Choice Albums of 2019 Part Two: Haq to Pozi


For those that might have missed Part One of this three-parter, I will reiterate:

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

All the albums in part two were chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Ginaluigi Marsibilio.

Part One can be found here…

H……..

Haq ‘Evaporator’
(Bearsuit Records)







The new release from the fine Bearsuit Records finds us tumbling down to the spiraling sounds of Haq; 60s spy theme sexiness merges with the avant-garde dreampop of a bewitched Stereolab playing hopscotch with Delia Derbyshire whilst sucking on the feedback of a JAMC lollipop.

The obvious love and understanding of pop music in its many genres and changes throughout the decades are lovingly brought together to make a wash of beautiful tunes. Angel like vocals float over gentle beats, soulful guitars and well constructed rhythms, delicately plucking at the heartstrings. This album really is a beautiful work of aural magic that can and will take you AWAY from the drudgery of everyday life and makes for quite a moving experience: maybe there is a god after all. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


Homeboy Sandman ‘Dusty’
(Mello Music Group)





“Pure skills unfazed by tempo, turning fleeting thoughts into elaborate dissections. Long may the cult of the Sandman continue” – RnV Nov 19




Something that will never be lost to the dusts of time is Homeboy Sandman and that flow that still sounds just past a cipher amongst friends. Mono En Stereo tease out his kooks with production springy in step and managing a melting pot and the bare bones. Actually the continued kooky associations do Homeboy a disservice, as Dusty is Sandman doing what he does best in all his multifaceted greatness, able to pull off sincere and sombre on a sixpence before pulling the rug through sleight of verb (“anybody asks, I was never here/in the lunchroom sitting alone my whole career/wear my pants so you can’t see my underwear”), aiming for personal bests as if the aforementioned cipher is strictly for him. An undisputed battler and hip-hop student, and whose streams of consciousness you won’t find anywhere else (including moulding the mundane into something profound), Homeboy is a good egg who just happens to have the ability to destroy whoever. (Matt Oliver)


Chrissie Hynde & The Valve Bone Orchestra ‘Valve Bone Woe’
(BMG)





I’m probably in a minority, but I feel Chrissie Hynde has been in the past restricted by her proto-rock icon status. Never sounding better, and not entirely a shock, Hynde, linking up with The Valve Bone Orchestra, transduces a collection of standards from stage, film, 60s pop and jazz on, probably, her most mature work yet, Valve Bone Woe.

As showy as it is experimental, this orchestrated album is both romantically brooding and brazen. Dotting brooding and dreamy versions of classics with more spiritual jazz and retro-space age fantasy, Hynde delivers an offbeat jazz snozzled slinky salacious version of Nancy Wilson’s ‘So Glad I Am’, and sends Brian Wilson’s ‘Caroline, No’ drifting off towards the stars, whilst relegating herself to lulling coos on the Charlie Mingus ‘Meditation On A Pair Of Wire Cutters’ – a workout in as much for the ensemble to flex their spirit of peregrination.

Bond like theme visions of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’, sit well next to a strung out rendition of ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (made famous by many, but namely Nina Simone and Bowie) on an album that, though beautiful and magical, pushes Hynde to ever dizzying heights of sophistication and experiment. (Dominic Valvona)


Hifiklub & Mike Cooper  ‘Aran Stories’
(Ruptured)





Bringing the ever-evolving Toulon eclectic collective Hifiklub and English polygenesis journeyman Mike Cooper together, the harsh unforgiving coastal terrain and psychogeography of the Isle Of Aran provides a perfect bleak backdrop for an unholy union of conceptual plaint and experimental strung-out visions. Primal, harrowing, steel, waning, craning, expanding and untethered this visceral collaboration hews out an evocative off-kilter post-punk and abstract electronica soundtrack that winds and beats-out of shape tales and traces of the island’s history. The album’s opening lyrics let you know straight away where this is heading: “This year I see a darker side of life”.

The source material for this exploration and therapy is Robert J. Flaherty’s Man Of Aran documentary – his third such documentary feature film after the famous groundbreaking 1922 Nanook of the North and South Seas set Moana – and John Millington Synge’s 1907 The Aran Islands text, which Cooper takes on a more harsh version of Robert Wyatt-like meandering intense wonder.

Dark and ominous, conveying a hardy way of life and travails, this album is a tough but mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful work of art. (DV)


I………

Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Laylet el Booree’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Just as electrifying, exotic and barracking as the previous ritualistic post-punk tumult of Rûwâhîne, Ifriqiyya Electrique’s second album, Laylet el Booree, (which translates as the “night of the madness”) features another invigorating surged vortex of rustic percussion, strange computer-generated sounds, static, sparks and two-speed rhythms.

Mirroring the stamping, emotive and sometimes confusing hallowed intensity of the adorcist ritual from the Banga followers of Tozeur that this album’s title references, the collaborative Tunisian-Italian troupe work themselves up into a fervor as they communion with the spirit world. The Electrique integrate different rhythmic changes and timings; seeming to experiment even more this time around; pushing the envelope further without losing that original tumultuous barrage of bombarding drums/percussion and edgy growling grinding industrial guitar sounds. If anything they’ve unleashed the spirits to roam the amorphous sphere of exploration to draw on even more diverse musical inspirations, creating a highly unique invigorating sensory experience in the process. Industrial post-punk ritual leaves the furnace once more to cause an explosive cacophony. (DV)

Full Review


Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music)





Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan Harper’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon was created and shaped at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. That tumult, along with a passion for his adopted country, has been energized as Dan transforms the music of a myriad of Mali’s great and good (a lineup of players that includes Kalifa Koné, Sidi Touré and Sambou Kouyaté) into an attuned and dynamic remix of the Mali soundscape. (DV)

Full review…


J……….

