Album Reviews Galore
Words: Dominic Valvona





An eclectic array of reviews, Dominic Valvona’s long-running Tickling Our Fancy column aims to cast the net wide, choosing a diverse collection of recent and upcoming releases for your perusal.

This month’s selection includes two special reissues, the first, the cross-pollinating “Azerbaijani Gitara” music of the late Caucasus legend Rüstəm Quliyev, the second, a beatific Gnawa set of recordings from the late esteemed Moroccan master Maalam Mahmoud Gania.

I also have a gander at the fantastical anthropologist ambient tape from the shrouded Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony, and a new album of sun-dappled affirmations from the Beach Boys imbued pastoral recluse Mike Gale. There’s the American three-piece Pons, who launch a torrid of punk and indie-dance mayhem on the unsuspecting public with their debut album, Intellect. From the prolific Hamburg label of experimental electronica, there’s a new reggae-imbued techno suite from Schlammpeitziger, and a very special project from the renowned producer Ian Brennan, his most personal yet, the Sheltered Workshop Singers (perhaps the first recording of its type anywhere). And finally, Esbe takes us on an Egyptian and Sufi India fantasy with her new synthesised album, Saqqara.


Pons ‘Intellect’
(Stick ’n’ Move Records) Album/17th September 2020




A volatile chaos that is remarkably tactile in places, the blossoming erratic American trio of Pons throw everything into their debut album Intellect. The culmination of various mischievous bombardments and jerked dances on a slew of EPs and singles, from a band that first formulated their blueprint in North Carolina in 2018 before relocating a year later to Virginia, this paranoid hectic and ridiculous fully realised long-player whips up a torrid of unhinged energy.

Reminding me of that first White Denim album, yet coarser and heavier, Intellect is full of ideas in what, by now, is a worn cross-section of post-punk and garage related genres. From the off though, you know this is going to be something else; a diy friction of scuzzed garage/skate/doom punk that creeps as much towards the Gothic as it does towards indie-dance.

They set us up with a reverberated, eerie lead-in of “we got a winner” samples and bird squawks, then roll pendulously into an harassed vision of The Stooges ripping it outta the Talking Heads before speed-freaking style riffing on Liquid Liquid, Ludus, Essential Logic and The Black Lips: Phew! Suck that up.

An ennui of rhythms, time changes and moods flip constantly between intense mania and more limbering no-wave downtown NYC Keith Herring doodled electro-funk. ‘Primal Urge’ is just that: a primal doom quickened, kettle rolling grunt of 80s Californian punk. ‘Jimmy Two-Dimes’ fucks up brilliantly The Strokes, and even, smashes up the NY Dolls and Suicide. But if we’re talking of real concentrated madness, ‘Dick Dastardly’ runs that cartoon scoundrel through a gruff free fall of James Chance, Ornate Coleman (yeah imagine that!) and space rock.

Funhouse Teenage Shutdowns, Nuggets garage gets roughed up on ‘Fabrication’, and Black Randy fights it out with The Electric Eels on the paranoia enclosing ‘Polly’s Hotel’. Single ‘Subliminal Messages’ takes a different musical route entirely; the advertiser slated consumerist nightmare limbers onto a dancefloor occupied by Disco Drive, Gang Gang Dance and Juan MacClean. ‘I See My Name In Lights’ bastardizes Electric 6, DAF, the Italian proto-punk dance miscreants Halleluah!, Renegade Soundwave and Death Grips: perhaps a touch of a synth-punk Beastie Boys.

What a record. I’m not sure I could really argue that the Pons are doing anything particularly new. Yet Intellect has quickly enthralled and excited me. Subtle meets the hardliners, as the bonus of youth drudges, sludges and drums up a vortex of generation X and boomer credulity. Nothing short of a brilliant noise, energy directed for the benefit of all, a glorious skewered and deranged indie-dance album of punk snot petulance and fun.




Mike Gale ‘The Star Spread Indefinite’
Album/25th September 2020




The former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nelson instigator Mike Gale may have retired from performing live some time ago now, but he’s still been highly prolific in recording. Using his trusty 32-track TASCAM cassette recorder, in just the last 18 months Gale has released the Pacific Ocean lulled sorrowed album, Summer Deluxe, a recent compilation of (far from) unfinished works and B-side paeans and breezes entitled B, C, D Side Volume 1, and a lockdown mini-album, Sunshine For The Mountain God. And now with this latest acoustic-led songbook, Gale furnishes us with the astral dreamy entitled The Star Spread Indefinite.

That cosmological title was found amongst his recent reading material, in Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion. In one particular section, the uncovering of an ancient piece of artwork, scratched into the wall of a flint mine in Sussex triggered a beautiful starry-poetic response from the discoverer who found and named it. As a poetic prompt it brings Gale out of the melancholy of lockdown into a most dreamy state of reflection. And in his most lulled, drifting ruminating moments, balances a languid sense of yearning despondency with a peaceable message of positive affirmation for our near-miraculous existence.

The Monolith Cocktail was lucky enough to share the album’s precursor video-track (created by Jussi Virkkumaa) recently, ‘Go Help’: A tropical-lilted wistful tiptoe sauntering, and disarming disconsolate bobbing continuation of the plaintive beachcomber Beach Boys sound that has permeated the reclusive polymath’s output for a number of years. That means more of those lulled layered harmonies and the present lingering presence of a distant lapping tide. Though Gale lends an English pastoral bent to the Beach Boys California beach combing romanticisms. You can hear it clearly on the 70s AM radio dial wash ‘Stripped Sunlight’, which has an air of the SMiLE era about it.

Elsewhere in his harmonious gauzy hushed way, Gale evokes the Laurel Canyon dappled loveliness of Marc Eric, a beachside relocated epic45 and Roger Bunn on the sweetly synthesized golden ray affirmation ‘This Year’. The starry lush ‘Pastel Coloured Warm’, with its bahbahbah lilting chorus, hints at a meeting between the Go-Betweens and Prefab Sprout. Albeit a less sparse version, Gale also channels the spirit of Sparklehorse throughout this often-gossamer songbook. There’s also an easing into the Yacht Rock genre and the 80s phaser-effect and dry-ice cool of Phil Collins to provide a softened pop feel to some of the washes.

With soothing élan and shimmery dreaminess, Gale aches and wistfully fights through the disappointment, knock backs and anxiety to lift himself above it all with repeated mantras of “I’ll get my wish”, or, “This year I’m going to make it.” Let’s hope he does make it, as Gale is a fine musician and songwriter. The Star Spread Indefinite confirms that.





See also…

Mike Gale ‘Go Help‘ Premiere 

Sweet Marie‘ 

B,C,D Sides Volume 1

Summer Deluxe‘ 




Schlammpeitziger ‘Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer’
(Bureau B) Album/25th September 2020




After previously unconsciously composing a kind of reggae and dub vision of Kraut-tronica over nine albums, Cologne stalwart of thirty years Jo Zimmermann has decided to now consciously meld those genres to his quirky lilt of electronic music on the tenth album, Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer (for those needing a translation, that’s “a world leak in the echo chamber”).

It wasn’t, we’re told, until Zimmermann’s friend and ‘reggae expert’ Bettina Lattak remarked upon the composer, illustrator and performance artist’s oblivious use of those Caribbean flavours that it all suddenly clicked. And for this latest electro-fusion, fun, radiant, bouncing and sub-tropical suite, he, unabashed, tinkers almost effortlessly with a reggae sound stripped of context, history and religion: Just the feel, vibe and resonance. In practice this results in dubby warbled bass and echo, limbering gaited rhythms and a laid-back candour. There’s even a lilted saunter of steel drums to be heard, bobbing away on the tropical soulful electro-funk ‘Handicapfalter’.

That relaxed sound and sway – bordering on sun-bleached escapism – is counterbalanced by electro-cool starry synths, industrial metallic scuttles and a sophisticated layering of synthesized toms, kick-drums and polygons. It’s a sound that transduces label mates Station 17 and Clap! Clap!, a more languid Dunkelziffer, Holgar Czukay and Kraftwerk into a kind of Krautrock Compass Points Allstars, or, a futurist Marvin Gaye produced by a late 70s post-punk erring Eno. The itching percussive space-y tweeting ‘Tanzfußfalle’ seems to have invited Air, Psycho & Plastic and International Pony onto a dancefloor. That Kraftwerk namedrop evidently is a given. Zimmermann, trading under his longstanding Schlammpeitziger persona, references the Baroque harpsichord neo-classical Trans-European Express suite ‘Spiegelsaal’ (or ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ as most of us know it) on his own mirrored trans-alpine refracted Oompah magic ‘Hüftgoldpolka’. Imbued with the Dusseldorf unit’s own spell-casting allusions on fame and image, Zimmermann leads a merry dance of his own.

There are of course some serious moments on what is essentially a tempered subtle pleasant soundtrack of understated techno, Kosmische and dance music. In what is a newish development, on this the second release for Bureau B, Zimmermann takes to singing; adding a cryptic whimsy and curiosity of half-narrated and humming, sighing and despondent lyricism to a number of tracks.

A warping, bended and sometimes crystalline, sometimes rattling, reggae-light sonic quirk, Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer seems to offer a bright window into another world; a ladder out of the echo chamber towards a nice suffusion of Germanic electronic escapism.






Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Who You Calling Slow?’
Album/18th September 2020




Used to travelling around the globe as the inconspicuous in-the-field recordist and in-situ producer, Ian Brennan has made a critically acclaimed career out of recording some of the most persecuted, ignored and neglected communities: from an Albinism refuge in Tanzania to the Abatwa pygmies of Rwanda and the victims of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. It’s a varied career; with projects as diverse as the Malawi Mouse Boys film score that never was to recording the prisoners of that same country’s maximum-security facility in Zomba.

Yet all of those projects share Ian’s overriding raison d’être, as laid out in his brilliantly engaging How Music Dies (Or Lives) tome: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity, without baggage!’

The Grammy-nominated award winner’s latest project though, is his most personal yet. Collaborating with his only sister, Jane, who has Down Syndrome, Ian uniquely facilitates a platform for the Sheltered Workshop of diverse voices; spotlighting the ‘developmentally-disabled’ population in what could be the first ever album of its kind. In his notes Ian refers to a nameless “music expert” and his recent assertions that there was no such thing as a “virgin birth”, as he called it, left in music, that it was all based on “outside influence”. Ian however calls upon that “expert” to witness “what can happen when you hand a guitar for the first time to someone who has only partial use of their limbs.” As do some of the ensemble on this remarkable set of recordings. For this is a cast that have never before had that access or even opportunity to make themselves heard through the connective joy of music: the same one Ian enjoys with his sister Jane.

This album is far from an exercise in either charitable virtue or worse, exploitation. It’s more an overdue platform for those who have previously been ignored, sidelined and even patronized due to their needs and disabilities; especially vocally with most unable to articulate because of a reduced vocabulary and speech impediment. However, Ian finds that there are few more “expressive singers” than that are “non-verbal”. And the various pure emotions on display from this group of performers, who’ve previously never sung in front of a mic or played an instrument before, are deeply felt and resonating.

It’s a language that often sounds strikingly stripped of convention; often, to my ears, having more in common with Ian’s recordings from Africa, especially the incredibly vulnerable Tanzania Albinism community on the White African Power album. Sometimes almost ghostly and fragile, and at other times harmonic and utterly compelling, these voices can be as succinct as the performer Dan repeating his name with a raspy growl over a twanged guitar string accompaniment, or, as amorphous as the group effect of mourned vocals on ‘I Love You (Farewell Father)’. Incantation mantra meets the soulful and even fearless.

Accompaniments come in the form of the most expressive and unburdened of experimentation. The already mentioned Dan seems to channel both Medieval sonnet and primal blues-y-swamp rock on his opening turn, whilst Grace’s life story, with its guitar buzz, distortion and drone, hints at psychedelic grunge and shoegaze doom. Tom’s disconsolate ‘Sometimes I Feel Just Like A Zombie’ is so mysterious with its throat-singing snouts and hums that it could be some lost Tibetan malady. Glass-sounding xylophone keyboard effects, trembled strings, slapped rhythms and choruses of kazoos all make appearances on this open and candid collection of unbridled and unreserved communication. But don’t ever think to buy this album just out of charity or compassion, or even as a novelty (even though proceeds do go to a great cause); instead buy it because of those purely uncloying and truthful performances. But buy it because it has personality and something important to say.





See also…

Ian Brennan ‘Interview’ (here)

Ustad Saami ‘God Is Not A Terrorist’ (here)

Malawi Mouse Boys ‘Score For A Film About Malawi Without Music From Malawi’ (here)

Tanzania Albinism Collective ‘White African Power’ (here)



Esbe ‘Saqqara’
(New Cat) album/25th September 2020




Channeling a dreamy cast of ancient Egyptian characters (both fictional and historical), the diaphanous-breathed enchantress Esbe conjures up a most atmospheric peregrination on her fifth album, Saqqara. A musical odyssey of imagined reincarnated lives, the vocalist, producer and composer drifts down an atavistic Aswan, past the landmarks of Pharaoh dynasties: A musical traverse that extends from one civilisation to the next, past Arabia towards Uruk and then into the mystifying regions of Indian Sufi.

But firstly, more about the Egyptian allure that drew Esbe in. The album’s title Saqqara (or sometimes spelt as “Sakkara”) refers to the desert edge site of the awe-inspiring pyramid-tomb of the IIIrd dynasty Pharaoh Djoser; son of the dynasty foundress Nimaathap, who ruled sometime between the years of 2667 – 2648 BC. Not just a resting place but a show of power, Djoser’s impressive tomb was conceived by the even more famous polymath prime minister, high priest and royal architect (known by some Egyptologists as the Egyptian Leonardo) Imhotep. It forms part of the legendary City Of The Dead necropolis that extends across Giza and Dahshu, but is the only one still standing. As it inspired countless others before, this Step Pyramid now forms at least some of the storytelling poetry and atmospherics of this continuously hypnotizing electronic, real instruments and vocal mirage.

Under that monument’s shadow Esbe imagines an Egyptian woman dreaming of a lover, symbolically laying down with the revered Arabian leopard, to an entrancing, circling exotic menagerie and a shimmered procession on the album’s opening ambient fusion ‘My Love Knows No Bounds’. Esbe also evokes the torrid romance between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony on an updated vision of the sword and sandal soundtrack, ‘Carry Me Away’. Half Mills & Boon, half alluring lovelorn exotic camel trail; the two star-crossed lovers are cast adrift to a sound-bed of ponderous synthesizer vapours and cluttering drums.

The desires of escapism of a slave girl, seconded to laboring under the deathly heat on the pyramids, form the yearning sorrows of the Celtic-Arabian ‘I’ll Fly’. Subtle tubular Japan-esque synth percussion and sand dune jazz, dusky trumpet serenade and snake rattles converge to create the musical accompaniment.

Biblical augurs of doom are given a pining 80s synth dreamwave of crystal rays on the duel environmental and lunar phenomenon ‘Paint The Moon’, and low key acid-Arabia undulations permeate the caressed astral ‘Bedouin Prince’.

Moving further east to the subcontinent of India, Esbe lulls and coos melodious devotionals in the style of the Sufi music of Qawaali. Inspired by that forms doyen Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Esbe spindles an electronic spiritual version of Transglobal Underground on ‘Qawaali Dance’, and builds up a filmic drama of unfurled beauty on the epic ‘Qawaali Siesta’.

It’s a cinematic musical world that fuses tablas, zither and electronics with the sounds of the desert wildlife. Vocally Esbe draws on her eclectic Polish, Lithuanian and Jewish roots whilst embracing the phrasings, melodies of North Africa, the Middle East and mystical India. It makes for an ambiguous and impressive vocal that soars aria-like and chorally fills the space: A voice that even smolders.

Saqqara is a dreamy soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates an Egyptian fantasy: one that has a lushly performed lyrical and thematic message for the present epoch.






Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony ‘Prismic Passageways’
(Moonside Tapes) Album/11th August 2020




An ethnographical fiction, bordering on Atlantis myth, the shrouded instigators behind this latest experimental ambient peregrination for the always intriguing cassette label Moonside Tapes set sail for an imaginary land of shaman rituals and mysticism.

With a backstory mined from the annals of real historical anthropology and the field recorder’s archives, those mysterious forces of the Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony build up a half-convincing soundscape catalogue of fantastical atmospheres from the missing geographical link of Maitrii, a South Pacific realm that could have been part of another fantastical dreamed-up sunken continent, Aninomola. Because it never existed, it acts as an inspiration and blank canvas for an atavistic soundtrack of quasi-tribal primitivism and spiritualism.

The back-story goes that the only remnants, evidence of this obscure place and civilization are to be found in the notebooks and recordings of the anthropologist Dr. August Maynard, who it seems disappeared; his belongings in turn, found by villagers on the shores of that equally mystical, though very real, abandoned oasis, Easter Island.

Split into two lengthy recordings of grouped together themes, Prismic Passageways is divided into Trance and Meditation suites. “Presented here unabridged” and in “stereo”, the trance quintet of seamlessly strung-together tracks swirls around in Shamanistic communion, whilst the meditation sextet of dreamy esoteric atmospheres ventures past the misty coastline holy places into the interior. That first side of the tape feels like a misty ether veiled rowing boat drift to Skull Island. Summoned forth into a strange landscape, obscured creature calls and the haunted presence of the Maitrii spirits lure the weary travellers into an ambient sound world. A sorcerer’s crystalline ray reaches out to break the omnipresent foggy mirage at one point, and later, those so far feint rolls across a frame drum and lightly woody beaten pallets are ramped up into heavily reverberating, echoed elongated rhythms. It ends in an intoxicant spiral of drug-induced hallucinogenics: a spiral wispy drowsy and unsure ceremony in the catacombs.

That flip side, which traverses a ‘dawn prayer’, the fabled sun eater, and references the Hebrew biblical place of the ‘Land of Beulah’ – a place somewhere between Heaven and Earth -, features a venerable resonance of South Seas ancient mantric voices, bobbing trickled wooden marimba and minimal ambient suffusions.

For those wishing something different from their ambient traverses, enter the strange anthropological mystery of the Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony.





