Reviews
Dominic Valvona





Reaching a grand eightieth edition of my eclectic roundup, the Tickling My Fancy column continues to highlight the curious and recommended from across the globe. With no agenda, no demarcation of any kind, you can expect to find spiritual jazz alongside dream pop, space rock doom alongside desert blues.

My latest edition includes the long awaited new LP of timeless hushed reverence from Boa Morte, phobia-themed withering contorted progressive industrial jazz from the Russian band Rootea, the latest tactile album of dance music from the Shanghai Restoration Project, a new EP from the maverick lo fi dreamer Origami Repetika, the new aria space apocalypse augur of beauty and supernatural doom from Elizabeth Joan Kelly, and a double bill of cult excavations, the heavy metal prog Lucifer Was and more genteel short-lived soul-psych-folk-beat-group The Fox, from the Guerssen label hub.

Leading the charge though is the upcoming compilation of Somali funk, disco and Afro-Caribbean nuggets, Mogadisco, from Analog Africa.


Various ‘Mogadisco – Dancing Mogadishu (Somali 1972-1991)’

(Analog Africa) LP/ 13th December 2019



In the making since a security nightmare of a trip in 2016, Analog Africa’s chief instigator, Samy Ben Redjeb, finally releases a treasure trove of previously unreleased and passed-over nuggets from the vaults of Radio Mogadishu.

Researched and compiled on that same crate and archive-digging excursion, Analog Africa put out a celebratory compilation of the first two albums by Mogadishu’s legends-in-exile the Dur-Dur Band in 2018; the first bonafide release of the group’s tape cassette ‘volume’ albums. The infectious loose-limbed funk and fuzz pop group provide a trio of sweetly laced movers and serenades for this showcase of Somali wonders. All recorded in 1991, the last year this compilation covers, whilst exiled abroad, the Dur-Dur Band offer a stick-rattling feverish Indian summer love paean (‘Daradara Muxibo’), slicker dabbing mid-tempo funk workout (‘Shaleedayaa’) and oriental dappled-organ swoon (‘Ladaa’).

Covering a generational period arc, from the burgeoning optimistic dawn of Somali under the dictatorial leadership of Siad Barre to that same leader’s fateful swan song in 1991, as a once more liberal regime in just twenty years lurched towards the repressive, Mogadisco reflects the changes in a fractious state. Barre of course took power in a coup (though with an emphasis on the peaceful), yet the arts and music scenes flourished, with an explosion in both state-sanctioned and private bands. Many of the acts on this collection were hot-housed in the various ministerial department affiliated show bands or in the theatre (notably the Dur-Durs), and were open to outside influences, from Flea Kuti’s Afrobeat sensation – brought back, we’re told, to Somalia by the Mogadishu featured Iftin Band, after representing the country at the Festac Festival in Lagos in 1977 – to Bob Marley’s global-conquering brand of reggae, and later on, a moonwalking Michael Jackson. One of the most obvious of these, and continuing to influence Somalia’s finest in the second half of the 80s, Omar Shooli’s spiritually voiced ‘Hob Isii’ languorously sways to a proto-Wailers rock steady beat. Equally the influence of Motown, Stax, and as the compilation’s title makes apparent, disco can be heard ringing loudly throughout this mixed bag that Samy himself describes as music that “swam against the tide”.

Before Somalia imploded in the 90s and descended into a near anarchic state, the capital enjoyed a tourist boom; the Mogadishu boulevards loaded with ever-luxurious hotels, all playing host to the country’s best and most popular groups. Mogadisco however, selects previously dormant and forgotten recordings from the city’s top broadcaster, Radio Mogadishu. Filed away under ‘mainly instrumental and strange music’, an assortment of discarded jingles, background music, interludes, TV show tunes and theatre numbers now finally see daylight on an eye-opening collection of exotic funk-fried shufflers and sashaying Afro-Caribbean swoons.

Notable mentions should go to the Iftin Band for their Ethno-jazz dreamy shimmer ‘Ii Ouy Aniga’, both the Bakaka Band’s uptown rankin’ slinky ‘Gobonimada Jira’ – think the Lijadu Sisters meet Althea & Donna – and their swimmingly spy-thriller like transformation of a warrior’s song, the tropical Highlife tingle ‘Geesiyada Halgamayow’, and the southern ‘Orleans flavoured raunchy disco turn, ‘Baayo’, by Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi – a slicker 80s Arthur Conley if you will.