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point ‘Back to the Grill Again’
(Tuff Kong)





“Running through crews like a hot knife through butter, from now only order these cordon bleu beats and rhymes, a gangster gourmet with an all important UK garnish” – RnV Aug 19




Someone who definitely needs to enter the conversation when it comes to naming the UK’s top tier of rhymers, Juga-Naut stays up by showing that show-n-prove and aspirational, ostentatious folly do pay. Given that this follows relatively hot on the heels of 2018’s Bon Vivant, Jugs has officially got both designs for days and commitment to quality control – list toppers others find hard to fathom. Giallo Point, the money man when it comes to Little Italy dramas on the boards, fills his beats with a hydration he usually leaves out on purpose, chaperoning the Nottingham emcee who may shuffle realities – a kind of surrealism that takes logical steps – but fundamentally has the presence to shut down backchatters with granite-set rhymes that calibrates a kind of one inch punch that hasn’t got time for any dramatics. Heavy, no heartburn. (MO)


John Johanna ‘Seven Metal Mountains’
(Faith & Industry)







With afflatus fervor Norfolk-based artist John Johanna transduces the mountain allegories and metaphors as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch into a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical cosmology. Interrupted from Enoch’s visits to the heavenly realms – where, as Johanna’s Strummer fronts Wah! Heat, Gothic redemption goer ‘Standing At The Gates Of Love’ takes its title from, you will find a no-nonsense angel guarding the Pearly Gates with a flaming sword in hand – the Seven Metal Mountains metallurgy passage is as much an augur as observed proclamation. Used here as a frame for Johanna’s second visionary album of spiritual nutrition in a Godless age for the always brilliant Faith & Industry label, the dour liturgy of Judaic tradition and law inspires a message of forewarning and yearns for less materialistic avarice.

Seven Metal Mountains translates Biblical prophecy marvelously into a vivid eclectic songbook of protestation post-punk, indie, folk, psych and lilting Krautrock. (DV)

Full review…


Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’







Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination and contemplation, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Riviera instead of Hawthorne, California: The beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeate this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

The Brothers Hanscomb long awaited new instrumental opus, Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys. Call it pastoral musical care for the soul; a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic and a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. (DV)

Full review…


K………..

Kel Assouf ‘Black Tenere’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Mirroring the borderless Nomadic freewheeling of the Berber ancestral Tuareg people, a loosely atavistic-connected confederacy (to put it into any kind of meaningful context) of diverse tribes that have traditionally roamed Sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial, Kel Assouf channel a wealth of musical influences both historically and geographically into an electrified reworking of (as vague and over-used a term as it is) desert rock. Headed by charismatic Gibson Flying V slinger front man Anana Ag Haroun, who’s own lineage takes in both the landlocked behemoth Niger and bordering Nigeria, the highly propulsive, cyclonic spiraling trio propel that heritage into the 21st century; thanks in many ways to the futuristic cosmic electronic and bass frequency production of the band’s rising innovative keyboardist/producer Sofyann Ben Youssef.

A stunning rock odyssey that draws its multiple sources together in both defiance and in the spirit of communication – the Kel Tamashek plight, as guardian-custodians of the desert, translated via the poetic heartfelt earthy soulful lyrics of Haroun – Black Tenere stretches the roots of nomadic rock and blues to reflect ever-expanding musical horizons as the global community grows ever-smaller and music becomes more fluid and spreads with ease. Kel Assouf is on another plane entirely, propelling rock music into the future. (DV)

Full review…


Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba ‘Miri’
(Outhere Records)







The courtly sound of the Mali Empire from the 13th century, accompanying the griot tradition of storytelling for an age, the (usually) dried-animal skin wrapped, canoe-shaped ngoni lute has been electrifyingly revitalized in recent years thanks in part to the virtuoso dexterity and energy of one of its leading practitioners, Malian legend, Bassekou Kouyate.

Following up the more electrified 2015 LP, Ba Power (which made our albums of the year feature), with a fifth album of innovative paeans, hymns, protestations and calls for peace, Bassekou takes a more reflective pause for thought on Miri; gazing out across his crisis-ridden homeland, contemplating on how the fragmented landscape and people can be brought back together for the common good. Backed as always by the family band that features his wife, the soulful and beautifully voiced ‘nightingale of the north’, Amy Secko, and his son, Madou Kouyate, on bass ngoni, but also now including his niece Kankou (making a special guest appearance on vocals), the Bamana entitled encapsulation of ‘dream’, or ‘contemplation’, Miri record touches base with Bassekou’s roots.

A visceral picture of a land in crisis, yet one that has hope for a united Mali, Miri is a sublime connective and rallying collection of compelling and thrilling performances and songs (Sacko especially on fine form delivering the most tender and rich vocals throughout); another essential album from the ngoni master. (DV)

Full review…


L…………

Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’
(Infiné)







Jérémy Labelle is clearly a very talented musician, composer and producer. He casts his net of influence wide to draw upon many musical styles. His synthesis of modal harmonies and tribal rhythms is very reminiscent of the ‘Fourth World’ created by the venerable Jon Hassell. His latest album, Orchestre Univers, was performed by the Orchestre Regional of Réunion Island; conducted by Laurent Goossaert. The ten pieces from the album (three previously published and seven original works) were recorded live over four concerts that took place on the island.