See also:

Jimmy W ‘Midi Canoe’ (here)

Cousin Silas And The Gloves Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’ (here)




Reissue Features:


Rüstəm Quliyev ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’
(Bongo Joe) Album/18th September 2020




The history and travails of the fecund oil rich country of Azerbaijan are atavistic. This is a nation that has striven to gain independence from a string of empires: both Tsarist and Soviet Russia, Iran, Albania, and much further back, the great Mongol Khan Timur. Desired not only for its abundance in fossil fuels – providing 80% of the Soviet’s oil on the Eastern Front during WWII, and continuing even now to be a vital pipeline for the post-communist Russian Federation – but for its geographical corridor to its fellow Transcaucasia neighbours of Georgia and Armenia in the west, to the south, Iran, in the north, Russia, and to the west, the vast inland lake, the Caspian Sea.

Khanates, caliphates, communism and secularism – Azerbaijan’s first declaration of independence came in 1918 and with it the first secular Muslim state – have all made their marks on this fertile land that in recent years has attempted to make inroads with NATO, the EU and China, whilst shaking off corruption. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it Azerbaijan’s second declaration of independence, coups and counter-coups have hampered a smooth transaction towards democracy. Though the country remains stable, if governed for at least the last two decades by the Aliyev family.

 

Bordering as it does so many cultures, its no wonder that one of the country’s most celebrated guitar pioneers Rüstəm Quliyev absorbed and embraced such a diverse range of customs from abroad and far; from local modals, wedding celebrations and traditions to the regal music of the Persian court, Bollywood musicals and dreamy evocations of Arabia. Reissued by those tastemakers at Bongo Joe Records, this incredible sounding compilation brings together a smattering of eclectic guitar led tracks from the late legend’s expansive diy produced catalogue.

As with many of his forbearers and peers, Rüstəm would firstly master the region’s traditional instruments, the tar (an ornate curvy looking waisted long-necked lute) and saz (another long-necked lute instrument, shaped like a teardrop almost) before picking up the guitar; an instrument or version of which first trickled into the country from the Czech factory makers Jolana in the 1960s. But Rüstəm’s first introduction to the “gitara” was whilst serving in the Soviet military in Russia; an episode that soon ended, allowing the burgeoning talent to return to a civil war in his own homeland.

 

Hailing from the disputed mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Rüstəm’s backyard was in the middle of a war. A convoluted history, but circumstances saw the autonomous Armenian ethnic-majority southern Caucasus area internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but governed by the Republic Of Artsakh. Both breakaway states locked horns in the wake of the Soviet implosion; old rivalries, disputes were bought to the surface and violence soon ensued, including ethnic cleansing atrocities. In 1994 Russia secured a ceasefire after six years of conflict. As a consequence of this upheaval, with populations dispersed in some cases, Rüstəm moved further west towards the country’s Caspian costal capital of Baku; a move that would connect the rural visionary’s formative training with the lakeside cosmopolitan city’s network of international visitors and students, one of which, a student from Afghanistan, would introduce Rüstəm to such Afghan luminaries as Ahmed Zair. Included in this collection, ‘Əfqan Musiqisi’ is inspired by a track on a mixtape his Afghan student pal made for him. As an honour to him this pining song includes the heartfelt lines, “Let’s meet each other again, my friend, because separating is like unexpected death.” It sounds, as does most of his music, like a cross-pollination of influences; a Silk Road lament of bobbed hand drums, threaded lute and synthesized moaning choral voices. That synthesizer patch work is an integral part of the music by the way; a cheap sounding keyboard theatre of misty gazing ambience, punctuation of bass and percussive rolls that accompanies the often rapid, if elegant, nimble guitar performances.

 

Imbued both by doyens of the country’s “gitara” scene, including fellow Karabakh legend Rafiq Hüsey (aka Ramis), yet experimenting himself by refashioning a Jolana Czech guitar, Rüstəm managed to craft a unique merger of the past and present, the traditional and innovative. It helped that he came from a family of engineers, and with his brothers was able to set up a home studio. You can, if inclined, read more details about his tweaks, tunings and such in the liner notes provided by the album’s compilers Ben Wheeler and Stefan William. But in short, his style incorporated a wealth of inspirations, even wider than those already mentioned. For example, you can hear that wealth of influences on both the scenic searching, rough ’n ’ready Persian blues and rock number ‘İran Təranələri’, and the misty-eyed classical, popular Iranian street number, ‘Fars Musiqisi’ – the former via a transmogrified Niles Rodgers. Looking towards India, a famous Bollywood song imbues the strangely windy, horn heralding Western gallop ‘Tancor Disko’: imagine Pino Ruches riding shotgun with Ry Coder and Link Wray. Rüstəm transforms the highly complex classical poetic and improvised folk traditions of the country’s Mugham culture with the silken courtly, echoed fret work of ‘Neyçün Gəlməz’, and replaces the saz for his rapid guitar riffing on the Baba Zula like psychedelic ‘Yanıq Kərəmi’ and 80s sheened wedding dance ‘Baş Sarıtel’.

A caucuses Dick Dale, Omar Souleyman, Hank Marvin, perhaps as some people have proposed, even a touch of funk Mardi Gras Eddie Hazel, Rüstəm was an extraordinary gifted guitarist; one that could riff and strangulate, wrangle a constant trickle of quickened notes and multilayering, resonating poetry. Often he mimics a voice, at other times the lute or saz, yet always sounds mesmerizing and untethered. A rich showcase indeed, it’s time to traverse the Transcaucasia, the Steppes and beyond for those bored with western guitar slingers. Dip your toes into a whole unique and heartening guitar landscape.






Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Aicha’
(Hive mind Records) Album/October 2020




After various cultural excursions in South America, Arabia and West Java, Hive Mind Records return full circle to the “Gnawa” music that launched them with a striking reissue package of the beatific Aicha album by the form’s late great doyen Maalam Mahmoud Gania. It was of course Gania’s final studio album Colours Of The Night that first kicked off the label a few years ago. Now, picking up on that saintly venerating Moroccan music again, and in collaboration with Gania’s family, the label have chosen this moment of great turmoil (you could say it was a calm, healing balm just when we needed it most) to release a previously shrouded 90s cassette tape of entrancing communion and invocations from an artist rightly celebrated for pushing Gnawa beyond his hometown of Essaouira to an international audience. For one thing, Gania is celebrated for, perhaps, releasing the first ever Gnawa record, but also for working with such luminaries as Pharaoh Sanders, Bill Laswell and Santana.

The Islamic spiritual devotional poetry, dance and music of the Gnawa ethnic group – a group of Sub-Saharan people descended from slaves – this trance like sound is said to be one of the roots of the “blues” rhythm. Though a scion of the Islamic faith, this music is less restrictive in paying devotion and paean to a host of earthly saints and supernatural “mluk” (or “melk”). These abstract entities, the mluk, are represented by seven saints and seven colours; colours that “entrancer” dancers can wear in the form of robes or scarves. On the album’s bluesy, even jazzy threaded ‘Assamaoui’, those trancers wear blue in reference to the song’s sainted “Sidi Sma” (or “Samaoui”) and their implied ascendant relationship to the sky.

 

Gnawa is, in short, a music, culture of displacement because of its origins, but taken hold in Morocco, especially Gania’s home the key port of Essaouira, a strategically important fortress trading port on the country’s western coastine with the Atlantic. Gania’s home is where this set of recordings was made with an intimate setting of musicians. Though information remains scant, Berkley scholar and curator of the Moroccan Tape Stash blog Tim Abdellah attempts to dig deep and uncover the details; invited as he was to write the extensive liner notes and context for this special reissue. In fact, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from his writing and scholarly notes on the subject. There’s even a translation of the exonerating call and response lyrics, which are often short lines of veneration for sainted shrines and deities that can be both combined with or sung in any order depending on occasion and mood.

Aicha, itself a reference to “she of many monikers”, a powerful female entity with untold mythical origins, is rich with the anticipated quivery strums and throbbing tensions of Gania’s “gumbari” – a camel-skin covered three-string lute. Bowed, stringy and incessant, but gentler and deeper than his playing on Colours Of The Night, Gania’s signature instrument weaves a nice bluesy accompaniment to his soulful exaltations. As always Gania’s gumbari lead is joined by the scuttled, scratchy tin paddled percussive rhythm of the iron castanets, the “krakebs”. It makes for a lively but soothing liturgy of entrancing adulation and praise.

Hypnotizing as always, with the galloping kept to a minimum, this spiritual six-track album is a Gnawa highlight, and a great place to begin discovering this immersive and special music. The label’s done another first class job of bringing this to a wider audience.





See also…

Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Colours Of The Night’  (here)

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’  (here)

Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’  (here)

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (here



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

Premiere/Dominic Valvona




Mike Gale ‘Go Help’
Video track taken from the upcoming album The Star Spread Indefinite, released 25th September 2020


A tropical-lilted wistful tiptoe sauntering continuation of the plaintive beachcomber Beach Boys sound that permeated the reclusive polymath’s output for a number of years, Mike Gale once again does wonders with another disarming yet disconsolate bobbing beauty, ‘Go Help’.

