sonnyjim, with business-like savagery, cause ‘Death by Misadventure’, professional professors in the science of not flinching when stakes get high. To pianos that go left where ‘Still DRE’ went right, Blank Face and Tools Beastly ride the streets on ‘Gunslinger’, advising against feeling lucky. Trademark street cinema from Endemic Emerald joins with French generals 87 Escadron for the war report ‘Mercenaires’, army fatigue gruffness driving through the eye of the storm with Ruste Juxx and Tragedy resuming support. Add Apollo Brown carefully stirring emotions with boom bap going deep in thought, to Locksmith laying bare introspection, ideas and education, and the answer of ‘No Question’ is empathetic and quietly emphatic.




Albums

This year, Ramson Badbonez is ‘Jason Bonez’. That’s not Jason of the Bourne Identity, nor the Argonaut organiser or even the one-time Scott Robinson, but the mask-wearing blood and guts specialist who as with everything he does, doesn’t take his foot off the gas from the first unsheathing. Here to carve open nine swashbuckling tracks, wringing the house of horror hitman spiel out hard, there’s a new patron saint for whenever the 13th Friday of the month rolls around.





The restless sound of Rye Shabby is to ‘Die Shabby’. Worldly pressures that build up around him are absorbed by the protection of a dark, eerie glow, lyrically economical with energy but never the truth. With Verb T writing out prescriptions that enhance the dilapidated, empty experience, sling it on during the dead of night and find it how it envelopes the room, bringing silhouettes to life and an unspoken feel for consolation.

We may be a bit late on this one, but with new special editions launched and then swiped off shelves, Crimeapple and Big Ghost are the crime family with ‘nuff shots to share. ‘Aguardiente’ is a 100% proof of ferocious rhymes and slick stories making you believe everything spoken about every goon, scam and threat (the hook to ‘Five Chechnyans’ will make you laugh when it probably shouldn’t), to the tune of soul-infused onlookers and accomplices that either look the other way or are in too deep. Music to stash goods and tint windows by.





Neat and tidy true school enthusiasts who have the golden age running through them like a stick of rock, New York’s Penpals crew keep the underground on the level when penning ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Their zeal for technical perfection/pseudo-nerdery means rocking the boat extends to shouting out John Cleese, but the likes of ‘On the Roof’ are just what your garden party and fly school reunion needs. A few listens in and thou shalt not return to sender.

Time for some hip-hop corporal punishment to keep the next generation in line: Bumpy Knuckles is the elected elder statesman who won’t bend to socially mediated conventions. ‘Pop Duke’ is produced by Nottz knocking heads together, and has Chuck D, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie showing there’s no substitute for experience and a carefully sharpened stick in the mud that creditably, doesn’t ramble on.

In it to win it. Fake it til you make it. ‘Thieving as Long as I’m Breathing’. The world according to blasé boosters and old skool aestheticians Career Crooks, savvy Philly pair Zilla Rocca and Small Professor emptying a swag bag of doting remixes plus their own version of how to hold the hip-hop underground to ransom like gentlemen bandits. Do not be scared to check or scared to look. ‘Paranoid City’ by Isaac Roberts, previously known as Sleaze da Don, and Sonnyjim, is another to get repackaged by respectful well-wishers. Remixing new life into the pair’s doyens at the top table diary, Illinformed, Kelakovski, Smugii, Kosyne and the headliners themselves put up a very fine set of variations still keeping it tight knit.





Tom Caruana unveils volume six of his always exceptional ‘Rough Versions’ remix series with a collection of super funky Biggie revisions that elevate classics to new levels, made like the Son of Sam man was the real brains behind Bad Boy all along. The equally notorious David Begun is also at it again with a slice and dice job of Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. Even if you think the format is tired (and there’s not much wrong when linking core QBC epitaphs to the ghoulish underground), the artwork alone to ‘Dr OctoMobb’ deserves a bony-fingered round of applause.





Bored of the World Cup? To finish, here’s the one man army that is Aesop Rock.




Matt Oliver

HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

If you can look away from Kanye rediscovering his Twitter password, here’s the new Rapture & Verse to clog up your social media feeds with self-amusing jpegs, resent at royal wedding snubs, and wondering who’ll step up next after J Cole’s ‘KOD’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’. The saga continues when Salar examines the ‘Demigod Complex’, whose who-wants-some rhymes come wrapped in dynasty strings measuring you for a horse’s head. S. Kalibre takes the weather personal on ‘Sun and Rain’, a quiet storm looking for a sliver of light in burdened times. Bluesy keys and dipping sunshine won’t hold back Fliptrix, asserting ‘It’s Like That’ with bladed precision synching syllables against the shimmer. “If the bars don’t get ‘em, then the flow will” – Legion of Goon lump you with extra credit, ‘AIOFO’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ keeping up their strain of witty unpredictable. ‘Lock Your Doors’ is a pretty flimsy means of resistance once Ramson Badbonez does his best Jack Torrance impression, and ‘Safe’ by Kalieon won’t provide shelter from a measured pounding of the streets battling uphill.

The sweg of sarky master Lee Scott continues unabated, ‘Oh, The Fun We’re All Having’ a seven tracker finding pleasing ways to rise up from his customary wit pricking dulled psychedelica. ‘When It Rains It Pours’, and when Lewis Parker reaches cucumber temperature, it’s normally a keys and breeze classic, smoothness to the Nth degree with Verbz on the mic a good fit for street forecasting. Three times for your mind, the P Brothers’ buccaneering ‘Mentaltainment’, with Daniel Son, Doo Wop, Your Old Droog and Milano picking up and brandishing the baton, does heavyweight jail breaking you’ll lose your shoes over. On 2018’s system update of ‘don’t touch that dial’, Homeboy Sandman and Edan attempt to break superhighway shackles and ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’, a fun old skool caper with a hook from the rooftops capping exasperated moral guardianship/public health warning.








Interesting spoken word/rhyming at both ends of the candle from Lausse the Cat tells the tale of ‘The Girl, The Cat and The Tree’. A cosy jazz bedding of some splendour can show its claws, and the comfortably muted storytelling joins the dots between telltale realities of love and life, and what’s going on through the looking glass. The powerful, stark prose and spectacle in the spotlight of ‘Without Certainty’ has Ceiling Demons speaking up in a bid to bring a pertinent good cause to the fore: job done if it strikes a chord or doesn’t leave you sitting comfortably. “Emotional damage, you know I’m a vet” – at the junction of heartbreak ridge and breaking point, WLK’s ‘The Gry’ EP is a bid for survival knocking you sideways: industrially scalded, claustrophobic in surround sound, and lashing out when rationality evaporates. With a Guilty Simpson-esque roughness around the edges, MIKE’s ‘Black Soap’ EP is a steel wool wash of loops and freestyle static circling the drain, that gruff command structuring and keeping heads above water.




Albums

A whiny, shrill, eyeballs bulging flow researching Cage at the height of his neuroses with a dash of Chester P: that’s the mist of Eric the Red descending on ‘Caught Red Handed’. Eric’s mugshot is front and centre while Illinformed helps himself out back, in prime form with 14 shots to the dome and his own mutinous agenda. A swift in and out job, as much about partnering in crime as trying to stitch one another up, this is a thick cut of hella lairy British beef.





Spraying bars to bleach your grey cells and decreeing “I’d rather be real shallow than fake deep”, Lunar C has got the smarts to back the undoubted brat factor. ‘Dirtbrain’ rides mischief and sledgehammers found on grime stairwells (see the scales-breaking ‘Skwolla’), with WTF wordplay goading the rewind button. But canny operations that could well take him further, show his strength for the gift of gab beyond gobbing off. Ain’t no such things as halfway crooks, but there is The Mouse Outfit’s ‘Jagged Tooth Crook’, which is neo-soul, nailed. Manchester’s late night live band stick to the script and show the usual steady steps spiced by a rota of emcees and guests.

With assistance from Earl Sweatshirt and Knxwledge, Denmark Vessey’s ‘Sun Go Nova’ is a laborious half and half of rhymes most ears won’t be ready for, and a turnaround of instrumentals riffing off of needle fluff. “For lack of a better word, it’s alternative and leftfield” says the man himself, which is putting it mildly. An insurgent radio station needing the deftest of twiddles to lock onto, follows an audience address admirable for its single-mindedness, chipping away at your defences.

If the origins and whereabouts of Pan Amsterdam lead your search engine down a dead end, ‘The Pocket Watch’ shrugs ‘so what?’ if its skittish ghetto Jackanory leads you down a rabbit hole/Never-Netherlands. Easily distracted with thought pieces of no why and wherefore, the coolest town crier refuting time and space that you’d never imagine medicates to funk, jazz and electro paying low rent but giving glints of bygone razzle dazzle. Unfazed, unconstrained, and easily up for cult listen of the year.





Instrumental scaremongering from Dew8 offers a one-way ticket to a two-way street of the outer limits and no man’s land with lo-fi ghoulishness, ‘Pigeon Feed’ perfecting the classic of letting your ears fill in the gaps for what horrors will follow. Parallel altered state ambience and patent anxiety from Sam Zircon reserved ‘For Shipping and/or Storage’ is like trying to piece together the ghosts of dreams past, offering sub zero degrees of nostalgic comfort and a boom bap itch that you can never quite get to.