I have read numerous interviews with Labelle who cites identity and anthropology as themes that have inspired him to write music. Orchestre Univers feels more like a celebration, a coming together of musicians and audiences to rejoice at the unique music that has emerged from the island of Réunion. The electronics and compositional complexities offered by Labelle are merely 21st century adaptations to what is an age-old sound. They should not be dismissed. His concept of “Maloya electronics” is truly global and will ensure that the next generation of Réunionese continue to declare, “Nous Maloya lé mondial!” (Andrew C. Kidd)

Full review…


Little Brother ‘May the Lord Watch’
(Foreign Exchange Music)





“Effortless and erudite, LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over” – RnV Sep 19



The return of Gang Starr claimed a glut of headlines in 2019, but the reconvening of Little Brother’s Phonte and Big Pooh was no undercard announcement, their first album in nine years instantly restoring goodwill to flagging hip-hop naysayers. Supremely funky, soulful, still getting the maximum mileage out of a running joke-made-critical, cultural commentary, and with the likes of Khrysis, Nottz, Focus and Black Milk upholding 9th Wonder’s gold-fingered role on the boards, all is well with the world once this blooms from speakers. The ease of the pair’s back and forth is no less marvelous as we approach the twenties – masterful, as if they’re just hanging somewhere nondescript, and just ready to go and express themselves – there’s still a lot to be said for their all-seeing chemistry, keeping of the faith and words to the wise, even this deep in the game. May there be mercy upon your soul if you’re not already excited for 2028. (MO)


M…………..

Mazouni ‘Un Dandy En Exil/Algérie-France/1969-1983’
(Born Bad Records)







Our review copy must have been lost in the post or missed the inbox, but this compilation of hits and rarities from the exiled dandy of “Francarabe” (a unique blend of French and Arabic lyrics) Mohamed Mazouni was one of the year’s most enchanting discoveries. Swooning and crooning poignant touching and lamenting songs about exile, love and the travails of being a first-generation Algerian immigrant in France, Mazouni sashays, shakes, belly dances and saunters to the sounds of the Orient on the first ever compilation dedicated in his honour. (DV)


Meursault ‘Crow Hill’
(Common Grounds)







An ambitious literary-enriched album with a loose story and range of perspectives that will unfold further in comic book form and through live performance, Neil Scott Pennycook’s Crow Hill diorama delivers a whirlwind of dark emotions; many of which feel like a punch to the heart.

Announced as a new chapter for Pennycook’s alter ego Meursault, released as the launch album for the new independent Common Grounds label, Crow Hill marks a move into fiction for the Edinburgh artist. An “urban horror” of vignettes, each song on this album represents twelve chapters of plaintive and lamentable grief and broken promises from the imagined town’s inhabitants, set to a constantly beautifully aching soundtrack that either builds and builds towards anthemic crescendo or despairingly gallops towards the flames: in the case of the brutal punishing ‘Jennifer’, a discordant scream of anguish, on what could be a crime of domestic abuse.

An outstanding album full of both heartache and brilliance, this is a vivid, richly and descriptively revealing minor-opus; the first chapter or part of a much grander multimedia universe that crosses songwriting with veiled fiction, illustration and performance. As first stabs go, Pennycook has shown an encouraging erudite skill for writing, which translates well when put to music. (DV)

Full review…


Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire ‘Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire’
(Soulspazm)





“Satisfying your ignorant itch and also reducing dancefloors to bloody smithereens, it’s a surprisingly, satisfyingly well-rounded album where the bite backs up the bark” – RnV May 19




In a sea of clones, drone and cookie cutters, eXquire remains the genuine, genuinely outrageous article, putting up without shutting up and attacking this album with bloodlust right from the off. Leaving clubs to check their insurance policies, Mr MFX is the valve that releases the pressure when people are getting in your way, saturating front rows before levelling out with kerbside rollers, showing that with shock value comes some degree of responsibility. Maybe the real cliché is when you come for the outrage (the outright base ‘I Love Hoes’) and end up staying for him having something to say (admittedly, it’s usually to a deafening, disorientating backdrop). ‘Rumblefish’ expertly get emotions tangled, and the prophetic novella ‘Nothing’s What It Seems’: Short Film’ grows artistically ahead of a closing monologue of self-discovery. Whatever his angle, he’s always on and leaves everything in the booth. (MO)


O……………

Occult Character ‘Chittering Noises’
(Small Bear Records)







Here we have the brand new Occult Character LP. Yes another one. This time an all acoustic guitar affair that once again proves my previous claim correct that Occult is the most important songwriter in the USA today: 13 songs in 15 minutes, strumming through short songs dealing with the subjects of abortion, having the shits, being nice to people, among many others all written and sang in Occults inimitable style.

What I love about Occult Character is the point on accuracy of his lyrics and his talent for finding the bizarreness of everyday living – especially him contemplating and commentating on life in a Trump led America – with a verve and shambolic dark humour all of his own. This album and the sister piece LP to this, The Cult Of Ignorance, released on Metal Postcard Records earlier in the year should be downloaded by all American Schools and stored away and in ten years time played to the students as part of their American History lessons. This is another must have album of 2019 and may come to be seen as one of the most important and influential and considered a cult classic in the years to come. (BBS)


Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou ‘Anou Malane’
(Sahel Sounds)







More a ‘choice album’ of 1995 of course, lifted and reset from the original cassette for the first time, this new reissue of the Tuareg legend and doyen of the desert guitar, Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou, is a worthy addition to any right-minded eclectic music lovers collection.

Addressing the troops as a front-runner in the armed Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s – another phase in the long-running campaign for the desert peoples of Northern Mali and bordering regions to set up an autonomous state of their own -, Oumbadougou’s reputation grew from humble, isolated beginnings; his protestations and balladry spread through a network of cassette tape dubbers.

In exile for his troubles, the desert blues minstrel traveled to Benin to record an official release with the West African producer Nel Oliver – known for his work on a number of seminal boogie and afro-funk records of the period. Oliver lends a sauntering boogie and discotheque production to the earthy soulful magic of Oumbadougou’s signature influence on one of the first ever records to capture the Tuareg guitar style. A seminal and essential bridge between styles, Anou Malane is one of the best records to come out of the troubles and period. Own it now! (DV)


P……………

Park Jiha ‘Philos’
(tak:til)







Following her universally applauded debut album, Communion, Park Jiha has chosen Philos – from Greek, plural: loving, fond of, tending to – as the title for her latest release on Glitterbeat‘s sub-label, tak:til.