The former Co-Pilgrim and Black Neilson instigator has been highly prolific of late with last year’s Pacific Ocean lulled sorrow Summer Deluxe album, a recent compilation of (far from) unfinished works and B-side ruminations, paeans and breezes entitled B, C, D Side Volume 1, and a lockdown mini-album Sunshine For The Mountain God. And now with this precursor video track Gale announces the release of his next fully realized songbook, The Star Spread Indefinite; released on the 25th September 2020.

“A celebration of the value of quiet contemplation and the pursuit of solicitude and calm”, lockdown it seems may have just suited Gale, who retired from live performances in 2018. Inspired, in part, by escaping the daily divisive barrage of noise, Gale has also been reading Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Britain book; in particular the passage about the ancient artwork found scratched into the wall of a flint mine in Sussex, who’s discoverer, rather poetically, embellished it with the title that is now borrowed to adorn Gale’s upcoming album.

 

Premiering today on the Monolith Cocktail, we have the ‘Go Help’ video, made by the photographer and video maker Jussi Virkkumaa, who juxtaposes the song’s quiet “dystopia” unease with a rotation of revolving surrealist objects: from a mannequin’s hand in a steaming bowl to fidgeting fauna and a stuffed crane like bird. Virkkumaa has this to say about his visual accompaniment and the song:

“Well I think that what I love about Go Help, is that I got a feeling of happy isolation, and little by little I begin to question the lullaby-kind of tune to be something more to the dystopian. It delivers (for me at least) a feeling of lost control, but at the same time there’s beauty. I tried to go kind of a similar route, choosing symbolic figures, which are in an absurd environment, just rolling around endlessly. I think the situation could be something like the Voyager’s golden record flying in outer space, just in case, a time capsule to burn in some distant planets atmosphere.”

 

If this latest effortless sounding wash of Afro-Caribbean lilt, Beat Connection surf noir and 80s pop snuzzled trumpet is anything to go by, then Gale’s cosmic-dreamily entitled The Star Spread Indefinite is set to be another languidly beautiful affair.






Related posts form the ARCHIVES:

Mike Gale  ‘B, C, D Sides’ Review

Mike Gale  ‘Summer Deluxe’ Review



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

ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Welcome to the inaugural reviews roundup of 2020 by Dominic Valvona; a cosmopolitan, expansive roundup of interesting albums and oddities.

For your discerning ears this month we have Verona’s caustic dancing punks, Hallelujah. The group pawn their guitars for a synth on the new album, Wanna Dance. The vortex dreamers Deutsche Ashram release their second LP, Whisper Om – club beats meet shoegaze, post-punk and dream wave in one intoxicating vacuum. Glitterbeat’s impressive tactile instrumental imprint tak:til continues to deliver the goods with a re-release of John Hassell and his West African foils Farafina 1987 “possible musics” collaboration, Flash Of The Spirit.

I stomp and roll down Alex Molica’s (the Seattle Stomp) garage-punk-country-blues-slacker on the lo fi acoustic rhythm guitar maverick’s debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein return with an anthemic epic, the band’s first album in years, Burn The Branches. And Mike Gale releases the first volume of B, C, D Sides.

Electronica wise we have the highly prolific electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman, who starts the New Year with his bestial spew of the weird and ennui, releasing yet another techno maverick LP under the lamentable Sad Man nom de plume. Debut wise, Chinese born and now London-based, sound sculptor Li Yilei releases a synthesis of the evanescent and tactile with her upcoming inspired ambient LP Unabled Form.

Deutsche Ashram  ‘Whisper Om’
(Wormer Bros. Records)  LP/24th January 2020


 

Brought to my attention just as the dream wave vortex duo grow more “spacious and immersive” with their second album, Whisper Om, the Deutsche Ashram have surprised me with their vaporous, druggy-hazed and intense qualities: And for that matter, their sheer audacity. You can’t mistake Ajay Saggar’s reverberating-heavy flange, phaser and resonating guitar chimes nor Merinde Verbeck’s wispy and ethereal vocals, but throughout this mixtape collage of gauze-y tunneling produced tracks you hear shades of Siouxsie And The Banshees, My Bloody Valentine, Strawberry Switchblade, New Order, Adult Net, Moon Duo, Grimes and even Jah Wobble. It’s psychedelic. It’s post-punk. It’s shoegaze. It’s C86. It’s all of these.

Saggar bends and wanes, sounding like a spindly Keith Lavene one minute, a tremolo-fanned Johnny Marr the next, whilst Verbeck’s lingering like tones of love, loss and desire, echo between the breathless, mysterious and ominous candy-pop mirages.

The opening ‘Stumbleweed’ sees the Ashram place a scatter-club beat beneath a shoegaze hallucination, but the majority of this album is an accentuate intoxicating neo-pop vacuum of veiled brilliance; a successful experiment in the “spacious and immersive” that is every bit as melodically dreamy as it is intense.




Li Yilei  ‘Unabled Form’
(LTR Records)  LP/28th February 2020


 

In her synthesis of the evanescent and tactile, the London-based (via sojourns in Tokyo and Vienna) sonic sculptor Li Yilei finds stimulation in the most transient and concrete on her debut album, Unabled Form. From the field recordings of recondite conversations on public transport to, what sounds to me like, the creaking of a metal gate swinging in the breeze, Yilei’s sounds flow in a natural motion through a serialism of both searing and understated ambient soundscapes. These are all of variations oscillations, tidal waves and vapours; piqued and shot through with more static buzzes, clangs, pulses and the barest of incipient humming beats.

Mixing real sounds with synthesized electronics, the familiar (even if removed from its source) with the mysterious and industrial, these atmospheric experiences are imbued with Yilei’s embrace of Buddhism and its values. The daughter of a Buddhist nun, the Chinese born artist embodies that belief’s concepts and ruminations of “emptiness” and “impermanence” (the state of fact of lasting for only a limited time, and the philosophical problems of change) on an album of amorphous, evocative immersions.

Track titles sometimes offer a vague sense of reference and mood, especially ‘A Star Without Guidance’, which fizzles and sizzles in the afterglow of a strange cosmos, and ‘A Filed Of Social Tensions’ – a much more chaotic matrix of warping and tape spool speed shifting that threatens to unwind itself. The ambiguous ‘1920’ – with its alien scuttles, repeated loops of reverberating distant voices, horsehair bows, hints of Tibetan bowls and tetchy electronic percussion – is a more mysterious exploration; a pivotal year of revolution and civil war that also saw the catastrophic earthquake in Haiyun county which killed over 73,000 people. Heavenly bodies seep into the traffic of an industrious city, and cyclonic drones hum and brim under solar winds on an ambient soundscape that is as airy, transparent as it can be shadowy and searing. Unabled Form is both unforced and considered. An album of keenly ventured moods, its an abstracted vision of transience from a merging artist with a more unique outlook and inspiration.




Jon Hassell/Farafina  ‘Flash Of The Spirit’
(tak:til)  LP/7th February 2020


 

Less a trumpet player composer absorbing various ideas from across the globe than a performer vessel capturing the empirical essence of a borderless, seamless ideal of new musical horizons, Jon Hassell is rightly hailed as a true pioneer of visionary ambient and entrancing soundscapes. Adroit pupil of Stockhausen, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Terry Riley and Le Monte Young on his way to creating a truly international language with a concomitant series of iconic and highly influential albums in the late 70s and 80s, the American trumpet maestro famously coined the terms “fourth world musics” and “possible musics” for his own experimental fantasies.

The timeless geography of his earlier Vernal Equinox meanderings would prick the ears of Brian Eno; embarking on his very own ambient peregrinations. Far too disingenuous to suggest Eno discovered Hassell (especially when his records with Eno as a collaborator would be filed in record stores under the Englishman’s name and not his), but they would indeed work together on that albums that helped define Hassell’s legacy. As an enabler processing and filtering Hassell’s amorphous microtonal trumpet blends and lingers, Eno sat in on both the first fourth world sessions (entitled Possible Musics Volume 1) and the Dream Theory In Malaya follow-up. A third manifestation, Flash Of The Spirit stands outside that series as an outlier of those minimalist peregrinations.

Re-released on Glitterbeat’s explorative instrumental imprint tak:til, Hassell’s 1987 partnership with the acclaimed Burkina Faso troupe Farafina is a continuation of that practice in polygenesis traverses, only far more rhythmic, tribal and, well…collaborative. Also the spark and roots of each composition on that dreamy voyage were initiated for the most part by the West African group: Between them, founder and balafon virtuoso and vocalist Mahama Konaté and principle drummer (using the ornamental djembe) Paco Yé are responsible for laying down the foundations. Fresh from working their magic on U2’s Joshua Tree Eno alongside his production partner of note Daniel Lanois, were back in the fold and favour; Lanois recording the original sessions and mixing half of the final album’s track list, Eno reshaping and transforming the rest.

Proposed and facilitated by Jazz In Sardinia Festival director Riccardo Sgualdini the, as it would turn out, fruitful union between Hassell and Farafina didn’t get off to the best of starts. The Farafina octet already seasoned having worked with such luminaries as the Rolling Stones and Ryuichi Sakamoto since their formation in 1978, were initially unsure, even suspicious of this Hassell collaboration. Thankfully something gelled and, settled in, the inspiration flowed; the results sounding like an otherworldly evocation of the familiar: African yet distant and vaporous.