Solidify your summertime listening with Dumi RIGHT’s ‘Doing It The Right Way’, the Zimbabwe Legit emcee doing user-friendly consciousness with help from Mr Lif and Mike G of the Jungle Brothers; a good one to throw on once debate breaks out over beers and barbeque. Follow suit with Offwhyte’s ‘Both Sides of the Mississippi’, packing contemplative punch from that fairly gentle, ever fluent flow of his, where rhymes manifest over perfectly matched beats until he’s the last man standing. More fire from The Doppelgangaz tells you to open wide and say ‘Aaaaggghh’. Tinted a little darker than their rockingly good ‘Dopp Hopp’, still crossing from East to West but like they’ve dimmed the high beams on the low-rider (‘Slay Bells’ demands are you listening), all praise remains due to The Cloak from one of the baddest assed pairs out there.





The love of lexicon is still the apple of Paul Barman’s eye. More than meets the ear in his answer-for-everything, stimulator kook role, ‘Echo Chamber’ carries on closing the gap between potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end. A supporting cast of ?uestlove, Mark Ronson, Open Mike Eagle, Prince Paul, DOOM and Masta Ace means it’s not far from frickin’ awesome. Blu and Shafiq Husayn’s flaky ‘The Blueprint’ has funk to be found, but sounds like it’s constantly going in and out of tunnels while it breaks down gang divisions and geography by the most basic means possible.

Some proper old skool, four-track business out of Cali produces a re-up of The Nonce’s ‘1990’, the Project Blowed affiliates finding their feet with De La Soul-style rhymes, pointers towards Peanut Butter Wolf & Charizma and The Pharcyde, and interplay and concepts (little metaphor needed for the napkin-tucking ‘Chocolate Cake’) getting the most out of raw materials. Royce da 5’9” continues to go from strength to strength when unlocking the ‘Book of Ryan’, piled high with battles and confessionals, life lessons and fears to open eyes and ears. Given the LP’s length, ‘I’m not getting better, I’m just getting started” will make you think twice if you thought you knew everything about the man already.





With so much drama in the CNT it’s kinda hard being the LDZ. Funky DL does GTA, and Sam Krats has got the cream.













MATT OLIVER‘S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP ROUNDUP






Singles/EPs

By any means necessary, Illaman will ‘Geddit’, rifling through Sumgii’s kitchen sink bass scuttle. No boos when G00se jumps to his desk and welcomes to you the spot-on six track ‘Living Poets Society’, pitching himself against sinuously looped funk so he can give the mic what for with lyrics that “are rejected scripts from The Exorcist”. Harvs le Toad’s ‘Garlic Mayo’ EP is a strong platter of elegant neck warmers, taken away from the fireside by the candour of Kemastry, Vitamin G and Bill Greene. The nimble step ups of Louis VI tip their hat to how ‘Jazz Got Me’, joined by Mick Jenkins for a quiet storm warming the spot just lovely as rhymes dart between licks and plucks.





Westside Gunn continues to fire across the compass with the imposing Mr Green, “FLYGOD Is Good..​. All The Time” pushing big and dusty drum snaps and that trigger happy, badaboom flow spraying stupidly close bystanders. Off-kilter with a happy, cosmic ending, Blacktop Megaphone’s three track spitball starring Denmark Vessey, DrxQuinnx, Khallee and Angele Anise could only be called ‘Post Reality’. The intense vortex spun by Haleek Maul’s ‘In Permanence’ EP is perfect end-of-days/modern day guerrilla hip-hop, soulfulness and shoots of recovery encased in twisted electronics and blasted with raw-throated verbs. Least subtle muse of the month goes to A$AP Rocky rinsing Moby on ‘A$AP Forever’, a hotchpotch so brazen it’s almost admirable.



Albums

Several false starts after the startling original, Dr Octagon is back doing the rounds, Kool Keith reading a print out from his random scenario generator as his thesis of ‘Moosebumps – An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation’ reunites the pimp-practitioner with the screwdriver sonics of Dan the Automator and Qbert. A couple of hardcore/‘I’m Destructive’ moments in the top pocket, it’s otherwise prime time, KK cue card rambling/shopping list recitals to space-staged conspiracies, at least going some way to restoring the good doctor’s name.





A collaboration sure to put a knot in the shorts of fanboys everywhere, ‘Czarface Meets Metal Face’ pretty much delivers on comic book and underground hip-hop hype. Inspectah Deck plays a controlled, governing hand. Esoteric will battle anybody, and doesn’t care who you tell. DOOM is even more aloof when staring the cataclysmic dead in the eye. DJ 7L is a threat throughout on the beats with a succession of meaty blows. Plenty to dissect then; in proper comic book style, this boat race battle will run and run.





Nowadays it’s a boost to your credibility, maturity and back catalogue to take a trip to the opera house. Nas is the latest to dig out his dicky bow, his Kennedy Center performance of ‘Illmatic’ from top to bottom with the National Symphony Orchestra, caught for posterity. The prodigal son of the projects now has America’s amphitheatres in his pocket, thief themes now a grandiose, surround sound spectacle. If you think it’s superfluous, Nas not dropping a single note in the spirit of the original is worth putting your top hat and tails for.

Strong on the basics with one foot in the club, Del & Amp Live coast out of ‘Gate 13’ with shiny beats that indulge in P-funk boogie without over-flossing, nor complying to trap 101. Del’s customary wordery successfully challenges itself to come off the top without reaching for the moon, despite the occasional Amp Live nudge into Deltron 3030 colonies. Don’t let this one slip under the radar.

You believe Jean Grae and Quelle Chris when they declare ‘Everything’s Fine’, an album full of contrasting textures and combinations from the power couple. Lo-fi to highly charged to deeply underground, socially aware to conceptual to off the wall, unyielding to free and flowing and far reaching (including cameos from Nick Offerman, Hannibal Buress and Your Old Droog). Casual listens are strictly off limits.

For when you’re kicking back but still scheming, Maxo’s ‘Smile’ grins through gritted teeth, all bleary neo-soul beats and off-the-chest, mind working overtime assertions. Once Cavalier opens up his ‘Private Stock’, you’re prey to fuggy funk – Iman Omari with the lion’s share – and easy-on-the-streets style you can’t help but fall back to. “Your recipe depend on your prowess” forces opposition to cook the books. Stepping in the right direction ‘On Their Way’, Dillon and Batsauce flow through highs and lows (see ‘Splash’ drowning its sorrows segueing into the Greg Nice upper ‘Come On’) with turn of phrase and funkiness of lick, wisdom to throw wide open and also crumbs of comfort to keep to yourself. “As long as we get fed, then nobody gets hurt” – so do yourself a favour and throw them a bone.





The best of Wretch32 and label mate Ocean Wisdom, Coops runs the graveyard shift to deal with the grey matter of ‘No Brainer’. Over a bedrock of deep watery keys and sultry atmospheres jamming on the low, Coops’ clutch flow is perfect for seeing situations through to daybreak, mixing the kinetic and lullabies both cradling and on the creep. Uncomplicated and concise, let it take hold as shadows lengthen. British bulldog spirit ignorant to minding Ps and Qs, Smellington Piff – “the definition of a drunken scholar, living in squalor” – is the school of seven bells graduate forcibly removing those in his way. ‘No Fixed Abode’ is an energetic knuckle sandwich full of big, thoroughly well produced head nodders and sabre-truth rhymes as the Piff hits the stand towards the top of the UK brat pack.





Live from the doss house, Cult of the Damned’s squalid ciphers come so solid on “Part Deux: Brick Pelican Posse Crew Gang Syndicate”, the all-star suicide squad wearing a “Burger King crown with your queen feeding me”. Def/undead rhymes tilt the balance of lopsided boom-bap phantasms, probably done the old fashioned, wet-finger-in-plug-socket way. Not far behind, Wundrop and Kemastry are ice cold in their provision of ‘Frosty Raps’, hammering out a reality while surroundings start reddening eyeballs. Forging ahead against the smother of midnight, the pair achieve the fine art of making the squalid sound like a super sharp shooter.





Poseur exterminator Big Toast continues to spray society’s roaches on ‘Call It On’, joined by Jack Diggs showing a spite-concealing jazz hand on the beats, and stepping to the mic with equally indignant gusto. Focus mode on full alert and guaranteed to end in blood, sweat and tears, the pair pile in as the pints are poured. The human condition analysed in that cold up North flow, Savvy aka Asaviour takes risks and expands outside of his bread and butter in ‘The Battle for Hearts and Minds’, with extensive, well rounded theatre addressing the state of the world.

A splice of soul gold, Kuartz’ ‘Kuartz FM’ is most debonair on the dials, heading down the highway with wind in hair and song in heart. Determined to make the sun put its hat on, instrumentals create a love zone playlist with the right amount of kick-snare slap to it. For those who enjoyed Calvin Valentine’s ‘Plush Seats’, make room for the addition of ePP supplying vocal garnish and taking care of the source on the free upgrade ‘Chrome Seats’.