It has been described as an “evocation of her love for time, space and sound”. This is certainly evidenced in the multi-instrumental and baleful opener, ‘Arrival’, which consists of simple, metronomic strums and reedy high notes that lace around each other in ominous prismaticism. The piri, a double-reed bamboo flute played by Park, features heavily in this piece, as it does later during the album’s title track.

The album departs from the instrumental during the track, ‘Easy’, which features the breezy and philosophical (or, rather, extrajudicial) spoken word of the Lebanese poet, Dima El Sayed. The upper notes intensify and push the vocals to a dizzying and distorting conclusion.

There is an eloquent passage in the album notes which describes Philos as “[looking] to the future whilst continuing to converse with a rich instrumental language from the past”. This admixture of traditional Korean and Western instrumentation, coupled with compositions that lean towards the ambient and neoclassical, transmute Park’s experiences of a world awash with changing tides, transitory weather and ever-expanding cities into something that is indefinably atemporal. (ACK)

Full review…


Per W/Pawlowski ‘Outsider/Insider’
(Jezus Factory/Starman Records)







Thirteen years after their first collaboration together, two stalwarts of the alternative Belgian music scene once more reunite to produce, what they call, their very own unique White Album curiosity. The intergenerational musical partnership of one-time dEUS guitar-slinger for hire Mauro Pawlowski and maverick legend Kloot Per W proves an experimental – if odd – success in mining both artist’s influences and providence; the results of which, transformed into a playful, often knowing and pastiche, misadventure, are performed with conviction. Behind the often-masked mayhem and classic rock poses lurk serious, sometimes cathartic wise observations.

With the deep sagacious and world-weary voice of Per W leading, Outsider/Insider merges the mixed fortunes of both artists; whether it’s the jangly Traveling Wilburys like power rock pastiche ‘KPW On 45’ and its commentary on the cultural overbearing of America (“American rock star live in my European food!”) or, the iron fire-escape tapping, industrial funk gyrating, seductive if awkward ‘Room!’, Per W adds just enough off-center lyricism and ambivalence to make even the most obvious-sounding straight-A tune take a turn into weirdville.

Off-white to The Beatles stark magnolia gloss, Outsider/Insider is hardly a classic – dysfunctional or otherwise –, but is an amusing, sometimes absurd, and well-crafted alternative art-rock record of some ambition and style. (DV)

Full review…


Pozi ‘PZ1’
(PRAH Recordings)







Jabbed finger punk with a cushioned impact of bowed melodic and even dashes of doomed romanticism, the London band Pozi produce a kind of disarming malcontent anger. Like the results of a merger between Stiff Records and Sub Pop, this nervy troupe prod and waltz to spiky punkish drums, brooding bass, and fractious and waning strings as they cast a resigned eye over the current political climate. If the Sleaford Mods had more grace and ideas, they could have sounded like this. Quite simply: bloody brilliant. (DV)


PART ONE


album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


PLAYLIST
Compiled: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver
Art: Gianluigi Marsibilio









From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – me, Dominic ValvonaMatt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in the most eclectic of playlists, with tracks as geographically different to each other as Belem and Palermo.

Digest and discover as you will, but we compile each playlist to run in order so it feels like the best uninterrupted radio show or most surprising of DJ sets.



REVIEWS ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona

75 Dollar Bill - Monolith Cocktail


Another eclectic roundup of recommendations from Dominic Valvona, with recent and upcoming albums and EPs from the polygenesis amorphous traversing NYC band 75 Dollar Bill, cellist sound-sculptor of ambiguous environments Simon McCorry, oddball Belgian Manu Louis, the Dhoad Gypsies Of Rajasthan, Dictaphone welder Joe Posset and improvise experimental cellist, Charlie Ulyatt, and Balearic expletory House and Techno artist Kota Motomura.

Building their own ambitious universes Camino Willow releases his debut electronic vision Monotopia and Edinburgh artist Neil Scott Pennycook, under his Meursault alter ego, launches a move into fiction with his latest masterpiece Crow Hill. I also take a look at two special cult favourite reissues, the first from the Venezuelan legend Chelique Sarabia – his transformed psych vision of the country’s traditional music, ‘Revolución “Electrónica” en Música Venezolana’ – the second, from the Anglo-French troubadour Nick Garrie – the late 60s debut psychedelic and folksy opus The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas.




75 Dollar Bill  ‘I Was Real’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat/Thin Wrist Recordings)  28th June 2019


Via Glitterbeat’s burgeoning specialist imprint tak:til and Thin Wrist Recordings, a second album of uncharted transient instrumental performances, passages and traverses from the polygenesis sophisticated NYC troupe, 75 Dollar Bill. Headed, though by no means controlled or dictated, by multi-instrumentalists Rick Brown and Che Chen, the amorphous group expands its ranks accordingly to feature a highly talented lineup of musicians and fellow experimentalists.

Previously making a subtle impact with their long-winded staccato entitled Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock album a few years back, Chen and Brown travelled a listless pan-global terrain; a fourth world Hassell imbued sonic geography of possibility.