Merging Hassell’s smoky and swaddling trumpet and array of sampled strings, harps with the Farafina group’s myriad of talking drums, percussion, flute and voices, Flash Of The Spirit is both spaciously entrancing and rhythmically tribal. Taking the title from Robert Farris Thompson’s book of the same name, the inspiration behind this often gauze-y communion taps into that book’s exposition of African immigrants experiences in the Americas and how they maintain (keep alive) and transform their traditions through creative adoption; harking at a continuingly fruitful, if forced, “collision of cultures”. And, in what is a congruous layering rather than collision, both histories evoke the atavistic whilst also venturing into an imaginary future of sonic interaction and flow.

Evocative individual track titles, accompanied by their parenthesis spirits, offer a theme or movement of direction on this album. For example, “laughter” precedes the gauze-y dancing title-track itself (a rippling, wafting and woody traverse that reminds me of 80s Miles Davis soundtracks) whilst “fear” permeates the nocturnal dipped and bobbing tribal drumming in liquid motion ‘Night Moves’. Surveying the vast Savannah, the almost sensual ‘Air Afrique’ is as airy and attached to the “wind” as its title suggests, taking off on a fantastical flight above the clouds into uncharted soundscapes. ‘Kaboo (play)’ might well be describing something entirely different, but to these ears sounds like a dreamy crawling caravan through the undergrowth, the resonating voices of unseen trilling poets calling out from the wilderness. There’s a crystal ball like mystery echoed in the shivering glassy materializations of ‘Tales Of The Near Future (clairvoyance)’, and an esoteric swirl to the increasingly intense speedy drumming flares of ‘A Vampire Dances (symmetry)’.

As “possible musics” go, this one is successful in creating an amorphous fusion; neither wholly African nor Western but something less tethered or beholden to any specific location and time. The Burkina Faso troupe add a far more “propulsive” rhythm to Hassell’s peregrinations; adding a certain weight to those signature ambient wisps and swaddled passages, yet still sounding as nuzzling and vaporous as ever. Three decades later and you could argue that Flash Of The Spirit is just as refreshing and novel today as it would have been in 1987; caught as it was on the cusp of a new epoch in ambient and electronic music, an augur of truly borderless sounds. Add this to the collection.




Sad Man  ‘The King Of The Beasts’
(Self-Released)  LP/10th February 2020


 

Starting the year as he means to go on, sporadically releasing albums of varying degrees in kooky electronic music mischief, Andrew Speckman, under his mooning Sad Man persona, unleashes the beasts with his first trick noise making experiment of 2020: The King Of The Beasts.

Like a Loony Tunes Cage or Stockhausen, banished to a makeshift potting shed laboratory, the Coventry boffin once more broadens his sonic horizons on an album that, in an ennui fashion, knocks about between a warped vision of d’n’b, techno and more avant-garde meanderings. Prepare to be thrown into a pinball flipper buffeting chaos as busy itchy electronic percussion and a myriad of mulching, whipping and speed shifting effects come up against a transmogrified Orb, Sakamoto, Major Force and Phylps.

In other words: expect the unexpected as Speckman merges dub techno with nocturnal tropical post-punk (‘Xylophone’), clandestine Howie B with a ghostly visitation soundtrack (‘The Pysician’), Les Baxter exotic lullaby with the Leaf Label (‘Nine’) and a buoying bobbing analogue bubble bath with cosmic sub-Indian alpha waves (‘Bus Swerve’).

Somewhere on the Venn diagram of sublime and ridiculous, the plaintive Sad Man steers a mixed bag of ideas into a constantly developing album; churning, squeezing and contorting plenty of odd and more cerebral mileage out of the experimental dance music genre.




Hallelujah  ‘Wanna Dance’
(Maple Death Records)  LP/21st February 2020


 

From the caustic, abrasive noise raises a limbering fucked-up no wave punk contortion you can dance to: within reason and with the use of heavy opioids and imagination. Having discarded the lead guitar for that most rudimentary but beloved of early synths, the Korg MS20, Verona’s disruptive Hallelujah put a real (di)stress on their main motivator; cranking up and pulling the dials until the lift off and scream into a vortex.

Pared down to a trio, after one of the troupe quit, this industrial unit collide with early Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group on an heavy strength album of seedy scuzz and Italo-grime-y disdain. Sung, hysterically and with disruptive sneering petulance, in English you can’t mistake the reactionary spite and goofed erraticism of letting off steam. And if you do, a track title such as ‘Burka For Everyone’ will soon set you straight. Anyway, it forces its way into and occupies the brain, before leaving its scorched marks with a quick spasm of disruptive jerk-off punked and retro-synth dance chaos.

Rome might well be burning, but Verona’s disgruntled angst noiseniks just fucking “wanna dance”.



Seattle Stomp  ‘Maudlin Madness’
(Crush Grove)  3rd January 2020


 

In a beaten-up saloon, careering down a slackers rock’n’roll garage road map, Alex Molica as the Seattle Stomp channels a familiar musical palette of influences on a battered acoustic guitar with his idiosyncratic wanderers debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Fueled up on a millennial cocktail of self-loathing and anxiety, the self-deprecating lo fi roller in (mostly) languid dishevelment beats and strums about lost love, road trips and alcoholism on an album that threatens to disappear below the radar into obscurity.

Far too good escape attention, Maudlin Madness is a deceptively melodic and infectious minor works of both intense and loose gonzo-indie-beat-garage-punk-country-rock. Short enough to not overstay its welcome on repeat plays, the eight tracks really do grow on you. From the Bosco Delrey meets Jonathan Richman and Alan Vega on a psycho rockabilly bum ride opener, ‘Anxious Thoughts’, to the mid-60s period Jagger breaks bread with Sky Saxon and Wolf Parade nursery rhyme creeper ‘Little Red Ridding Hood’ and the country rocking blues flat beat of ‘Power Jam Situation’, there’s the permeating spirit of an outsider looking in.

Molica in his travels bears wintery blasts (in the mode of The Standells on ‘January’), driving towards Denver mooning over the one-that-drifted-away and gets agitated over the contents of a fridge. Strangely though, the last track (if you can make it past the repeating car alarm-like chirping) moves from rock’n’roll jitters to a Mellotron cosmic narration traverse; Molica talking about voyager and moon craters: escapism into the void. Hardly the most original of albums, Maudlin Madness is still a great little LP that bridges slacker indie with garage, country and rock’n’roll.




The Epstein  ‘Burn The Branches’
(Zawinul Records/Pindrop Records)  LP/14th February 2020


 

Ambitious in its quivered anthem rousing and rich panoramas, Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein take it up a notch on their latest album, Burn The Branches. With earnest parched yearning the group return after a long hiatus (releasing only their third LP in twelve years) with an expanded sound and dynamism that ratchets up those root country influences to venture beyond the homestead prairie for pastures anew. Don’t worry though; the alt-country vibe is still very much in evidence still, just grander and erring more towards the light and shade of rock and indie music.

They cement this new expansion with a couplet of loud anthems; the brilliantly stirring ‘life-affirming’ ‘That Voice’ and heavier punctuated, increasingly vocally erratic, epic ‘It Will Pass’. The first of which evokes (for me anyway) hints of Meursault, early Radiohead and Deacon Blue, and the second, the Fleet Foxes, Broken Family Band and Wolf Parade. In their more serene, becalming moments The Epstein shimmer towards the hymnal, even country gospel on the quivering with softened timpani rumbling ‘Grand Canyon’ – a faithful cover no less of The Magnetic Fields’ lovelorn hymn from the iconic 69 Love Songs suite -, and march in plaintive step to a crushed piano and a tender accompaniment on the album’s dramatic curtain call, ‘Funeral’. Elsewhere there’s more scenery building with the ethereal desert spirited forsaken ‘Red Rocks’ and mysterious seeking vision ‘Wandering’.

If Wilco, Richmond Fontaine and CYHSY improbably joined forces for the greater good, they might very well sound something a little like this. Heightened crescendos aplenty and grand gestures await on an album that is both highly commercial yet has a real soulful depth and dynamism lacking in so much more popular anthemic music. This could well be the band’s finest work yet.



Mike Gale  ‘B, C, D Sides Volume 1’
LP/2nd January 2020


 

In no way diminishing what is an actually quite good little album, but former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nielson honcho Mike Gale’s latest release is a stopgap between last year’s brilliant surf noir and Pacific ocean Beach Boys imbued Summer Deluxe and a, as yet, unnamed new LP in September. A gathering of material, left wanton in some cases, and just left off of previous albums, B, C, D Sides Volume 1 is a collection of tracks that somehow manages to work as a congruous album of quality romantic paeans, ruminations, breezes and more experimental ideas: some working better than others. However, apart from the odd starry satellite blinking Electronic meets The Farm pop-like early synthesizer tune, the Bs, Cs and Ds on show here sound anything but unsure or half-finished.