Mixtapes

(Pulitzer prize winner) Kendrick Lamar rhymes over Dr Dre beats. Wipe that drool away and rejoice that DJ Critical Hype has got his wondrous sewing machine out and impeccably stitched together a capital Compton grey album so high grade, it’s ‘The Damn Chronic’, to the sound of a million hip-hop messageboards imploding.

https://audiomack.com/embed/album/dj-critical-hype/the-damn-chronic

Matt Oliver’s Essential Hip-Hop Review




So, it turns out that 50 Cent isn’t a bitcoin millionaire after all. And that Talib Kweli found about the Black Star album reunion on the internet, like the rest of us. So Rapture & Verse has had its fingers burnt while attempting to keep ‘em on the pulse. We’ve been consoling ourselves instead with the possibility of that zillion dollar Wu-Tang album being relisted on eBay – we’re more likely to bid on that than go for a Record Store day reissue of Cam’ron’s finest hour – and that a trip to Busta Rhymes Island (a legitimate map location, not a Flipmode Squad theme park) could be just the job to escape this frightful weather.






Singles/EPs

Del the Funky Homosapien and Amp Live – not in the roles of Nicky Campbell and Carol Smillie – wheel up the ‘Wheel of Fortune’, a banger that pleasingly doesn’t travel straight up and down as the club dictates. Music to fry by, ‘Fajita Effect’ is the Doppelgangaz letting loose another dollop of that ‘Dopp Hopp’, East-to-West funk that’ll make you guard your grill. MED and Guilty Simpson pledge ‘Loyalty’ with a set of easygoing back-and-forths nudging you to fling your windows wide open, save for ‘Face Down’ making you eat mat.





‘Donkey Punch!’ from Wundrop & Kemastry is here to make an ass of us all, an unsteady hallucination turned into actual fact. More Juga-Naut for you on ‘Found Objects’ means more East Midlands elitism, striking blows and a pose over half-inched favourites and rocking some of his own wares with a dissertation worth of references to chew over. The right honourable Harvs le Toad gives the airwaves some zing with ivory tinkler ‘Minty Fresh’, Vitamin G and Louis Loan tipping their hat to a beatsmith taking his jazz all the way to Walford.



Pragmatic in the face of joy, lo-fi curio ‘Plus One’ by Pan Amsterdam balances spring-has-sprung strings with a deadweight flow locked between Jonwayne and Count Bass D. Killer horns lift the firing Bishop Nehru up to the ‘Rooftops’, and ‘The Mood’ lifted by Smoke DZA featuring Joey Bada$$ would be relegated to just another trapper by numbers were it not saved by a lovely ice cream van riff wafting over the top. Back with a new set of scalpels, Dr OctagonKool Keith, Q-Bert and Dan the Automator – prescribe a one-way ticket to ‘Area 54’, full of that ‘cosmetic, kinetic, ultramagnetic” good stuff measuring you for a bodybag.




Albums

Calming yet still able to speak up, Ty’s ‘A Work of Heart’ almost feels like a magic carpet ride over the capital’s skyline, especially with singles ‘Brixton Baby’ and ‘Eyes Open’. Or the navigating of London backstreets like it’s a gambol though the countryside, despite there always being potholes en route. Or set adrift on memory bliss before stubbing its toe. You get the idea, so come and spread your arms if you really need a hug.

Apathy’s continued research into finding six million new ways for you to pop your clogs, means ‘The Widow’s Son’ is a fourteen round fight for your life (the title track calling in a favour from He-Man). Producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Buckwild, Nottz and Stu Bangas spread out in a bid to keep up with punchlines and wordplay battling into the fantastical. Remember, “while you rocking man-buns, I’m cocking handguns”. The second Prhyme instalment of Premier and Royce 5’9” continues their restoration job of hip-hop integrity. It still might not be enough for hardcore dream team assemblers, yet there are far worse concepts than an emcee extending his hot streak right from the off, and the producer richly rounding out the boom bap rat-a-tat, without either stuttering in stride.





Black Milk confidently advises you to catch his ‘Fever’, smooth neo-soul style that keeps your ear pressed hard to the speaker, and whose live band wisdom is velvety enough to give you a universally appealing education that cuts through the smoke. 2018 has another seat filled for best of reservations come Christmas.

It’s rare for an instrumental album/beat tape to sound so luxurious, but Calvin Valentine isn’t skimping when putting his feet up in the ‘Plush Seats’, 20, sub two minute silk cuts of soul and funk to have you glued to your pew. On the clunkier but no less funkier side, Exile’s excerpt in the ‘Baker’s Dozen’ series chops away to great effect, treating the MPC like a punch bag and still able to get smooth with it. ‘Sunlight Grace/O\Moonlight Vibes’ tells you all you need to know about Sai Wai, a pulse-steadying emcee keeping fires burning once jazz has closed shop for the day and has a date with a long hot bath in mind. Good for what ails you.





Still sounding like they’re working on Her Majesty’s Secret Service and still not giving the game away, The Herbaliser’s ‘Bring Out the Sound’ mixes lavish funk escapades with hip-hop involving peak-time Rodney P and beats styled as B-boy informants. Also eating away at hip-hop’s wider possibilities, Cut Chemist steps up to add songs and scope to his signature turntable torque. Edan, Mr Lif, Chali 2na, Myka 9 and Biz Markie fulfil mic duties as wings are spread into dusty, enquiring indie-dance and electronica that helps build an intriguing album that’s more a fluid soundclash than dazed collision.

Germany’s DJ Obsolete lays down jazzy failsafes in the field of pleasantly mature, springtime-in-the-90s boom bap, with features from Blabbermouf, Gee Bag, Warpath and Nomadic. ‘The Mandela Effect’ pays careful attention to expectations of the headnodders panel, and keeps it swift and to the point. Inviting you to wallow with them in sour times, the dejection of Dove Rock and Jackson Jones’ ‘A Pretty Way of Saying Ugly Things’ points loops downwards and posts spiritedly accepting lyrics peering over the fence, way too smart for being moored in the back of beyond. Gritty, windswept drama on a countdown to D-day, you shouldn’t expect anything else from the John Does also known as The Incredible Disappearing Man. On their eponymous album, grimly determined rhymes keep their head, buffeted and taunted by beats bound by the hands of fate.

For those up for some “unapologetic nerdcore boom bap schizophrenia”, Dngr Eyelnd open ‘A Lovely Room of DEATH’, a destination plastered in warning signs yet one where the madness is kept methodical, an intimidator honouring beats and rhymes protocol by arguing that “if this ain’t real hip-hop, then Taylor Swift is classic rock”. Make your reservation now. The tumultuously grungy Moodie Black and their symbol for ‘Lucas Acid’ fill the moshpit with feedback and threats, death rattles and loud, industrial spite; not a place for smiley faces. ‘Bulletproof Luh’ comes cultish – an at-odds flow from Mach Hommy stone-facedly seeks a ride or die chick, over far more adventurous, self-produced sampledelic beats.






Mixtapes

He’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and now has the Presidential cap to match. DJ Yoda’s ‘Make Mixtapes Great Again’ is his usual long shot of heavyweight hip-hop, TV and pop nostalgia, declassified secret weapons and mischief closing the gaps in between. Expect Prodigy in combat with Bob Holness, KRS-One duetting with Bobby Brown, Paul Barman taking a sleigh ride, a 128K version of ‘Forgot about Dre’, Huey Lewis and The News, and so on and so on.

This month’s moving pictures: C.A.M. takes to the streets, Quelle Chris & Jean Grae take it to the arcade, 4orce and King Kashmere take a hike, and the late Craig Mack shows who’s boss.













The Quarterly Playlist chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms



A reasonable assessment of the last three months, the Quarterly Playlist features an eclectic selection of ‘choice’ tracks from the Monolith Cocktail team. From across the musical spectrum, songs from the far east sit alongside glittering pop; traversing meditations share room with hip-hop and the Kosmische.

The inaugural revue playlist of 2018 features Plastic Ono Band sultry protest pop from U.S. Girls, fragmented reeling breakbeats from Cut Chemist and friends, Motorik mooning from Station 17, electrified dance jazz from Hailu Mergia, mystical cosmic cumbia from Sonido Gallo Negro, a cappella paean to Nelson Mandela by the Afrika Mamas, direge-y garage rock from the Moonwalks and 38 other equally interesting and varied tracks from across the globe.