Extending the perimeters and cast – expanding to a double album release this time around –, I Was Real features a variety of instrumental and sound manipulated combinations on a mix of performances, jams and studio created “fragment” sound collages. One of which, the opening sextet performed ‘Every Last Coffee Or Tea’, is a rearrangement of the same entitled song that originally appeared on the debut album, Cassette, whilst the “ghost inverted” follow-on of that opener, ‘C or T (Verso)’, references their cassette tape release of the same name. The former of these atmospheric peregrinations features a haze of wafting baritone sax and suffused viola and guitar lines, set to a “classic 3 against 2 rhythm”; a effortless but technical transportative soundtrack that evokes both the shrouded mystery of a Tibetan shrine and waking up to the sound of cattle herders in Mali. The reversal mirage of the latter of these two tracks sucks that opening suite backwards through a transmogrified Captain Beefheart prism.

The title-track, on what is an album that often uses past material to build anew, is itself a regular 75 Dollar Bill live set closer. Often building up a momentum that could run to thirty minutes, ‘I Was Real’ is more like a springboard; never quite repeating itself, always performed in different settings and taking in not only more recognizable instruments but also the surrounding environment. By contrast this seventeen-minute studio version is considered relatively “short”, though no less extemporized, as it takes in similar concrete reverberations, hums and drones.

The “impromptu” unruly avant-garde blues jam ‘There’s No Such Thing As A King Bee’ is one of my favourites. A “rebuke” to the titan of the form, Slim Harpo, and his famous raw blues-standard, this scuzzy, flange-effect overload boogie hoedown (with furious hi-hat bashing from Carey Balch) is wild: even primal.

Cleverly bending, no matter how free and improvised they might be, complicated timings and adroit microtonal notes to their will, 75 Dollar Bill turn elliptic and compound rhythms, undefined adventurous playing and collaged fragments into either 21st century desert musing blues or futuristic swamp music. As re-inventive as ever, I Was Real transforms the familiar to roam the borderless.







Simon McCorry  ‘Border Land’
14th June 2019


Strange escapist environments and spaces materialize from the gauzy wanes and gestures of Simon McCorry’s cello on the ambiguous atmosphere-building Border Land. The third such ambient album of field recording manipulations from the classically trained cellist, this latest highly evocative work of the otherworldly transforms the recognizable into something mysterious, even on occasion, the supernatural.

Cloaked in echo and various effects, even the wind whistling through the rustic metal gate to an Orkney lighthouse can suddenly become a strange spooked siren song of countless memories; the sound of lost souls from beyond the ether perhaps: suggestible much?! One of a duo of similar recordings made on a road trip to the Island of Westray – the other windy projection being the Ambient Works era Aphex Twin influenced ‘Sacred Geometrics’ – the fog enveloped ‘Not One Thing’ channels the psychogeography of the environment in which it was recorded to create an entirely new imaginative soundscape.

Remnants and traces of McCorry’s principle instrument can be heard mournfully and achingly guiding the listener towards the skylight: Towards a warm glimmer on the haunted chilled rising ‘Awake A Moment’, and towards the aura of an orbiting astral object of serene desire, on the Tangerine Dream like ‘Spheric’.

Traversing detuned descending aerial arcs, dusty particles, gaseous clouds and corridors to constellations without actually remaining locked to any particular sound or atmospheric mood, the sonic possibilities seem endless: the ambiguity too. And although much of this album is mysterious and uncertain, so untethered, as it is to anything concrete and tenable, McCorry is really exploring the ideas of “stillness”; finding something approaching it anyway, a purposeful pause and break from the chaotic overload of our intensive and intrusive technologically-connected modern world.

Border Land reframes its sources, masks its frayed and bowed cello articulations to produce an often vivid transient amorphous series of intelligently improvised environments and horizons: both inward and outward.







Meursault  ‘Crow Hill’
(Common Grounds)  21st June 2019


An ambitious literary-enriched album with a loose story and range of perspectives that will unfold further in comic book form and through live performance, Neil Scott Pennycook’s Crow Hill diorama delivers a whirlwind of dark emotions; many of which feel like a punch to the heart.

Announced as a new chapter for Pennycook’s alter ego Meursault, released as the launch album for the new independent Common Grounds label (set-up and run by the Edinburgh Chamber Studios owner and engineer Graeme Young; the location for the recording of this album) Crow Hill marks a move into fiction for the Edinburgh artist. An “urban horror” of vignettes, each song on this album represents twelve chapters of plaintive and lamentable grief and broken promises from the imagined town’s inhabitants, set to a constantly beautifully aching soundtrack that either builds and builds towards anthemic crescendo or despairingly gallops towards the flames: in the case of the brutal punishing ‘Jennifer’, a discordant scream of anguish, on what could be a crime of domestic abuse.

Gazing into the dark souls of his cast with tales of inner demons and the like, Pennycook can be as ominous as he can be achingly vulnerable. Especially on the heartbreaking psychiatric episode title-track, “She sees me with kindness in my eyes/And tells me she still loves me” being just one of many poignant lines.

Though constantly impressive in the past, his characteristic Lothian burr quivery warble and tumult-pained vocals have never been delivered with such depth and profound elegiac maturity. Still channeling Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with a penchant for country, an Indie-Americana feel and banjo rhythm permeates throughout most of the album. There’s even a campfire version of Audrey Williams gospel-country teary ‘I Heard My Mother Weeping For Me’, a venerable hymn made famous by Audrey’s tragic cowboy husband Hank no less. With the pinning hurt and travails of such an icon ringing in his ear, Pennycock’s own lonesome trail is unmistakably honed in austerity Britain.

Apart from the country influences – as filtered through the Scottish East Coast –you may also pick up echoes of Adrian Moffett, Talk Talk, Radiohead era The Bends, and even Bowie on the increasingly hostile, whipped and thrashed ‘Art School’ fuck-off.

An outstanding album full of both heartache and brilliance, Crow Hill is a vivid, richly and descriptively revealing minor-opus; the first chapter or part of a much grander multimedia universe that crosses songwriting with veiled fiction, illustration and performance. As first stabs go, Pennycook has shown an encouraging erudite skill for writing, which translates well when put to music. This will be an album in many end-of-year lists.