You can almost fit Gale’s music into two categories of influence and sound; the first, the more Beach Boys (with the onus on mike Love and Bruce Johnston) and Marc Eric kind of dappled harmony, and the second, harks back to both the C86 phenomenon and the 90s. Sometimes the two crossover of course; especially on ‘Something’s In The River’, a dreamy vocal track that places that Beach Boys lushness over Japan’s brooding synthesized pizzicato strings. In the former category, the opening beautifully be-jangled Donavan-esque ‘All The Traps Of Earth’ features Mike Gale as nature’s son, whilst the similarly acoustic, but with tambourine and more vigor, monastic haunting ‘Good Day, Doomsday’s Here’ has echoes of Paul Simon paling up with the Wilson brothers – possibly one of those tracks that didn’t make Summer Deluxe perhaps? In the latter camp, Gale places a harsher-toned lo fi rock guitar under a dreamy early Stone Roses vibe on ‘New Frontier’; goes all out epic45 and Casio pre-sets on the electro glide pop ‘Drive Ultimate Robot’; and puts an arpeggiator underneath the lilting lovely Cabinessence feel ‘Weather Patterns’.

Elsewhere on this collection, Gale rises dreamily again from the doldrums on the languid despondency ‘I’m Wasting All My Time’ and pens a romantic modern sonnet to a true love on ‘Your Smile’.

Occasionally you can hear the workings of Gale’s evolutions and mind, but these songs are nothing less than well executed; the songwriting as delightful as always. Far from second best, this first volume of tunes that never made the cut is another quality release that fills a Gale-shaped hole until the next album proper arrives in the autumn.




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

album of 2019 part one - monolith cocktail


Choice Albums of 2019 Part One: A Journey Of Giraffes to Adam Green


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. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Gianluigi Marsibilio and Andrew C. Kidd made all of 2019’s selections.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection here runs from A to G, from A Journey Of Giraffes to the Adam Green. Part Two will run from H to P and Part Three from Q to Z.

A.

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Hour Club’ & ‘Kona’









Two atmospherically evocative peaceable ambient suites from the brilliant lo fi maverick A Journey Of Giraffes (nom de plume for many years of the Baltimore composer John Lane) make this year’s ‘choice’ list. Released earlier in 2019, the Hour Club pushes Lane further than ever away from his previous Beach Boys homage experiments into both deeper, darker recesses and sweeping traverses. From Terry Riley to Sky Records, Hour Club is an often-magical soundtrack, with every track sharing a 7 minutes and 1 second rule.

The second album, Kona, an unassuming love letter to the iconic late Japanese composer Susumu Yokota, was premiered back on the Monolith Cocktail in August. Magically ruminating, offering both the beatific and uncertain, this pagoda dreamt fantasy is an exotic, sometimes ceremonial, Zen like album that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji. Quite possibly, Lane’s most realized, complete album yet. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review feature…

Aesop Rock & TOBACCO ‘Malibu Ken’
(Rhymesayers)




“Both happen upon a sharp splinter of hip-hop pitching to the left, but not way out left” – RnV Jan 19





Straight off the bat the gaudily sleeved Malibu Ken foresees a tough slog in store, given the respective running through brick walls of these decidedly non-plastic conspirators. Aesop Rock rhymes like a rebooted Max Headroom, TOBACCO activates at the moment where Rock starts glitching as synths home in on your VHS tracking button. Obviously it’s a jerky leftfield match made in heaven, primitive videogame set pieces overridden by one of the underground’s most enduring, levelling out bad trips but still very much needing these cracked, skeletal neon runways to assure his own navigation and empowerment. Take it as post-modern, post-Armageddon, welcome respite from the mainstream etc etc, or the faultless engineering of the technical and the broken, backwater flights of fancy and stranger than fiction truths jamming in a keyboard repair shop. (Matt Oliver)

Armstrong ‘Under Blue Skies’
(Country Mile Records)






Julian Pitt, aka Armstrong, is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Wales in recent years: a man who has been blessed with the gift of melody that can be comparable to McCartney, Wilson and Jimmy Webb – Yes, he really is that good.

This is an expanded reissue of his first LP, which was originally released as a limited edition cdr, one that I played constantly. Thankfully it’s getting a much-deserved official re-release from The Beautiful Music label. I am so happy this great lost LP has finally got the release it deserves; it is no longer lost just simply Great, one of the finest pastoral pop LPs you will ever hear. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Full review…


B..

Babybird ‘Photosynthesis’







What I love about Stephen Jones, aka Babybird, apart from his wonderful songwriting talent and his dark humor and his obvious love of music and its many genres, is that he has so much soul. He has so much love for music in fact that he makes music not just because he may make a decent living from it but because he has no choice, he has to make it like he has to breath to stay alive. He has to create music, create art, he has to experiment with the magic of melody and write such beautiful songs, and Photosynthesis is an LP full of dark beauty and such bloody good songs. A small dark masterpiece, a master class in songwriting. (BBS)

Full review…


Baileys Brown ‘Still Fresh’
(Potent Funk)




“Skimming the scummy but with buckets of fizz and a little soul stardust answering the title’s call, BB keeps the hottest point of the club within striking distance of a couch and headphones combo” – RnV Aug 19





Investing in a gang of absolute mic-snatching hoodlums, bringing the sort of posse cuts where you dial the first two nines in anticipation, just to be on the safe side, Baileys Brown swings the wrecking ball club-wards before looming as a quiet storm presence fuelling dark alley unease. His best work where you can’t see in front of your face – add damp air or a biting breeze for maximum effect – the raw basics of Still Fresh are more than enough for emcees to chow down on (Axel Holy, Datkid, Dabbla), while a certain juju drifts in and out as if it’s not just testosterone at work. Animal instinct floods from a group who have the trousers to go with the mouth (“yeah I’m talking shit, but you’re doing it without flow”); however, a soulful section towards the back end shows Brown can rise above the rough stuff, reaching out towards a bigger stage for something that shouldn’t be skipped on account of what’s gone before. (MO)


Bantou Mentale ‘ST’
(Glitterbeat Records)







A sizzle. A static shock, a charge that most importantly signals something is changing in the musical fabric; a signal of something dynamic but also something dangerous, a mirror image of the real world, the real refugee and migrant experience and chaos. Vivid and fresh being the optimum words as the Bantou Mentale vehicle shakes up the melting pot convergence of Paris’ infamous Chateau Rouge; addressing assumptions/presumptions about their native Democratic Republic of Congo home in the process. Not so much explosive, the electric quartet seem relaxed, even drifting as they channel the soul and spirit of cooperation; opening up aspects of the DRC culture and humility often lost or obscured in the noise of negativity – and the Congo has had more than its fair share of violence and tumult both pre and post Colonialism.

Kinshasa reloaded; Bantou Mentale is a thoroughly modern sonic vision of peaceful cross-border fraternization. Lingering traces of Jon Hassell & Eno, Radio Tarifa, UNCLE, TV On The Radio and even label mates Dirtmusic are absorbed into an electrified subterranean of frizzles, pylon-scratches and hustle-bustle. Above all, despite the subject matter, despite the polygenesis sonic hubbub this is a soulful soundtrack: cooperation ahead of fractious division and hostility. A more positive collaboration for a 21st century chaos. (DV)

Full review…

Bathtub Gin Band ‘From The Old Navy Club’







The Bathtub Gin Band are a duo from my hometown of St Helens, and this there debut LP. A mini LP in fact, recorded live in a local studio, just acoustic guitar and drums and fine songwriting; the sound of two talented musicians enjoying themselves; an LP that recalls the sound of the Liverpool bandwagon club of the early noughties; quickly strummed guitar ragtime blues telling tales of drunken nights out and failed romantic adventures, an album to listen to as you are getting ready for a wild night out or after you have staggered in after one.

Beautifully written and crafted with well-arranged songs performed with verve and vigor, From The Old Navy Club is another little gem for 2019… (BBS)

Full review…


Blu & Oh No ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’
(Nature Sounds)




“A mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity” – RnV Mar 19




Drawing on both the energy of the locale and when that red mist begins its descent (‘Pop Shots’ feeling the heat to the point of delusion), there’s Blu, unafraid of foregoing any sort of word association for the sake of putting a brick on the accelerator out of Thunderdome – sometimes straight talking will only do when the stakes are high. Then there’s Oh No, performing funky wheelspins between cruising and hot pursuit, capturing all the glamour, glitz, hustle and insanity the City of Angels calls everyday. The pair switch career mode from local big timers to chancers seeing how far their luck will stretch, and A Long Red Hot… is one of the year’s coolest releases; find somewhere where it’s 96 degrees in the shade before throwing on loud, sequenced to directorial perfection so the highs, lows and inbetweens form a logical thread, and where the action-packed comes with composure remaining everything. (MO)


Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry)







The fruits of two-years labour, James Howard’s (aka Thomas Nation) latest appearance as principle writer is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism. (DV)

Full review…

Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord)







The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant shore. Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but forever lingering.

A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait. (DV)

Full review…

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’
(Mute)







Arguably one of the great voices of Australian music over the last four decades, Simon Bonney is nothing if not proficient in taking hiatuses. Emerging from just the most recent one, five years after the release of the last Crime And The City Solution opus American Twilight – itself, the first album by the iconic alienated nihilists turn beatific augurs of country-doom in twenty years -, and twenty-odd years since the shelving of his third solo LP Eyes Of Blue, Bonney has made a welcome return to the musical fold.