As always, the usual due diligence and insights into each and every artist/band and label on this latest brilliant compilation are chronicled in the accompanying booklet; a purview of Somalia’s musical legacy set within a tumultuous historical setting. Analog Africa are the first label to actually set foot in the country in years; the capital especially immortalized for a generation or more as one of the most dangerous places on Earth, synonymous for fractions-at-war and pirates. Progress has been made in recent years, hence Samy gaining permission to visit, albeit under heavy protection. For once though, here’s a celebration of the country’s music; a fit and proper essential joyful showcase of disco and funk inspired dynamism.






Shanghai Restoration Project ‘Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball’

(Undercover Culture Music) LP/ 8th November 2019



If brooding synth poets Japan had taken more stimulating drugs and been dragged onto the dancefloor they may very well have sounded a little like this colourful arpeggiator-cascading duo, the Shanghai Restoration Project. Though based in Brooklyn, the electro-symphonic duo transport the listener to an exotic Orient and beyond on a magical, ruminating flight of fantasy.

As the name suggests, on previous recordings the former Bad Boy label songwriter and producer Dave Laing and his foil Sun Yunfan have transduced the jazz and showtime music of a pre-WWII Shanghai; aligning it with, and filtering it through, nuanced electro pop, techno and hip-hop. The results of which have furnished a myriad of adverts, soundtracks, and even the Beijing Olympics.

SRP’s latest neon-lit dreamy dance album is framed as a reaction to “the increasingly fragmented and mindless soundbite culture we live in”. Softening the edges and lightening the tensions, the crystal ball flashbacks on this serene trip err towards elegance and the sophisticated rippling tactile.

This is a landscape of chopstick percussion, pagoda shaded water gardens, undulating marimba vibes, vocoder chanson, mirage-y waveforms, classical Chinese instrumentation and biplane rotor drones. Futuristically motoring and bobbing along, there are shades of Air, Moroder, Mark Ronson, Cuushe and Cornelius on a cosmic soundtrack of avant-garde Tango dalliances, retro-fit rapping R&B, 2-Step jazz, super-charged Tron video arcades and sweetened elegies.

Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball is a pliable dance album full of bright and magical lilted brilliance and fun; slow building dance music of the highest and smartest caliber.



Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord) LP/ 29th November 2019


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 timeless 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 somewhere carrying on forever.

Signing to Ian button’s one-man cottage industry Gare du Nord label this year, the Cork dreamers’ first complete work in nigh on a decade is worth the wait. Maturing in all that time, the peaceable sagacious results are augmented with subtle synthesized tones and stirring ambient atmospherics; building vague landscapes of longing; a constant ebbing tide lapping on the cerebral.

This is a classy magical music that doesn’t make allowances: the equivalent of slow food culture.

Elegantly unfurled, the burnished and brushed soundtrack moves between entrancing folk and the classical, between the choral and yearned. Songs such as the tenderly rendered ‘Cans’ evoke a more soulful Mogwai and, musically, Robert Wyatt, whilst the pastoral dainty ‘The Garden’ transports the listener to an Elizabethan Hampden Court. The pinning guitar-voiced ‘Sea Creatures’ has an air of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score.

Lonely pianos, romantic prose, shimmered cymbals and sighed strings reverberate on metaphorical nautical terms of lovelorn detachment and the dangers of an emotional landslide. A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait.





The Fox ‘For Fox Sake’
Lucifer Was ‘Underground And Beyond’
(Sommer/ Guerssen) LP/ 13th November 2019




Churning out untold forgotten and cult missives and classics alike, the Guerssen umbrella of reissue imprints knocks out albums and compilations at a fair old rate. It’s often easy to miss the odd trio of same date releases from this hub of specialist labels: such is the turnover. One strand of this operation in digging up everything from 80s Spanish political underground cassette tape culture to 70s Turkish kitsch pop, is the 60s/70s garage band, psych, prog and heavy rock leaning Sommor, who retrieve and facilitate first-time vinyl reissues of albums by the blue-eyed soulful psych outfit The Fox and proto-metal theatrical troupe Lucifer Was.

The former of these has been a much sought-after album from a band of also-rans who’s sound harks back to the fag-end of the Mod boom; when beat group combos graduated to more psychedelic and progressive, heavier heights. Recorded a couple years after inception in the Mod haven of Brighton, The Fox released their debut and only LP proper, For Fox Sake, on the cusp of a new and changing decade. Though not entirely past-the-sell-by-date and removed from those shifts, the able-enough group could have been contenders (to a point).