Dhoad Gypsies Of Rajasthan ‘Times Of Maharaja’
(ARC Music) 28th June 2019


Proud custodians of the courtly music of the Maharajas, Rahis Bharti and his brothers Amrat Hussain, Teepu and Sanjay Khan continue a family tradition that can be traced back over seven generations. Handed-down through their gifted great grandfather Ustad Rasool Buxkhan and his equally talented grandson Ustad Rasool, the sibling troupe practice the travelling Khan Saheb style that originated amongst the Romani population who left India over a thousand years ago. It is a special musical caste and title bestowed upon these followers by the bejeweled rulers, in an era when opulence was king in Rajasthan.

The court house band so to speak, these most exhilarating musicians provided both the ceremonial, celebratory and entertaining accompaniment to religious and public events; marking everything from births to marriages and even the arrival of the rain season. Times Of Maharaja is a brilliant showcase to that grand tradition; a tradition that comes alive through dynamic virtuoso playing and the just as complex, remarkable vocals.

Already a well-established and acclaimed group, playing notably for a host of world leaders, the Queen and even at Mick Jagger’s birthday, the Gypsies gallop and giddily swirl through an effortless songbook of paeans and majestic longings as they wind back the clock to the palace epoch.

The jubilance of a new born prince is buoyantly celebrated on the brassy-resonant sumptuous ‘Sona Ra Button Banna’, whilst the “dream wedding” is given a yearned, pondered – later hurriedly – accompaniment on the processional ‘Dhanraj Sahebji’. An album of solid showmanship throughout at every turn, with the flickering, fluttering tablas almost catching fire at times, such is the blurry rapidness of the playing, Times of Maharaja is a rich regal tableau of romantic exultations, elephant lolloping sways, suffused drones and bobbing rhythms. No longer in the service of those legendary kings and queens of India, this travelling band spread their music internationally as both an educational tool and of course as entertainment. They prove that the legacy is, without doubt, in good hands.




Camino Willow ‘Monotopia’
(Willow Music)  28th June 2019


Exploring the post-millennial epoch burgeoning Bedford-based producer and songwriter Maximillian Newell explores both the anguish and potentials of an ever intrusive and dominant Internet. Sharing and connecting more than ever yet simultaneously feeling more lonely and vulnerable, the benefits outweighed by a Pandora’s Box of unfiltered anger, validation causing anxiety and discord, Newell represents generation smartphone; a generation working out individual expression in a “collective consciousness”.

Further tied conceptually to “an adventure in a cult-like city in the sky where the main characters embark on an epic journey into the desert”, Newell’s ambitious debut album has a wide scope thematically and sonically. Creating his own universe of both the plaintive and euphoric, the inward and expansive, under the Camino Willow moniker – a world that will be extended to the medium of graphic novel in the future – he circumnavigates modern-day suburban Britain; escaping boredom and constriction of uncertainty and depression for moments of languid hypnotics and blasts of neo-pop ascendant electro anthems.

Throughout, Monotopia is full of light and shade, despondency and hope, with passages and more full realized tracks (some featuring soulful vocals, some purely instrumental) flowing into each other almost uninterrupted. And with a nuanced balance that is musically imbued by Dean Blunt one minute, Django Django the next, even Fuck Buttons and Liars, Newell sounds like Everything Everything signed to Ninja Tunes as centrifugal drums meet breakbeat, the ambient meets dreamy blissful psych-pop and R&B, the romantic meets sophisticated cynicism.

There’s a lot to be excited about as Newell’s visions take shape. Though cast as a project of despondency and uncertainty, reflecting the state of the author and his subject’s mental health, there’s plenty of emergent dreamy efference and diaphanous light to be found on this escape from the suburbs. Monotopia is a glittering start to an ambitious career.




Posset/Ulyatt ‘A Jar Full’
(Crow Versus Crow) 7th June 2019


It won’t come as any surprise to find that the most unlikely of experimental pairings, between a sporadic and garbled Dictaphone operator and frayed, friction-stretched cellist, offers up the strangest of results.

The first set of recordings from this peculiar avant-garde union, released digitally and on (very) limited cassette tape, features both uninterrupted serialism pieces, knocked back and forth between Dictaphone welder Joe Posset and cellist Charlie Ulyatt, and extemporized live performance.

Side A of this revived physical format version posts the results of a remote exchange; both artists’ providing first-take experiments for their counterparts to further improvise over. With no advance preparations and neither artist interfering, not even peremptorily listening to the results, the final versions of ‘At This Lost Hour’ and ‘A Reasonable Remedy’ are as surprising to them as they are to us. Squiggly, warping, real-time and rewound slurred and more fidgety recognizable voices emanate from Posset’s overworked Dictaphone as the strung-out quivers and free-roaming plucks and prods of Ulyatt’s creaking cello amorphously wanes away. The first of these odd couplings (think Faust Tapes meets Fluxus and The Books in Tony Conrad’s Dream Factory) features almost demonical voices and obscured snatches of dialogue as the cello meanders, yet also offers at least a small string of plucked notes. The second of these tracks has a harsher edge, with the violent tape spool cutting and horsehair bow carving away at its prey.

Previous to these exchanges, both artists performed an impromptu set together at a venue in Posset’s hometown of Nottingham. Inhabiting a shared space of mention in a magazine, Posset invited Ulyatt to play a one-off collaboration. Only meeting for the first time a few hours before the show, with no rehearsal or preparation the pairing performed, as the second side of this tape bears out, a haunting environmental invocation. Using the whole cello, especially its wooden body to evoke the uneasy sound of unsettling movement (like spirits making their presence known by knocking, kicking a box down some steps and scraping large objects across the floor), Ulyatt conjures up sounds you wouldn’t believe possible as Posset, attuned to the same esoteric mood, triggers just as ominous sounding supernatural elements from the ether.