Prompted by the decision of Mute Records to facilitate the release of that fabled last solo songbook, the Past, Present, Future collection is both a reminder, featuring as it does tracks from both the 1992 Forever and 1994 Everyman albums, and showcase for six previously unreleased tracks from Eyes Of Blue.

Not new material but a catalyst for projects going forward, this solo collection proves as prescient today as it did back then. Especially the beguiling cover turns homage (in light of Scott Walker’s passing) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Much of the Bonney songbook, delivered with earnest, deep timeless country-imbued veneration, aches, even worships, for a string of muses; an undying, unwavering love to both the unattainable and lost. One such elegiac object of such pathos-inspired yearning is Edgar Allan Poe’s famous ‘Annabelle Lee’ –the metaphorical lamentable figure of the Gothic polymath’s last poem -, who appears on both the eponymous and title tracks from Eyes OF Blue. Lovingly conveyed, even if it marks the death of that lady, it proves symmetry to the album’s profound poetic loss of influence, desire and alluring surface beauty of ‘Duchess’. Eyes Of Blue, which makes up half of this collection, follows on from the previous solo works perfectly. A touch deeper, even reverent perhaps, but every bit as bathed in country suffrage. Salvaged at long last, that lost album offers a closure of a kind. Proving however, to chime with the present, far from dated, this collection is a perfect finish to a great run of epic, though highly intimate, solo opuses; the songwriting as encapsulating and grandiose, earthy as you would expect. (DV)

Full review…

Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental. Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy.

A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists. (DV)

Full review…

Bronx Slang ‘Bronx Slang’
(Fabyl)




“Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship” – RnV Feb 19




Golden era restoration, true school appreciation…so many attempt to recreate/pay respects to hip-hop’s glory days but often overcook it to the point of self-neutering. Nothing of the sort applies here: Bronx Slang press home the pervading advantage (if you can call it that) of volatile politics, loud and clear messaging deriding the powers that be without resorting to playground tactics. Miggs and Jerry Beeks also know they’re in the entertainment business (‘Well Well Well’ > 50 Cent’s ‘21 Questions’/How to Rob’, Jadakiss’ ‘Why?’), and the baritone-midrange contrast frames the all-important dynamic duo telepathy, catching last breaths should anyone step to them. A box fresh success…and this is before the dirty little secret of the downtown funk hustles being hatched by two UK ringers: one-time big beat ne’er-do-well Jadell, assisted by fellow frat partier and bass house dabbler Fake Blood. Proof therefore of 90s boom bap as international language slash Holy Grail. (MO)


Danny Brown ‘uknowwhatimsayin”
(Warp)




“Still coming through loud, clear and uncouth” – RnV Oct 19



A slight tweak to the Danny Brown experience doesn’t make him any less of a livewire. Q-Tip as executive producer is not an invitation to keep his new, freshly coiffured muse in check, and despite a slightly exploratory start sonically, it’s the same old Danny boy keeping the spirit of ODB alive, quickly into his shit-chatting rhythm and proving that emperor’s new clothes do not make the man. Whether he’d enjoy being tagged as more well-rounded (rather than versatile – Brown’s mind remains pretty much one track in its own strain of ADHD that never misses a beat), the likes of ‘Belly of the Beast’ and the title track pull him in different directions but have that up-to-no-good personality keeping the peace, though he’s a smoother operator than you’d probably give credit for. Short but sweet, like a high sugar soda hit, and still highly strung, but hey – that’s entertainment. (MO)


C…

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Ghosteen’





We knew it would come but not when; Nick Cave’s moving concept elegy Ghosteen articulates both the grief and coming-to-terms of the loss of his son Arthur in 2015. And so this often striking, if lamenting, and beautifully poised opus arrives four years later with grandiose expectations.

Often conflicted, Cave articulates despair to a bared atmospheric led Bad Seeds soundtrack of vivid and poetic images and feelings. With a tonal backing of choirs, the afflatus Kosmische of Roedelius and touches of The Boatman’s Call, Ghosteen is a mournful work of pulchritude and grief. It’s also perhaps one of Cave’s best albums in decades. (DV)

Choosey & Exile ‘Black Beans’
(Dirty Science)




“The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, and rhymes of a valued familiarity, eye a top 10 spot come the end of the year” – RnV Mar 19




“Come and get your soul food”, a wise band once said. Treating Black Beans as an album that brings the family together around the record player, though it’s just as strong as an edutainment pursuit with headphones and your own private enclave, Choosey and Exile are the master cross-section of warm, good-old-days idealism and a voice providing revisions to nostalgia, telling the fuzzy feelings to sit up straight and tucking you in without forgetting that in love and life there’s always a moral to the story. Aloe Blacc’s deployment to send spines shivering on the all-seasons champ ‘Low Low’ is a masterstroke, the blues and soul source material carefully sifted and restored so that heads are set to thinking that maybe, everything is gonna be alright, pausing today’s mile-a-minute trends and attitudes. Grooves and truths set to soothe and move you. (MO)

Clipping ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood’
(Sub Pop)




“Where no-one can hear you scream in space until its engine room sucks you in and spits you out” – RnV Oct 19




‘Nothing is Safe’, ‘He Dead’, ‘Run for Your Life’, ‘All in Your Head’…there’s nothing like a cult Clipping cakewalk leaving you gasping for breath. Holographic rhymes and reedy synth beats programmed like a doomed ignition sequence, whose sometimes beatlessness is replaced by wailing walls of surround sound hell and empty, nervous atmospherics, it’s the perfect deployment of the textbook pincer movement, peering stealthily around corners before letting the autofire get open until one great ball of fire engulfs everything. Crew commander Daveed Diggs plays on the edge of rogue Andre3000 operative with ambitions of hero decoration, and as blood both pumps and runs cold, the LA crew still manage to get street lifers Elcamino, Benny the Butcher and La Chat to buy into the mission of a burnt out future – game recognise game. Forget West Coast low-riders, these are the men who fell to earth: you’re pleased they just about survived to tell the tale, and something tells you they’d do it all over again, for club and country. (MO)

Cosmic Range ‘The Gratitude Principle’







Guided by Toronto based everyman Matthew “Doc” Dunn the multi-limbed super-group collective of faces from the city’s most recent creative rise to prominence follow up their 2016 polygenesis New Latitudes debut with more of the same: Spotted dabbed slinking sexy spiritual jazz, flute-y Orientalism, snuggling air-y saxophone, wallowing subterranean funk and primal scream therapy peregrinations.

The Gratitude Principle gathers together the Slim Twig’s raging, wild wah-wah licks, the experimental snozzles and spiraling wildly saxophone of Andy Haas, Isla Craig’s ethereal siren vocal and flute duties, Kieran Adams’ drums and tinkerings with electronics, Brandon Valdivia’s congas and percussion, and the keys of Mike “Muskox” Smith and Jonathan Adjemian in a sub-aquatic yearning union of free and Afro jazz and Krautrock. Another trip into the cerebral: a jam session of epic mapping. (DV)


D….

Jack Danz ‘TMIB’
(Blah)




“Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin…the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on” – RnV May 19




With rhymes offered as a grunt through what sounds like a prison intercom, Leeds’ Jack Danz is an on-point example of making something cutting edge out of a squalid image – aka, the Blah battalions. Sawn off trap bass, rinky-dink riffs taking on a spectral/lost perspective, and Danz succumbing/thriving while up to his eyeballs, TMIB is the cold light of day after a dive of debauchery: ideal listening for a trashed hotel room or freshly decorated squat riddled with wrongdoing. Danz’ numbness to what are undeniably a set of head nodders (where everything else appears dead from the neck down), makes his flow both out-of-body and trudgingly destructive. If he happens to be in character, it’s a natural role, giving him an impenetrability that means few can answer back to him. Including the engineered ambiguity of the sleeve, this is high power stuff out of sobering surroundings, particularly as there’s definite vulnerability being shown by the album’s end. (MO)

Datkid ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’
(High Focus)




“On his worst behaviour when ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’ writes red-top headlines, Datkid bullies the beats of Leaf Dog until he’s administering toilet swirlies” – RnV Apr 19




Goaded by 16 South Westerly beats that’ll have you nodding your way into an MRI scan – your neighbours will love being trolled by the bottom ends – from the moment the word ‘Crud’ stinks the title out, Datkid has it all his own way. An ambassador for UK hip-hop’s rise of the footsoldier, this Bristol blitzkrieg bop is detailed with the confidence of someone thinking they can take on the whole pub and exit with barely a scratch. Suffice to say it’s a relentless baseball bat swing of not giving a monkeys, loving to pounce on out-of-towner weakness in a heartbeat, and whose purity of show and prove, go hard or go home, is enough for guests Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Roc Marciano to show support. Once upon a time this would’ve been slapped with an ASBO, but the Crud is strong with this one: “what’s the point of living if you’re just surviving” shows that Datkid really knows where it’s at. (MO)

Graham Domain ‘Fragments Of Light’
(Metal Postcard Records)







Graham Domain is an acquired taste I suppose. Why, I do not know as everyone needs some dark weird music in their drab lives, an ideal cross taste cannon submerge of Tom Waits, Bela Lugosi and Brian Cant naked massaging the tears out of a neglected and abused cabbage patch doll. Stray keyboard drifts beautifully over simple drum beats whilst duetting with the memory of a long lost lover’s memories of tasting your alcohol on her lips and tongue, the ghost of her naked form haunting the side of the bed that once belonged to her.