Tracks in full:

‘Incidental Boogie’  U.S. Girls (review)
‘Look At Your Hands’  Tune-Yards  (review)
‘Well Who Am I’  Band Of Gold
‘Die Cut (Theme)’  Cut Chemist feat. Deantoni Parks  (review)
‘(((leapfrog)))’  MC Paul Barman  (review)
‘Addis Nat’  Hailu Mergia
‘Ein Knall’  Station 17 feat. Harald Grosskopf and Eberhard Kranemann  (review)
‘The Timeless Now’  Nonpareils
‘1001 Nights’  Ouzo Bazooka  (review)
‘Fresh Product’  Awate
‘Anything Goes’  Andy Cooper feat. Abdominal  (review)
‘Efrati’  Fadaei
‘Black Sambo’  Skyzoo  (review)
‘Kingz & Bosses’  Slim Thug feat. Big K.R.I.T.  (review)
‘That Jazz’  Coops  (review)
‘Cumbia Ishtar’  Sonido Gallo Negro
‘A Casa De Anita’  Camarao
‘All That We Are’  Brickwork Lizards  (review)
‘Hlala Nami’  Hot Soul Singers
‘Le Château’  Fishbach  (review)
‘Into Space’  Sailing Stones
‘Illogical Lullaby’  Hatis Noit  (review)
‘Also’  Astrid Sonne  (review)
‘Reptile’  Soho Rezanejad  (review)
‘Remain Calm’  Tony Njoku
‘Air Rage’  Lukas Creswell-Rost  (review)
‘Embers’  Flights Of Helios  (review)
‘And The Glamour Fell On Her’  Brona McVittie feat. Myles Cochran and Richard Curran (review)
‘Same Old, Same Old’  The Cold Spells  (review)
‘Winter Bound’  Hampshire & Foat  (review)
‘Vidsel-Sthlm, Enkel’  Bättre Lyss  (review)
‘Akokas’  Tal National
‘The Border Crossing’  Dirtmusic  (review)
‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  John Johanna
‘Diego Says Hello’  Modulus III  (review)
‘Communion’  Park Jiha  (review)
‘De Roda’  Rodrigo Tavares  (review)
‘You Get Brighter’  John Howard  (review)
‘Tata Madiba’  Afrika Mamas  (
review)
‘In Between Stars’  Eleanor Friedberger
‘No Place Like Home’  Life Pass Filter’  (review)
‘I Don’t Wanna Dance (with My Baby)’  Insecure Man
‘Israel Is Real’  Moonwalks  (review)
‘Men Of The Women’  Peter Kernel  (review)
‘We Have Always Lived In The Palace’  Sunflowers  (review)

MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

No time to celebrate 50 Cent becoming a bitcoin millionaire or Snoop releasing a gospel album, or Mos Def and Talib Kweli touting a Black Star reunion produced by Madlib. Right about now, groggy jazz from Jazz T and bleary digs from Lee Scott make potent points on ‘Ceiling’/’Urn Money’, matched by sweet and sour remixes from Pitch92 and Sleepwalker. The superior, subliminal sales technique of Genesis Elijah primes ‘How to Lose Fans and Alienate Listeners’ as a bestseller and puts a police cordon around the club. Weighing in at a headbanging ‘310 Pounds’, Juga-Naut and Mr Brown use the devil’s horns as their finishing move. A good heart these days is hard to find, so Ty giving you the benefit of his 20/20 vision is like a shot from Cupid on the breezy seesaw ‘Eyes Open’ featuring Durrty Goodz.





Wise-past-midnight pair Summers Sons are ones to cling to when the next weather warning comes calling, ‘Undertones’ an EP of sticky jazz drifts keeping it moving while remaining perfectly still. In the same postcode, Fanshore & Tropic’s touch of the ‘Reaper’ finds Hawaiian flutter in the Big Smoke, and the softly spoken stream of Coops’ ‘That Jazz’ means now he’s gonna rip you apart. Thug paradise, J Rocc-style, is to blend Mobb Deep and Sade into a whole new bunch of quiet storms. Tasked with the smooth operation of hijacking every 80s wine bar ever, six ‘Thug Ballads’ copy-and-paste their way up for coffee.





Underground bout of the year is found on the comic book crash course ‘Nautical Depth’, where Czarface and DOOM cause forum frenzy with pay-off lines galore and a bassline drilling into your ears. Apathy has also been busy doing dream team deals, appearing with Pharoahe Monch on the Pete Rock-made ‘I Keep On’, then swinging hard over ‘The Order’ of DJ Premier. On the move and on the loose, Sav Killz’ ‘Thundercats’ calls to the wild for some rough and tumble sent cartwheeling by Dirty Diggs. Credit to PHZ-Sicks for turning Sisqo’s most infamous panty raid into a hard hitting address causing ‘Riot in My Memory’. Moodie Black’s punishing industrialism lead by guesting gatekeeper Ceschi sews ‘Lips’ shut; dangerously atmospheric, as hell’s gates remove their padlock. Fake news gets a brick of actual fact to the face, unexpectedly from People Under the Stairs, playing the role of upset press blowing ‘Dog Whistles’.






Albums

Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon are back in full effect, opening up essential dialogue on ‘Let’s Talk’. Ever the polite pop culture vulture, Syntax thumbs through school photos and double-barrels the handbook of how to be an upstanding citizen and a hip-hop A-Z, with Cannon’s bruising beats keeping it cheeky, including one of his infamous Commodore-sponsored jungle jump-ups. Entertaining each and every time, the double act should be kept on speed dial in case of emergencies.





The main pastimes in the 20-strong Brighton borough of ‘Wizville’ are savagery and thrill rides. Ocean Wisdom stretches his rep with that 0-to-60 flow causing heart tremors, playing with the pitch control on the beats to alter the shades of black and blue he leaves the scene with, and placing guests Method Man, Rodney P, Roots Manuva, Jehst and Dizzee Rascal as almost incidental. Just when you think he’s showing signs of flagging, the assault rages on, maintaining Wisdom’s impressive ascent and already giving 2018 plenty to ponder.

 

Farma G’s wistful beats introduce ‘The Sentimental Alien’ to the modern world. Wishful thinkers and regal peace seekers from the Task Force intel, make it easy for handpicked emcees like Recognize Ali, Ric Branson, Smellington Piff, Anyway Tha God and Dirty Dike to dirty up a sound tinted a fine shade of rose. The custom brand, don’t-care daggers flung by Lee Scott and Black Josh create the monster that is the B-Movie Millionaires. With Sam Zircon behind the camera and keeping things eerily sluggish/sluggishly eerie, ‘Attack of The 50​,​000 Ft Sweg Lawds from Outer Space’ is a slumping battle royal of a snuff flick, a beast showing how it “put two and two together and got triple six”. The cure for a sub-zero February is having Pupils of the Clock waiting on you, enterprising Cornwall pair Tok and Lazy Eyez forging a clear path through crisp beats nudging the drowse button and sixth sense connections on ‘Timeless’. No danger of them following through on the declaration that “when we’ve got nothing left to say, that’s the point that we’ll call it a day”.





From the moment he draws first breath on ‘Weather or Not’, Evidence embarks on a masterclass. The man himself states “there are no wasted words”, inspiring under grey skies (the Dilated Peoples man is always better when there’s a storm afoot), holding your attention, and making you feel he’s dismissing (though not dissing) you as he lays everything bare with no discernible change in temperament. The forecast? One of 2018’s best.

Putting “the sublime in the subliminal”, Skyzoo’s ‘In Celebration of Us’ is some of the smoothest psychology and concrete consciousness you’ll hear this year. Written in the streets, penned to stir and examine the soul with his conversion of gunfingers to quotation marks, and cornering both the lounge and the late night creep, Skyzoo raises a glass with vitamin-rich articulation undercut with provocation, and making it look easy while his does it. One to be toasted over and over.



After Adrian Younge offered you ‘Twelve Reasons to Die’, Apollo Brown gives you another dozen dirty deeds to hold your head high by/duck down to. Repackaged as ‘The Brown Tape’ with Ghostface Killah exacting sepia-toned revenge, Wu-Tang Clan members to the right (wild for the night), and Brown providing his own gentlemen’s agreements regarding dead body disposal, it’s a classy sister dynasty mixing noble finesse and brute strength. With Sonnyjim selling you glamorous 70s crime and circling the block like a vulture, Chicago’s Vic Spencer puts his business card in the shop window for the rest of the year on ‘Spencer for Higher’. Top of his CV: the perfect voice for completing a schemes and hustles to-do list, and spitting with a charm happy to chew you up and spit you out.





You can’t keep a good man down, and Planet Asia, riding beats like a son of a gun about to clean up town, gets you wise to the ways of ‘The Golden Buddha’. That West Coast flow is still in fine fettle, sounding typically parched but never found dousing his disdain for non-believers and those slow on the draw. Still a deadlock breaker you can trust.

 

Room temperature boom bap sending you to the land of head nod, Klim Beats adds to the instrumental handbook focusing on jazz and funk. Hip-hop to do your spring cleaning by, though you’ll do well to come up as spotless as the Ukrainian’s ‘Natural’ sound. Looking to goad emcees into action, Badhabitz unveils a bulk of soul flips and darker omens. Staunch kicks and snares earning top dollar throughout, ‘Beat Library Volume 1’ makes itself easily available for your ears.

 

Under the name of an end of level boss with an Esoteric twang, Rock Mecca fights for the right to earn the freedom of ‘Ironworld’. To a flood of swirling symphonies within touching distance of Armageddon and pyrotechnics bankrolled by Hollywood, Vast Aire, Roc Marciano, Kool Keith and Canibus all try on knuckle dusters for size. Those unable to stand the heat will quickly be directed to the kitchen door. Now for the new album from Ugly Duckling’s Andy Cooper, in three easy, foolproof steps: grab a microphone, despatch a bunch of funk breaks hula-hooping or celebrating Mardi Gras, and invite Blabbermouf and Abdominal to challenge the rules on tongue-twisters. Doing what he does best, that’s ‘The Layered Effect’ for you.





For your eyes only: Cut Chemist versus the photofit, and hooray for Hozay.







MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP REVIEW

 

A happy new year to all freshly affiliated and dyed-in-the-wool Rapture & Verse rapscallions, climbing off its seasonal sickbed by thinking Eminem’s ‘Revival’ would be the antidote (it isn’t, by an unimaginable distance), and surprised that in the era of health and safety, you can still buy a GZA ‘Liquid Swords’ reissue complete with mini toy weaponry. Hopefully last month’s comprehensive Monolith Cocktail round-ups have put you in the picture as to 2017’s ins and outs; while we catch up with December’s overspill, there’s always Skillz and Uncle Murda squabbling for your retrospective vote.






Singles/EPs

After worming his way into the inner circle of Madlib and DOOM, electronic/house superpower Four Tet doesn’t fluff his audition remixing ‘Madvillainy’, a satisfyingly clean alternative bringing its own worldly daredevilry to the original’s boggy waddling. ‘No Excuses’ asserts Big Cakes, and the seven, Queen’s English-get-the-money tracks don’t pull their punches, making a convincing argument to go for second helpings. More international assassination from Endemic Emerald sends his latest platoon into battle, with Scorzayzee and Tragedy among the stripes-earners, while his string sections get the streets surrounded, the granite-and-gasoline ‘Black Bag Operation’ taking the opportunity to dump rubbish.





Liquid refreshment from Moka Only & E.d.g.e. comes ‘Lucid’ to a fluorescent twittering of too cool-for-clubs synths. Noteworthy for the useful mantra that “rap always overgrown, the grass need a mow y’know, too abstract to be quotable”. The trife life sticks close to Muja Messiah, taking on Roc Marciano’s sweat-trickling gangster leisure time; ‘Saran Rap’ is a half dozen street codes with eyes wide open that would relax if the stakes weren’t so high. Illogic re-enters his astral plane to tell everyone about ‘The Beauty in Evolution’, fastening his seatbelt and hanging out the window with a mix of dubby, jazzy instrumentals and rhymes trying to keep a lid on sounding awed.

Straightforward instructional from Slim Thug throws itself into the front row as he sorts ‘Kingz & Bosses’ with Big KRIT, pleasingly muted in measuring for crowns and emperor’s robes. The sledgehammer sound of BigBob pulverising a piano allows Sadat X and Big Twins to carefully take aim and open fire on the enjoyably unequivocal

roach-stomper ‘The Truth’. When the streets are watching, it’s ‘All Eyes On Us’, with Jamo Gang – Ras Kass, El Gant and J57 – bristling at the wheel of a related, get down or lay down steamrollering.




Albums

Completing his Michigan trilogy, Dabrye’s ‘Three/Three’ invites over a glut of underground hip-hop firebrands, but taps a sign that reads ‘respect our neighbours’ every time one takes to the booth. A stylish, steady holding it down, passing pure hip-hop, neo-soul and electronic routings rarely trespassing into the reds, with DOOM, Guilty Simpson, Ghostface, Danny Brown, Nolan the Ninja and Jonwayne standing for a fine album that doesn’t shout so from the rooftops.





High Focus maximise their strength by mix-and-matching two of their topmost chefs souring their latest specials board. Never a duo for soft centres, Jam Baxter and Ed Scissor spray disarray to decorate ‘Laminated Cakes’, their gateaux filled with mercurial gall and grit, and with Ghosttown providing the tough base and sprinkle of hallucinogens that aren’t exactly melt in the mouth. As they make you head nod like there’s a guillotine blade eying up your scone, Pierce Artists are the ‘Kings Returning’ to a hard-backed throne. Unlike the nation’s cricketers, Elliot Fresh and Deeq determinedly dig in, don’t waft at anything airy-fairy and never take their eye off the ball, to Rack Mode keeping perfect line and length on the beats. Part superhero, part vicious dental plan, ‘Teeth Ledger’ has Datkid and Bailey Brown flexing the sort of infectiously perturbing superiority that comes easy. Hood rat rhymes do obnoxious as matter of fact, and beats shrug in the face of catastrophe while waiting for the night bus: both have got a garrison of goods to set wintry nights ablaze, anchored by the supreme head-trolling ‘Whos Dat’. Another slow release slug to your chest from Bisk, with Sam Zircon assisting the leech-like tactics, makes it rain with ‘Saucemoney’ – perfect for when the sun refuses to come up.

Oh No cherrypicking from cool Cali stronghold Now Again is a funk/soul think tank that sounds played by ear, and whose good-paced trolley dash of sounds masks meticulous programming. Keeping a queue of mic antagonists waiting while mentally composing a posse cut’s posse cut, the dustiness of ‘Oh No vs Now Again 3’ is dredged in gold and will reactivate your head. Cutting through early year frostiness is Pete Rock and his ‘Lost Sessions’ finding sunshine on the horizon. Of casual instrumental majesty, the MPC finds the balcony view to its liking once given plenty of breathing space. No need to pass the aux here. The first hip-hop signing by The White Stripes’ Jack White is inauspiciously named New York emcee SHIRT – sartorially scruffy (and a search engine’s nightmare), but with enough raw, nomadic swagger to have you recognising the ‘Pure Beauty’ within.





David Begun continues to meddle in the affairs of Nas and Madlib, ‘Nasimoto: The Even Further Adventures’ playing God with the Gods and bootlegging to a boss standard. Fresh perspectives that push all the right, corresponding buttons. The crux of Masta Ace’s ‘Son of Yvonne’ gets renovated by a host of European producers that do both proud to earn their place in the album’s family portrait. Funky on the low but full of that all important snap that makes Ace tick, the tight-knit promise to never from the beaten track claims a companion to complement and rival the original.

Playing street games and getting results, Religion’s ‘The Demo Reel’ rigs up cop themes crossing the wrong side of town until reality starts to distort. Mists paint the scene from the ground up and freaks come out at night for loops and kicks that will work your neck blue, allowed a seldom spring in its step. For those still walking around in a post-Christmas fug, ‘The Top Left: Skeleton Staff’ from Mistah Bohze will shake you by the collar and out of your resolution-dodging malaise. Bulky from first to last until you’re swamped, and including a crafty reinvention of ‘Kernkraft 400’, the Glasgow emcee ploughs through on his own can’t stop-won’t stop manifesto.





“This is not trap, we don’t mumble neither: closed mouths don’t get fed”. Redbaren 907 and Deep of 2 Hungry Boys are ‘Unbreakable’, and you soon believe them: a won’t flop beats and rhymes unit (‘Barz Flows and Delivery’ hammering the point home), dishing out a one-two you can reliably gain muscle to. With the globe circling the drain, KXNG Crooked presents blow by blow coverage from the disaster zone with a flow to make you put your foot through the TV. ‘Good vs Evil 2: The Red Empire’ is iron-fisted intensity not sugar-coating narratives (despite some carnal urges) for anyone; despite the bleak pictures he paints, you trust the KXNG, whose force relegates beats to a footnote, to repair the job in hand.



Mixtapes

Everything worth hearing from Jeru the Damaja – a higher 90s heyday than most – gets its laundry aired on the ‘Dirty Rotten Mixtape’, Chrome and Donnie Propa in charge of putting together the best wrathful mathematics going. On the surprisingly lightweight ‘Emperor Nehru’s New Groove’, giving brains not too much to worry about, Bishop Nehru is on cruise control when flaunting shiny wares for the club and lounge: smooth operations hanging at the shallow end. Bruse Wane declaring ‘The Batman Should’ve Been On It’ transitions between classic beat loans and original album prep, swooping like charity gala attendee by day before night shift vengeance takes over. The bat signal is fairly strong with this one.





No videos this month. Go catch up with a boxset instead.

You can check out all Matt’s past roundups here

And all his reviews/roundups/selections from 2017 here

CHOICE TRACKS OF 2017: PART FOUR
SELECTION: DOMINIC VALVONA, AYFER SIMMS, MATT OLIVER





Wrapping up 2017 with the final part of our quarterly playlist revue, Matt Oliver, Ayfer Simms and Dominic Valvona have chosen another eclectic genre spanning collection of ‘choice’ tracks from the latter end of the year. From the Golan Heights (TootArd) to the cantons of Switzerland (Ester Poly), from weaponised disco pop (U.S. Girls) to attacking vibrant Curaçao electro protest (Kuenta i Tambú), from Gilbert and Sullivan cerebral pop (Sparks) to unearthed lost golden 60s nuggets (Cymbeline), this last curtain call of the year playlist reflects our tastes and opinions, and reflects what has been an anxious, unsettling twelve months.


Tracklist:

Mark Barrott  ‘The Pathways Of Our Lives’
Snapped Ankles  ‘Hanging With The Moon’
Kuenta i Tambu  ‘E Kalakuna’
TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Mustafa Ozkent  ‘Kasap’
Los Camaroes  ‘Mbembe Ndoman’
The Movers  ‘Kansas City’
U.S. Girls  ‘Mad As Hell’
Destroyer  ‘Cover From The Sun’
Wild Ones  ‘Invite Me In’
The Moth Poets  ‘The Shabby Gentlemen’
Ester Poly  ‘Dienstag’
Alpine Those Myriads  ‘Mail Order Doom (WHWGH)’
L’Orange  ‘Cooler Than Before’
Danny Watts & Aye Mitch  ‘Young & Reckless’
Evidence  ‘Jim Dean’
Thavius Beck  ‘Akhenaten’
Ocean Wisdom  ‘Eye Contact’
Antiheroes, Lee Scott & Salar  ‘No Sleep Till Mars’
Psycho & Plastic  ‘Boojum’
Alexander Stordiau  ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’
Solo Collective: Anne Muller & Alex Stolze  ‘Solo? Repeat! (Live)’
Audiac  ‘Gospels Unreal’
Bjork  ‘Arisen My Senses’
Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘I Am That’
Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tanau’
The Cornshed Sisters  ‘The Message’
Girl Ray  ‘Preacher (Radio Edit)’
Wesley Gonzalez  ‘Piece Of Mind’
Cymbeline  ‘Strax Nedenfor Tomen’
Martian Subculture  ‘Chewing Gum’
John Howard  ‘From The Morning’
Sparks  ‘I Wish You Were Fun’

Previous Quarterly Playlists from 2017:

Part 3

 

Part 2

 

Part 1



CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  TWO:  M – Z
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA, MATT  OLIVER and AYFER SIMMS




M – Z : Mazzi & SOUL Purpose to Msafiri Zawose.