Mysteriously tangled, surreptitious voices and creaking atmospherics abound on both these live tracks, ‘High Head’ and ‘At The Angel’, and on the mini-album as a whole. Perfectly in keeping with the Crow Versus Crow house style of such sonic and tape-collage experiments, A Jar Full is a strange avant-garde proposition worth your attention: It sounds both mad and fucked-up, but also paranormal.







Manu Louis ‘Cream Parade’
(Igloo Records) July 2019


At the heart of the Belgian artists Manu Louis’s second album lays a disenchantment with society’s dependence on technology; the Internet of these visions rightly examined through the medium of, often, odd-ball unrequited serenades and cybernetic jazz elegy. Kooky throughout, Louis and his guests – which include the versatile London-based singer Heidi Heidelberg shadowing Louis or channeling an automated staccato vessel on a series of quasi-duets, and fellow Belgian and virtuoso saxophonist Greg Tirtiaux adding strung-out blues-y and romantically pining horns – roam freely across a number of musical genres in their quest to articulate that unease.

After the initial opening introductory futuristic smoky cocktail lounge horn suffused waft of ‘Saxophone’, Louis traverses Yello, Kreidler and Jack Dutronic on ‘Internet’, and on the clack-y percussive (down to another guest, Brazilian percussionist Nylo Canella) skip and pulse ‘Efface’, Stereo Total meets Einstürzende Neubauten. Technology’s electronic presence comes up against more traditional, if masked, instrumentation on what is, despite the anxious themes, a mostly bouncy, goofy and cool affair: A cynical Louis perhaps, even lampooning his own idiosyncratic European heritage, laying-it-on-thick vocally on the album’s part-homage, part despondent finale ‘Tardigrade’; increasingly losing the plot with a loopy aria as he yearns about the peculiar, near-immortal, microscopic ‘water bear’ of the title; an animal whose resilience to environmental extremities is second to none: Perhaps the only other living thing kicking about with cockroaches in a nuclear aftermath.

Vogue chanson crosses paths with Station 17, Sparks with Dean Blunt and Stereolab on an album that fuses the Belle Epoch with Tresor, Euro-kitsch pop with St. Vincent. However odd, colorful and unique these aloof visionary tales and yearnings might sound they are meant to be dystopian and serious in nature – partly inspired by Samuel Beckett’s own literary depictions of a “postmodern world of obsession and social and existential disorientation” outlined in his Unnameable and Molly novels. A pilotless journey in fact, into the all-consuming matrix, an augur alarm before it’s all too late and the Internet’s strangulating tentacles cut off our air of free will forever. It just so happens to be fun.







Chelique Sarabia ‘Revolución “Electrónica” en Música Venezolana’
(Pharaway Sounds) 29th May 2019


A welcome distraction from the current political tumult in Venezuela, the whacked-out flange and reverb-drenched visions of the country’s legendary polymath José Enrique “Chelique” Sarabia arrive just in time as a reminder of that South America’s cultural legacy; from a period when the country enjoyed a renaissance in arts and music, partly fueled (as we will see) by the oil boom of the 1960s and 70s.

Going through a number of incarnations, originally released exclusively as part of a Christmas gift package for employees and customers of Shell in 1973, under the title of 4 Fases del Cuatro-Música Venezulana desarrollada Electrónicamente por Chelique sarabia (translating as 4 Phases of four – Venezuelan Music Electronically Developed By Chelique Sarabia), the retitled and repackaged 1971 Revolución “Electrónica” en Música Venezolana has been dusted off once more and given a new lease of life.

An example of when an established composer/arranger takes a sudden leap into the unknown, the “electronic revolución” that Chelique created was one that transformed the traditional folkloric music of the country into an exotica space-age trip. Already established and renowned, notably for penning the famous ‘Ansiedad’ and for a substantial back catalogue of standards, Chelique took a gamble, plugging himself into the psychedelic mainframe and going wild with a troupe of adroit musicians in an effect-mad studio. Using we’re told, “especially developed equipment (M.R.A.A.), based off of the principles of the Moog”, the now very experimental minded maverick filtered more traditional instruments – such as the local variant of the four-string Spanish folk guitar, the “cuatro”, and pear-shaped chordophone “bandola Llanera” – through cavernous echo, tape delay and synthesized frequencies to create a resonating mirage.

The source material of signature cantina and mountainside folk, via flourishing Flamingo and Spanish Catholic liturgy, is consumed and removed so that only veiled watery and ghostly traces remain: vapours even.

Hardly created in a vacuum, this musical quartet themed album often saunters up to the chic open-top driving music of Italian and French soundtrack composers, to the breakbeat psychedelics of David Axelrod, kitsch-jazz and pop. It could also fall into the cult Library Music missive; an oddball South American fusion of hallucinatory reimagined traditions.

You don’t necessarily need this LP in your life, but it’s plenty of fun and worth a punt out of curiosity if nothing else. Viva la electronic revolution.







Nick Garrie ‘The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas’
(Tapete Records) 29th June 2019


Worthy of a proper release, resurfacing for the first time in 2005, but finally receiving a full revival by Tapete Records, the poet-troubadour Nick Garrie’s lost debut album of 1969 is remarkable for a number of reasons. Provenance alone being one, recorded as it was at the studios of the Parisian label Disc AZ with Eddie Vartan and his full orchestra on swelling gravitas duties (even if Garrie wasn’t exactly happy with the results; much preferring, as the demos bear out, a more stripped acoustic intimacy). Remarkable still, despite being the weary and worldly restless traveller that he was, Garrie was only nineteen at the time.