This mini album, as has been the other two Graham Domain releases this year, is a really must be heard LP that sadly are not being heard. Why, I really do not know. Maybe they are just too strange or just too emotional or simply people are not getting to know or hear about them. So if you are reading this review give it a listen and tell your friends. (BBS)


E…..

Callum Easter ‘Here Or Nowhere’
(Lost Map Records)







One of those dreamy disarming albums that creeps up on you, the Edinburgh-based Callum Easter’s poised and indolently profound debut, Here Or Nowhere, is a sparse affair of the heart. Often lyrically succinct, saying a lot with few words, Easter shifts tonally between the heavenly and more moody. Songs such as the South Seas charmed and swimmingly ‘Fall In Love’ offers the dreamy, whilst the enervated industrial strikes and gritty Scottish bur narration of ‘Fall Down’ offers something grittier.

After a late conversion to music, the self-taught afflatus voiced troubadour leaving a career in professional football behind him at the age of 21, Easter adopts a number of well-travil(ed) and dragged over musical influences. Somehow he makes them sound new, especially on the wonderful Southern echo-y bar room piano rock’n’roll blues hymnal ‘Only Sun’. There’s also a channeling of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy on a range of beautifully poignant songs, and hints of a lot of 2000s Canadian and American indie.

Despite some of the wry mistrust and resigned despondency, Here Or Nowhere is a spiritual pop album suffused – for the main part – by choral angelics, reverent glissandos and a touch of the afflatus. It’s also an album of singles, with every track standing alone and separate in its own right away from the album as a whole: Nothing short of a marvelous alternative pop and gospel triumph. (DV)

Eerie Wanda ‘Pet Town’
(Joyful Noise Recordings)







The lost sounds of childhood summers, the finger clicking bliss of a Joe Meek hit, the beauty of the lost rainbow in an angels wish, this LP by Eerie Wanda makes me recall all this. Pet Town is a fine album indeed, at times it gives me the same feelings of joy I have when playing The Beach Boys much-underrated classic Friends; songs wrapped up in the power of the pureness in being alone.

This is simple in its beauty and the beauty is its simpleness, the vinyl etchings of acoustic nights wrapped in your ex’s arms soundtracked by a lovingly compiled mixtape of the Marine Girls and Holly Golightly’s softer moments.

Summing up, this is an LP to wrap around you to keep you warm in the coming winter months and the LP to play as you walk in the summer sun remembering how happy sad life can be. A stunner. (BBS)

Full review…

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble ‘Be Known Ancient/Future/Music’
(Spiritmuse Records)







From the doyen of the Chicago scene and alumni of that city’s famous hothouse of talent, the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, drummer/percussionist and bandleader Kahil El’Zabar is still exploring, still connecting five decades on from forming the spiritual jazz troupe Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

Kahil and the current troupe of Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Alex Harding (baritone saxophone) and Ian Maksin (cello) together celebrate a prestigious 45-year career whilst also, and always, looking forward on the latest collection Be Known Ancient/Future/Music. Spanning live performances, recordings and even a track from the 2015 documentary that forms part of the title of this LP, Dwayne Johnson-Cochran’s exploration Be Known, the ensemble once more channel the ever-developing Chicago rhythm that has marked this city out for its unique, often raw, take on R&B, Soul, Dance Music and of course jazz.

Less cosmic than Sun Ra, and less out-of-the-park than the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Kahil and the EHE tread a different path towards enlightenment; spreading the gospel of positive Afrocentric jazz to ever more dizzying and entrancing heights. Spiritual music with a message doesn’t come much better than this, the EHE showing no signs of waning after 45 years in the business. I’m off to hunt down and digest that lengthy cannon now and suggest you do too. (DV)

Full review…


F……

Frog ‘Count Bateman’
(Audio Antihero/Tape Wormies)







Frog are a kiosk by the sea, on a suburban beach. The essence of their work is gathered in a search for intimacy that is expressed in DIY and lo-fi passages; a very successful sound universe touched by Bon Iver, Daniel Johnston and other such sacred monsters. Their flame is lit on Count Bateman.

The new album in fact captures the peak of a clear path and placed lo-fi sound. The interweaving of stories on this record are a safe place that puts us at peace and in dialogue with the idea of Frog’s music.

Frog are like Matisse, painters of windows and fixtures that open in an expanse of neighborhoods, cities and stories. Count Bateman is an open window from which air enters and often there is also a hurricane breeze; in fact the second part of the record is full of unusual sounds and more driven, electronically, for the duo. (Gianluigi Marsibilio)

Full review…


G…….

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’







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

Liberally splashing about in the efflux surf of The Beach Boys the much-prolific Gale (this is his fifth album alone in just five years) hides a certain sorrow, longing and yearn under the most colorful and dreamy of melodious harmonies.

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

Full review…

Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records)







This is included because it sounds unlike anything else I’ve listened to in 2019. Originally put out in 2018 on the obscure Artetetra Records label, Nicola Sanguin, under his barely concealed appellation alter ego Nicolas Gaunin, strange exotic minimalist Noa Noa Noa LP has found a new home on the Brighton-based imprint Hive Mind.

With vague hints of Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James, Sanguin’s fantastical experiments mix vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums and nuanced workshop Techno.

Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.

Full review…

Gawd Status ‘Firmamentum’
(Tru Thoughts)




“Militant pride that’ll uproot those sitting on the fence, it’s a saga that must run and run. Absolutely boomin’” – RnV May 19



When the Big Bang wiped everything out first time around, Gawd Status saw it as an opportunity, in which Kashmere’s Strange U spaceship nosedives into the jungle, moondust dementia still sputtering from its exhaust, and Joker Starr swaps the battle arena for the cannibalistic, kill or be killed lawlessness of the Firmamentum outback. The Gawd Status is a complicated one, seriously heavy at a skinflint eight tracks long (even in the current age of artists finally getting album length right, 28 minutes is a bit of a choker), fiercely standing up for itself in articulation of black rage and examination of conspiracy theories, and revelling in The Iguana Man’s thick doomsday fog. The event completed by some utterly bumping soul sisterhood from Fae Simon, its arrival at Tru Thoughts is a slight surprise. Nonetheless it’s a work of art that burns bright like a brilliant, tumultuous dream. (MO)

The Good Ones ‘Rwanda, You Should Be Loved’
(Anti-Records)







Finding the most earthy of uncluttered soul in the most inhospitable and traumatized of environments, global renowned producer/facilitator Ian Brennan once more sets up the most minimalist and unobtrusive of recording sessions; capturing the raw, natural magic of Rwanda’s The Good Ones for posterity before it dies out.

Though moving slowly past the scars of the country’s genocide, the glorious encapsulating and whistling voices that make up this collective live a bare sustenance, eking out a meager life as farmers in the remotest of landscapes.

Recorded at guitarist and vocalist Adrien Kazigira’s hillside farm, Rwanda, You Should Be Loved Place is as poignant as it is hearty; a songbook of lilting lullaby’s, forewarnings and lament. Not that there presence is needed, but a cast of Western artists – Kevin Shields, Corin Tucker, Tunde Adebimpe and Nels Cline – lend support on a number of these beautiful songs.   (DV)

Adam Green ‘Engine Of Paradise’
(30th Century)





Meandering through the modern world of incessant tech-babble and validation cult, the former Moldy Peach turn left banke troubadour Adam Green once more traverses the boulevards and Greenwich Village hangouts of a more simpler, connected time on his wonderful folksy songbook, Engine Of Paradise.

Channeling a homage of Lee Hazlewood, Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Ian McCulloch, Jim Sullivan and Father John Misty our romantic and candid swooner delivers Midnight Cowboy like cocktail ruminations on love in the context of a society in the grip of an ever intrusive and alienating social media. Nostalgic certainly…but all the better for it. (DV)

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 Column: Dominic Valvona




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

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



 

Mike Gale ‘Summer Deluxe’

May 2019

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

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

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

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










 

Von Spar ‘Under Pressure’

(Bureau B) 10th May 2019

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

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

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

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

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







Chris Brokaw ‘End Of The Night’

(tak:til) 24th May 2019

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

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

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

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

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




Oliver Cherer ‘I Feel Nothing Most Days’

(Second Language Music) 26th April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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







Stanlaey ‘The Human Project’

(Stanlaey Art) May 2019

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

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

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

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

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







 

Brickwork Lizards ‘Live At St. Giles’

(Vyvyfyr Records) 17th May 2019

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

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

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

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

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




 

GOATS ‘Far Out’

(Submarine Broadcasting Co.) 16th May 2019

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

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

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

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







Wilderwolves ‘Inhale, Increase The Dose’

(Jezus Factory) 29th May 2019

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

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

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

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







Singles

John Johanna ‘Children Of Zion’

(Faith & Industry) Out Now

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

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

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

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







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

Both out now

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

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

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

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








Words: Dominic Valvona

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