Welcome to part two of our mega ‘choice albums/EPs of 2017’ feature. If you haven’t already checked it out, have a good perusal of part one, as the second part is a continuation, carrying on in an alphabetical order from where we last left off.

The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktailendeavors to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2017, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

M.

Mazzi & SOUL Purpose  ‘The Building’  (SOUL Purpose)

“A towering B-boy document gives familiar samples new life and piles banks of bricks and mortar beats and rhymes you can always back to do the business”.  RnV, Feb 17

The Building by established New Jersey movement Mazzi & SOUL Purpose is built on two levels and ends up a skyscraper, to a specification of telepathy that works from close range or miles away. Mazzi as emcee rhymes his ass off for fifteen tracks without leaving you behind (“love what you’re doing and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”) and not without addressing the state of the world, relationship complexities and being prepared to fight (with the listener playing the twelfth man).

The SOUL Purpose movement begins with a mash-up of every essential hip-hop break known to man, going on to cover cavernous, fusionist swells of sound, B-Boy skippers, deep cover gangster business, and samples found in Boots adverts/Sugababes singles and on Madonna tours. That the album was also helping do its bit for good causes added an extra layer to the album’s complete package status. Matt Oliver


Nicole Mitchell  ‘Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds’  (FPE Records)

Taken from a 2015 live performance commissioned by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the erudite American jazz flautist, composer, bandleader, educator, scion of Afrofuturism, former president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and a founder of The Black Earth Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell’s outstanding Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds conceptual suite, straddles two evocatively imagined contrasting worlds: the tumult of a patriarchal world, called The World Union, in decay against the egalitarian desire of the advanced utopia called Mandorla, where technology and nature, freedom and tolerance are in ultimate synchronization.

Set in the year 2099 this multimedia project, which includes a short novella, blurs the line between philosophy, mysticism, modern art, science fiction and radical political critique on what is both a diaphanous and moody groundswell soundtrack of contorting confusion and beautiful flute accompanied polygenesis magic. To suggest this album of instrumental peregrinations and odysseys and poetically conscious soulful lectures and passionate, Last Poets meet Pharaoh Sanders, declarations – courtesy of Avery R Young – can be simply classed as a jazz is to ignore how amorphous the musicality of Mitchell and her reconfigured Black Earth Ensemble is in transcending the genre. With an expansive range of instruments and sounds, including Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi, Renée Baker on violin, Tomeka Reid on both cello and banjo, Alex Wing on electric guitar and oud, Tatsu Aoki playing bass, shamisen and taiko, and Jovia Armstrong handling percussion, the paradise versus dystopia exoticism of the ‘awakening’ simultaneously evokes orientalism, fantasy, nature, the classical and the atavistic.

At its heart, articulating the nervous but adventurous, pinning but diaphanously elevating characteristics of the narrative, Mitchell’s flute performances are stunning and spiritual throughout, even gracious. And the direction of travel is never quite certain, but always impressive and questioning.

As a frame for this conceptual suite, Mitchell asks: “What would a world look like that is truly egalitarian, with advanced technology that is in tune with nature?” We may never know, but the tumultuous journey towards it certainly sounds magnificently ominous and beautifully experimental. Dominic Valvona


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Nolan the Ninja  ‘Yen’  (Left of Center)

“Aggressive, eyeballing rhymes to get you bouncing, and beats strategically picking their punches”.  RnV, Oct 17

In his bid “to retire before I’m 35” and “trying to see a million before I go to sleep”, Nolan the Ninja absolutely busts a gut to get his rhymes hurrying up his pension plan. Landing haymakers on dosed up vintage Queensbridge and clatters of muddy kicks and snares that can call up a posse from miles, the Detroit dragon slayer also knows that living by an all-or-nothing mindstate means every single syllable has to have the clarity to rightfully shatter ciphers.

Getting Royce 5’9” to guest on Calisthenics is a smart move in seeing whose chest is first to tighten, and Chess is the least civil checkmate recorded as everything threatens to spin of control. The album actually decelerates – or likelier, gives the music a chance to catch up – to show that the go-for-mine Nolan can manage the throttle when soulful drops start clearing the debris.   MO


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Open Mike Eagle  ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’  (Mello Music Group)

“Maintaining his rightful place in the line of ghetto superheroes”.  RnV, Aug 17

Two tracks define the multi-talented emcee’s latest intricacies and humour, cosmopolitan accessibility and underground elusiveness. Open Mike Eagle draws himself from his shell by completely rewriting the rules on what it means to be hard in hip-hop on No Selling. Despite the Dark Comedy compère being a nostalgic peacekeeper for a lot of Brick Body…, capable of bringing up an argument about which condiment is king of the kitchen to prove a greater point, the album’s political piece de resistance, My Auntie’s Building, fights for what he believes in with tangible rage, a housing project held close providing the album with an explosive conclusion that might have got lost further up the album sequence.

We disagree that “everything is better when you don’t know nothing” – everyone needs Eagle in their corner – but can certainly vouch for the confirmation of “I promise you, I will never fit in your descriptions”. MO


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Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Viajando Com O Son (The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session)’
(Far Out Recordings)

Thankfully surfacing forty odd years after the fabled ’76 sessions at Rogério Duprat’s São Paulo Vice Versa studio, the extemporized jazz performances of Hermeto Pascoal and his impressive Paulo troupe sound every bit as fresh and dynamic as the day they were recorded.

Held in high esteem, in the upper echelons of experimental traversing exotic jazz pantheon, anointed by a hyperbolic Miles Davis who called him “the most impressive musician in the world” after catching him play live, Pascoal’s transcendent voyages from Brazil have become the stuff of legends. Crate-diggers and jazz or indeed even world music aficionados have always salivated at the prospect of such material being found and released, and the missing Viajando Com O Son session is up there with the most desired.

Unburdened by such trivialities as time and composition, this four track suite shimmers with the celestial as it dreamily saunters through a tropical rainforest groove on the opening Dança do Pajé; quacks and quivers through a percussive bending bright organ peregrination on Mavumvavumpefoco and mysteriously and surreptitiously explores an exotic landscape, tip toeing and lovingly serenaded by magical flutes, on Natal. However, the main, twenty-six minutes long, expansive highlight, Casinha Pequenina, follows on from the previous tracks with similar leitmotifs played out and taken into ever more experimental directions: from Miles Davis to Guru Guru.

The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session is a lush tropical jazz odyssey from the Brazilian maverick and genius that’s well worth every penny. DV


Piano Magic  ‘Closure’  (Second Language Music)

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in his last ever enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending. DV

Full review…


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Reverse Engineer ‘Elusive Geometry’  (Floored Music)

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk is joined by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Muramatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery. DV

 Full review…


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Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘Phases In Exile’   (Ascension Hall Recordings)

This music is a cinematic poetic recitation, an eloquent art object; sticking to the blurry lines of your shadow while you float through this existence, this street, this town-deserted-or this day, mundane. That dreamy music with the aura of a long lost ocean is the sound of the beyond: you will see, in a cloud, half stunt postures of people trying to deal with mourning. Their eyes wide open yet unsure of how to breathe. And while they exhale, the music pours as if descending from a kind heaven, nested in peace, cooing for drenched figures of the earth.

Miles Cooper Seaton is the ghost who reaches out, entrusting us with a sensation of hope and relief, tranquility, a loophole, mindfulness. Forgive and forget. In the morning dreamers try to get a hold of their visions, trying to catch a glimpse of that faint reality; Miles’ music is lingering too. It tinkles and echoes with a slowness. This is how the rhythm goes, lingering among a field of green, yellow barns, with an horizon of blue and grey shades, some drops sweep the face of a child who understands it all. The clamorous pearls are just from the fierce-y wind. Inside he is all right. The album is dense and tortured. Inside he is all right; the child has grown, and given us these notes. Ayfer Simms

Full review…


Sentidor  ‘Am-Par-Sis’  (Sounds And Colours)

A most congruous if challenging futuristic Rio de Janeiro psychogeography remix of sounds and ideas, built around the transformed cut-up samples and influence of one of Rio’s most famous sons, Tom Jobim, and his post-bossa nova peak leftfield experiment Passarim, fellow compatriot and burgeoning experimental music star João Carvalho creates one of the year’s most haunting and magnificent lush ambient suites, Am-Par-Sis.