The son of a fiery turbulent union between a Russian father and Scottish mother, living for a time in England (long enough for Nick to be dragged through the boarding school system; his peers evidentially, because of his Russian ancestry and original Miansarow family name, assumed he was Jewish and so meted out plenty of bullying punishment) before being forced to take up French citizenship with a move across the channel, Garrie was always too British for the French, and too French for the British. However, whilst making roots in France, Garrie studied European literature – the inspiration and foundations of his music starting out as an exercise in Surrealist automatic writing. Dodging the compulsory French requirement for national service (two-years service from the age of eighteen), he went on the run; taking his guitar and gift for considered poetic evocation with him. He would soon turn up in Brussels, where he soon renounced that French citizenship, auditioning for the fated Disc AZ label boss Lucien Morisse: “I got my guitar out and played ‘Deeper Tune Of Blue’. He pulled out a contract and said ‘signez, monsieur, signez!’

Given a great opportunity, especially so young, to record an album, what would be the Anglo-French artist’s debut was lavished with sumptuous orchestration; a pomp that gave Garrie’s more stripped originals an air of the string-grandeur of Nirvana, The Herd, Love Sculpture and pre-progressive Aphrodite’s Child. Fate unfortunately struck on the eve of its release, with the suicide of Morisse, which sent everything into chaos for the label and Garrie. His debut suite would end up in limbo, with only a few copies making it out of the factory before deletion. Gaining an instant cult status, this lost treasure has only officially seen the light of day on a couple of occasions since.

The ‘nightmare’ of both this album title’ and the all-too-real one of seeing a burgeoning career curtailed, is the backstory and theme of this properly sanctioned re-release. The collection and original ‘nightmare’ entitled standout, is also a rousing minor-opus to finding identity and belonging. Weaving that Russian heritage into a George Harrison-esque guitar motif, swirling strings rich globetrotting fantasy, inspired by that literary learning and penchant for automatic writing, Garrie laments about his own self as an alter ego, finding out and unveiling his true ancestry: much to his dismay. ‘The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas’ is an anthem to wrap the rest of this songbook around, with few tracks matching its gravitas and scale as a Psychedelic and folk pop opus.

Featuring the full running order original, both sides of Garrie’s ‘Queen Of Spades’ single and a septet of demos, this showcase captures the torn troubadour in youthful escapism. It also shows an artist finding his niche, a checkered songbook of Bacharach-like pastoral romance (‘Can I Stay With You’), the spiritual and filmic (‘David’s Prayer’), Mike Nesmith Monkees (‘The Wanderer’, ‘Little Bird’) and The Moody Blues adrift a Turkish flying carpet (the 1968 demo ‘Stone And Silk’). Scattered amongst these redolent love-serenades and brooding pathos is the more curious coach trip ‘Bungle’s Tours’ (an air of sniffy snobbishness and Magical Mystery Tour showhall scorn about mass-tourism – then in its infancy of course – and package tours that sounds like the Bonzos and Simon & Garfunkel are at the wheel) and lampooning country-gal hoedown ‘Queen Of Queens’.

The most elegiac bit of inevitable pathos is saved for the original album’s swansong, ‘Evening’. A highly descriptive nocturnal diorama unfolds as it reflects a metaphorical end to all our days, this plaintive spell is as sad as it is poignantly beautiful.

As a debut from a fairly young aspiring artist poet, The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas’ is quite impressive and ambitious, if not quite original or unique enough to stand-out from his peers that did make it, on either side of the Channel. Yet, there’s some interesting experimentation and lyricism at play to make this a worthwhile purchase; a curiosity of a lost album from an unparalleled epoch.





Kota Motomura ‘New Experience’
(Hobbes Music) Vinyl/Stream: 14th June 2019, DL: 13th September 2019


Free floating on a moistened tropical air that blows between the rainforests and the Balearics, Tokyo artist Kota Motomura makes an impressive debut on the Hobbes Music imprint with his new exotic EP suite. Motomura moves fluidly but deeply through a myriad of House, Techno and electronic sub-styles to produce an often sauntering, bobbing cornucopia of lush entranced dance music.

Via proper study, learning the aural/pitch/sight-reading method of Solfege under the tutelage of Master Masahiko Muraoka, and a penchant for the music of Japanese Techno legend Ken Ishii, Motomura has been steadily, if without much fanfare, building a reputation for his unique experiments.

But this release nearly never happened. Originally sending demos to Hobbes as far back as 2017, and agreeing on a release, the line went dead for more than six months. It eventually transpired that Motomura had been taken ill, and so dropped off the radar. Better late than never, and back in contact, New Experiences- is now finally seeing the light of day.

The four-track, expanding to six on the ‘download’ version, EP first touches down in a sonic paradise on the lapping tidal, glistening tranquil opener ‘Aboy’, and then dreamily travels inland to a greenery of bird calls, frogs and insect choruses on the bopping 808 beats chiming electro-pop progression ‘Yes’. Melting swaddled and wafting jazzy-lilt saxophone (courtesy of Mutsumi Takeuchi) and veiled diaphanous vocals (Sawako Yanagida) with deep beats and Chicago House style piano motifs, Motomura plays around merging Bossa Nova with orgasmic slow-fucking samples on the shaking ‘Status’, and weaves echoes of early Moby, Carl Craig and Felix da Housecat into an increasingly warping Morse code slice of classy dance music on ‘Cry Baby’. Of the bonus tracks, ‘Satellites’ (as you’d expect from its title) features a Sputnik circumnavigating orbit of transduced lunar broadcasts and submarine sonar bleeps, which gets more piercing and mad as it goes on, whilst ‘Return’ has an otherworldly X Files vibe to it.

In all a great showcase of the exotic, lush and more mysterious that propels the origins of House and Techno into curious, mostly subtropical directions.





Words: Dominic Valvona

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