Synonymous and celebrated for bringing bossa nova to the world, Jobim’s explorations outside the genre had gone largely unnoticed. Under his alter ego, Sentidor, Carvalho sheds new light on the legendary artist’s innovative experiments whilst also drawing on the drone, ambient, trance, funk carioca, classical and plunderphonics styles to create a uncertain multi-textured augur for future generations to ponder over.

On, what is the most traversing of ambient and collage concept albums, he poses a number of questions, such as: How would Jobim’s record be interpreted by a new generation whose connection with the past and the rest of the world has been cut? How would the record be used in creating new rituals? How can art be reorganized and rebuilt democratically? It also questions the very ideas of what constitutes as the public domain in the modern world and whether something sacred should be preserved or rather gather dust and slowly turn into something else.

Via the power of a seamless, amorphous soundtrack of ethereal pulchritude, cascading veiled piano, ether Panda Bear like voices and song, atmospheric manipulations, transmogrified melodies, whispery winds, Neu! boat trips, reversed samples and magic Carvalho sets out to mull over and articulate these questions. DV

See exclusive track feature…


Shadow  ‘Sweet Sweet Dreams’  (Analog Africa)

For the first time branching out towards the Caribbean Islands, Africa Analog turn their attention to one of Trinidad & Tobago’s most enigmatic music stars, Winston Bailey, better known as Shadow.

Previously marooned on a desert island of obscurity, panned by critics at the time and failing to sale, Bailey’s bouncing scintillating Soca-boogie and Calypso hybrid lovesick dance floor tracks were ahead of their time. Unlike anything coming out of the islands at the time, these often bright, swaying pop love spurned and springy ballads took the island’s sound into the cosmos.

Bailey started out in the mid 70s reinvigorating the Calypso genre, adding a slick production to the atavistic roots sound that made its way across the Atlantic via the slave trade, and giving it panache and a slinky radiating candour. Though originally used as a tool for social commentary, the synonymous rhythm of the Caribbean is channeled into a number of space age love songs. But despite the lamentable aspects, Bailey’s vocals are sunbaked with ripe swoon and lilting soul, fit for the dancefloor.

A missing masterpiece waiting to be (re) discovered, Sweet Sweet Dreams is simply a beautiful pop album. DV


John Sinclair & Youth  ‘Beatnik Youth Ambient’  (Ironman Records)

Synonymous for steering and kicking out the jams in his short role as manager of Detroit’s renowned rebel rousing motherfuckers The MC5, renegade poet, scholar, activist and establishment rattler John Sinclair is also remembered for his free radical zeal and dalliances with the law – leading to a short spell in the slammer. Keeping his hand in so to speak, but taking up residency in Amsterdam – a much safer bet -, the beatnik jazz sage continued, and as you can hear on this latest recording, continues, to record and perform in a host of setups with a multitude of contributors and backing bands.

The appropriately (in every sense) entitled Beatnik Youth Ambient mini LP is a foretaste, and as the title implies, ambient treatment version of material from a full-length album, released a couple of months later. The “Youth” of that title refers of course to the Killing Joke bassist turn in-demand producer Martin Glover. Arguably one of the most consistent producers over the last few decades in the UK, Glover, under his Youth alter ego, has taken on more or less most forms of music and worked on both commercial and underground experimental projects. He now provides Sinclair’s “literary synthesis” with a suitable “beatnik ambient” soundtrack: a serialism quartet of turmoil, turbulent jazz and dreamier trance.

Running through a vivid purview of postwar counterculture, bringing to life the energy and excitement that writers such as Kerouac (who gets referenced a lot) captured when seeing the Bebop jazz revolution and its great proponents perform, Sinclair delivers a magical enthusiastic experience on another track, evoking Thelonious Monk’s 1957 LP of the same name, Brilliant Corners. Titans of American beatnik and psychedelic literature lineup, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (“…had the ability to park a car anywhere”, just one of his talents alongside his status as the “human bridge between the 50s and 60s.”), rubbing shoulders with jazz music’s new guard Lester Young, Byrd and Gillespie; immortalized by Sinclair to “head music” cosmos of jazzy lamenting woe, ghostly squawking and hooting saxophone and swirling mirages.

If anything, Beatnik Youth Ambient leaves the listener pining for a lost age; Sinclair’s evocative prose and delivery lifted (and cradled at times) by Youth’s congruous seething tensions and floaty dream-like production, which enthrall me to once again get stuck in to the “beat generation” and spin those Savoy label jazz totem recordings again. A prompt for the present times, the zeal of the postwar “baby boomers” (those with a soul anyway) counterculture not necessarily translating to generations X, Y and Z, even if it is needed; Sinclair’s language is nevertheless just as powerfully descriptive and energizing now as it was over forty years ago. DV

Full review…


Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’  (tak:til/Glitterbeat)

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, the Adriatic and the Middle East, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

A most impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail; different from the previous two releases on this burgeoning new imprint, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit, whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes. DV

Full review…


Solo Collective  ‘Part One’  (Nonostar)

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of virtuoso performers/composers Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album. DV

Full review…


Sparks  ‘Hippopotamus’  (BMG)

Bombastically pitched as a “comeback” album, unseasonal followers and those not so familiar with the maverick siblings Sparks career may have been under the impression that the much-hyped Hippopotamus marked some kind of return from an imagined sabbatical, a retirement or an emergence from the wilderness. It was nothing of the sort of course, their last official Sparks albums may have been released in 2008 (Exotic Creatures Of The Deep) and 2009 (The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman), yet they also went on to collaborate with Franz Ferdinand in 2015 for the mighty team-up FFS. Three albums in seven years isn’t bad, considering the rate most groups knock out records these days, and considering Ron Mael is in his early seventies and brother Russell is only a few years behind.

Maybe what the media meant was a return to form. Admittedly – apart from FFS, which made our albums of the year in 2015 – the music hasn’t quite matched the quality of their 70s output or indeed the 2002 triumph Lil’ Beethoven and the 2006 follow-up Hello Young Lovers. Hippopotamus I can thankfully say is very much Sparks at the top of their game.

The Gilbert And Sullivan of cerebral pop music takes the form to ever-new intelligent heights of absurdity and revelation. Daring to merge intellectual ideas and themes into an art form; yet never laborious, condescending or aloof, every song on this latest theatrical rock and pop suite features an infectious melody, satirical but heartfelt clever lyricism and the usual Noel Coward piano witticisms (updated for the modern age of course).

Communicating both the frankly bizarre and the almost insignificant of contemporary foibles (from the middle class anxiety of stylish furniture design, on the Kierkegaard ponders Scandinavian Design, to the difficult to usually rhyme with anything in any song, surreal assortment of metaphorical, or very real, items and figureheads tormenting Russell in his room on the title track), the Mael Brothers frame all their ditties within a melodramatic often plaintive setting of levity.

Minor concertos and pop triumphs abound, as Sparks use the usual assortment of figureheads, including Edith Piaf and an ambiguous French film director auteur, to articulate their feelings on an assortment of theatrical and operatic (the almost aria style domestic imaginings of The Macbeths on the Living With The Macbeths duet) anthems – though of course, Piaf “always said it better”.

Cleverly creating social and political satire and commentary without the rage, finger wagging and virtue signaling, Sparks remain one of the most consistent bands – or duos if you like – in music history; five decades on and still producing epic pop, the likes of which has seldom been equaled. DV


Strange U  ‘#LP4080’  (High Focus)

“#LP4080 has a deftness that allows it to be daft; a first class bizarre ride to and from the far side”. Our Daily Bread 234, Feb 17

It’s always fun and games when King Kashmere/The Iguana Man/Lord Rao starts spraying jocular, juvenile sci-fi syllables and delirious, crowd-pleasing hooks at will. When he hits hyperspace, he’s an unstoppable force of nature few can compare to – “you enjoy buying trainers, a person like me enjoys firing lasers” – though his intergalactic court jester act belies the wicked yarns he spins about our alien overlords and fantastical set-plays (environmental health, relationships, politics) that are closer than you think.

Helming a future primitive craft with Dr Zygote, mechanic to an 8-bit jalopy with head knocks and funky splutters aplenty, Strange U float through the cosmos as an entertainingly erratic two-man crew. Despite being recorded in a studio far, far away, LP#4080 has got its head screwed on with attention to the fundamentals – the MC-producer combination, prime beats and rhymes, a concept that works, and a spectacle promising multiple revisits. MO


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Tamikrest  ‘Kidal’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Still without a homeland, though liberated from their draconian partners, the Tuareg are once again left, as wanderers in their own lands, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance”, on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Preserving an increasingly endangered ancestral culture and language, Tamikrest’s cause cannot be separated from their music. Yet, rather than protest with bombast or angry rhetoric, they articulate their woes with a poetic, lyrically sauntering cadence. Oasmane Ag Mosa’s earthy lead vocals resonate deeply, even if his timbre maintains a stoic dignified pitch. Backed by Aghaly Ag Mohamedine and Cheick Ag Tiglia on backing and duets, a lulling sweetness transcends, which on occasions adds a certain romanticism to the impassioned struggle. Swaying effortlessly between the meandering and up-tempo, the accentuated dynamics of Mosa and Paul Salvagnac’s entwined, untethered and contoured guitar work, Mohamedine’s “gatherer” Djembe rope-tuned goblet drumming, Nicolas Grupp’s askew backbeats and Tiglia’s smooth, free-roaming bass lines transport the listener to the mystical topography of the desert.

Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty. DV

Full review…


Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’  (Six Degrees Records)

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to the acclaimed producer Ian Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the Standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory. DV

Full review…


Terry  ‘Remember’  (Upset The Rhythm)

The disarming world-weary punk and quirky pop touting quartet of Melbourne scenesters, banding together under the ubiquitous Terry moniker, follow up a prolific run of 2016 EPs and their debut LP with another acerbic witted, snappy melodious release of profound disenchantment and wistful “wish fulfillment”.

Continuing with the shared girl/boy dynamic of lulling, placeable idiosyncratic vocals and flexible punk, country and new wave bubblegum backing, Terry look to expand their repertoire on Remember. The combined musical savvy and experiences of band members Amy Hill (of Constant Mongrel and School Of Radiant Living), Al Montfort (UV Race, Dick Diver, Total Control), Zephyr Pavey (Eastlink, Russell St Bombings and also Total Control) and Xanthe White (Mick Harvey, Primo) push the quartet into all kinds of nonchalant mischief. The gang embraces nonplussed French new wave chanteuse vibes on the brilliant breezy, mosey country lilting, Toy Love meets Serge Gainsbourg Take Me To The City (one of the tracks of the summer), and snappy, bouncy indie synth pop on Rio. At their most raucous, rough and ready to tumble, Terry softens the edges of The Damned on both their keystone kops rave-up Start The Tape and spiky frazzling Give Up The Crown.

Suggesting nothing more rebellious than a cheeky smoke behind the bike sheds, the group’s knockabout catchy hooks and charm cloak a personal profound response to the political and personal anxieties and dramas of the times. And they do this with a certain aloof coolness and adroit ear for a great tune, making this 2017’s most melodious and catchy album of knowing pop slanted punk. DV

Full review…


Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’  (Six Degrees Records)

 

A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Vieux Farka Touré’s latest album blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s part about allowing an audience into the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar. DV

Full review…


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VVV   ‘Bozo Boyz’  (VVV)

“The trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar”. RnV, Nov 17

Preceded by Apocalypse Trent poking fun yet completely understanding modern hip-hop’s rules, the Nottingham trifecta of Vandal Savage, Cappo and Juga-Naut are a heavy rotation of individual voices.

Rhymes and word associations – pop culture, mind’s eye observations, opaque battle bars covered in enough 80s hairspray to tear the ozone layer a new one – jut out at free-flowing, at times unworkable angles, yet are held together by undeniable dope infused with a carried over drop of cheek.

Flicking VVVs at club beats, a slim line 80s synth chassis is rolled out to maximum effect (an evolutionary eye-opener for East Midlands rap fans – this won’t be their usual milk and two sugars). Both chilled and chilling, sonically Bozo Boyz lives an alternate life of soundtracking a slasher movie making a wrestler’s entrance to the ring. One of the more idiosyncratic hip-hop picks on this list, it’s VVV for victory. MO


Various   ‘Hidden Musics 4: Abatwa: Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Ian Brennan, yet again, probing the furthest, most inhospitable and outright dangerous places in the world to record marginalized voices, journeys to the post genocide borderlands of Rwanda on the fourth volume of Glitterbeat Records illuminating Hidden Musics series.

Taking the unmarked, haphazard, road (less traveled) to the edges of Rwanda, avoiding the animosity and embers of vengeance that still burn and remain between the country’s minority Tutsis and majority Hutu communities, Brennan visited and recorded for posterity the Abatwa tribe’s seldom heard lament, anger and incredible soulful, if raw, blues.

The Abatwa name remains mostly unknown outside Africa, that’s because, due to their limited growth, we know them better as the ‘Pygmy’. A derogatory name loaded with infamy, yet preferred by the very people it derides, the tribe rather that put-down than (as Brennan puts it) “the official PC mouthful/post-genocidal replacement: The people who were left behind because of the facts of Rwandan history.”

What you get from this community is battery powered electronics and rusty, ramshackle dusty instruments coming together in hybrids that evoke ritual, the ceremonial but equally the blues, soul and hip-hop; all played with an undeniably emotional Rwandan verve and lilt. Make no mistake; this is performance in its most deconstructive raw form. Devoid of embellishments and overbearing production, recorded in situ with only the rudimentary elements and atmosphere for company, and it sounds great. It is nothing short of revelatory; field recordings of hope and recovery created in the face of despair. DV

Full review…


Various  ‘Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
(Analog Africa)

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings as he draws the spotlight on Cameroon’s Makossa scene of the 70s and 80s.

Originally the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco, Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. In short, another classy sun-basking exposé of the most sauntering, scintillating African pop from one of the top labels in the field. DV

Full review…


Vukovar  ‘Puritan’  (The Brutalist House)

Following in the tradition of their three-syllable sloganist album titles, Vukovar’s fourth LP drums home the Puritan mantra and analogies; a cleansing if you will of the status quo, a year zero, and perhaps also a return to the roots and communal deliverance of protest in music – not, I hope, the ‘puritanical’ steeple hat and buckle shoe wearing bible bashing of zealots, burning heretics at the stake, nor the bloody zeal of so many badly turned-out revolutions that end up creating just as terrible a reign of tyranny. The only fires here are the metaphorical kind; a funeral pyre of mediocrity, a bonfire of vanities, the-bland-leading-the-bland towards a conversion of raw intensity, dangerous, shamanistic performed anarchistic rock’n’roll: well I think that’s the idea.

As the band’s previous album, Fornication showed, Vukovar have at least listened to many of the right bands; released at the start of the year, this amorphous, transmogrified covers style collection featured reconfigured homages to a host of iconic luminaries including David Sylvian, Coil, The Monks, The Birthday Party and Neu!. Cultish in a manner, the band’s influences and manifesto statements of propaganda intent, plus allusions to cultural regicidal and ability to shrink from publicity – even self-sabotage any signs of success or promotion – suggests a band that takes itself very seriously. Yet even with countless references to history’s outsiders, philosophers, discontent mavericks, revolutionaries and demons throughout their previous trio of albums, and the elegiac resignation that shadows them, they waltz sublimely (for a majority of the time), rather than rage in romanticized contempt, as Olympus slowly grumbles.

Between the Gothic skulking and crystalline rays of shared 80s synth new romanticism Vukovar wander transfixed in a nightmare state of both despair and indolent antagonism; with stark lyrics more descriptively visceral than forced down the listener’s throat. Donning the vestiges of the Puritan, the front man, an amalgamation vocally of both Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner, sets the scene (“I am a sinful man, yet an honest man”) to a backing track of slung low growled bass, Jesus and Mary Chain’s bastardize Spector drum death knells and the miasma threat of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds on the opening inflicted and gradually ascendant Nietzsche propound Übermensch.

The most complete and best produced encapsulation of Vukovar’s sound and venom yet, balancing both their experimental raw and ritualistic live performances with melancholic post-punk, and even brooding new romanticism pop, Puritan offers a travail through the dirge and gloom of our (end) times with all its sinful and cleansing, often biblical, connotations and language. Though it also often sounds like some kind of personal tortured Nick Cave love requiem, unfolding in the midst of chaos, looking over the edge into the abyss, the heretics taking over the asylum. DV

Full review…


Y.

Your Old Droog   ‘Packs’  (Fat Beats)

“Working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, with a penchant for humour and words to the wise on a varied album with no time to waste”.  RnV, Mar 17

Your Old Droog’s crowning glory pays the utmost attention to album constructs. Packs is 11 tracks all vying to be the jump-off, featuring skits that help rather than hinder, and guests like Danny Brown and Edan giving the action a hot cameo.

In running his own Grand Theft Auto route through New York (if there’s ever a Baby Driver sequel, or Marvel need a new street hero, surely Droog’s your man), storylines find time to dispense worldly wisdom that you’d be foolish to leave unheeded, and punchlines show that firing from that borderline meh mouth of his, is always smarter than letting off a few from the trigger finger. A 30 minute car chase always in complete control, cool with wrenching the steering wheel off-road before resuming its day-to-day cruising, and whose crucially compact composition makes it a red letter day for the rewind button. The Nas comparisons are now ancient history. MO


Z.

Msafiri Zawose  ‘Uhamiaji’  (Soundway Records)

Handing on the baton, so to speak, to another generation, the late great Gogo Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose’s equally talented son Msafiri takes up the reigns on his latest album for Soundway Records, Uhamiaji.

From the heartlands of Tanzania, Msafiri in collaboration with the much-respected Santuri platform – enablers and promoters for a much neglected East African music scene – and SoundThread’s Sam Jones has created a vibrant and sauntering, drifting adventure in dub and Afrofuturism jazz from the gogo traditions. Building to a degree on his father’s own 2002 experimental collaboration with ambient electronica producer Michael Brook, on the album Assembly, Msafiri takes his heritage into new and expansive sonic territories whilst intrinsically sounding African.

Buzzy, bright, hypnotic and at times trickling like watery vibes, this amorphous album is an odyssey of the lilting, danceable, meditative and peaceable. A peregrination of mystery, a journey across acoustic and electric frontiers musically and vocally, Uhamiaji is both a most beautiful and imaginative album. DV


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