With a dazzle of classical psych-baroque and faux-gospel church organ ala Procol Harum, softened fuzz guitar and swooning soulful vocals this fleeting South Coast combo recorded some glorious, if redolent, halcyon pop paeans and psychedelic shakers. Trouble is, Love Sculpture, Spooky Tooth, The Moody Blues, The Gods, Marmalade, Bread and Chris Farlowe had pretty much already covered this ground already rather well. Outside of those influences The Fox played with a Get Back/White Album honky-tonk McCartney (‘Goodtime Music’), Bacharach (‘As She Walks By’) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (in fairground waltzing mode on ‘Madame Magical’).

Notable for supporting the Orpheus imbued Herd and opening for a burgeoning Bowie, The Fox’s brief fandango came to an end a year later; the only fruits of their labour being this album and a single. Still, in certain collectors’ circles this is a cult classic. For Fox Sake has its endearing charms and a couple of fuzz-thrilled love potion hits to make it worth the entry price.





A far heavier, and just as rare, prospect is the album-that-never-was from the Nordic psych-metal marauders Lucifer Was. Despite that satanic moniker (the group wore a number of macabre cloaks, such as Empty Coffin/Autumn Serenade and Erza West, before sticking with the daemonic Lucifer Was) the group’s debut dramatic opus is influenced as much by the flighty flute-playing prog of Jethro Tull as by the scuzzed leaden menace of Black Sabbath.

The first incarnation formed in Oslo in 1969 and lasted until ’75. Though they built a reputation and fanbase on the strength of their performances, this bewitched coven never actually recorded an album in that entire period. Songs were written and played live, yet lay dormant until more than two decades later, when a middle-aged version of the band picked-up from where they left off, entering a studio and finally recording that debut showcase. And so with music from another age now propelled into the late 90s, Underground And Beyond is a strange missive of fighting fantasy Tolkienism and River Styx schlock dark arts preening – all brooding romantic warrior troubadour, yearning for his muse whilst skulking by mythological waterways.

If you dig your Edgar Allen Poe, baroque metal, fairytale tangos and doomed tormented love lost suites then get a load of this. Josefus, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple and Ipsissimus hatched by proto-metal Vikings: what’s not to love?!

An album no one asked for, but buy it anyway.





Origami Repetika ‘Night Of The Jaguar’
EP




None the wiser after receiving the second CD of maverick chiming psychedelic pop from Adam Sigmund (otherwise known as Origami Repetika), I’m going blind with this recommendation. With scant information at hand, Sigmund’s drifty hallucinating-like music can be summed up as a stained glass lo fi union of Brian Wilson and Gary Wilson.

Following on from a recent radiant and glorious album, Singing Gulls, the four-track Night Of The Jaguar EP offers something slightly more dreamy and moody. Named not in homage to any literary title, the Jaguar of the title refers to the iconic electric guitar; a birthday present that’s put to good experimental use over a quartet of mellow vibrato and gauze-y alternative melodramas.

Romantic driftwood at its most idiosyncratic; a diy Beach Boys if they signed to Anticon; there’s a certain oddness lyrically. The naivety of the melting candy maudlin ‘Meet Me At The Peppermint’ belies a slight whimsical jar in its finale wafts: “It’s the way you smile, before you lost your teeth”.

This is cozy surf-psych pop and lo fi ambition at its finest. Disarming yet attuned to the ways of the world. Seek out this maverick pop excellence immediately.



Rootea ‘Phobias’
LP




I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a collective noun for phobias but the strung-out Russian prog-jazz and industrial post-punk band Rootea attempts a reification of thirteen such debilitating fears on this untethered freeform therapy session. An often caustic, sometimes haunted travail, Phobias moves in an unshapely form. The vaporous soundtrack even threatens to drift off and escape from its performers: both riled and wafting into the ether, or down ambiguous passages and the dark recesses of the mind.

Emanating from east of the Urals, from Russia’s “third” city of Yekaterinburg (or Ekaterinburg), Rootea might very well be tapping into not only this Tsarina-christened (named in honour of the first Catherine, Tsar Peter The Great’s wife) city’s historical vantage but its more troubled psychodramas too. This is after all the fatal site of the Romanovs’ horrific, and botched, execution.

Anguish, paranoia, fear but also dream-like slumbers are triggered across a spectrum of air-y pondered phobias; from ‘Autophobia’ (that’s a fear of being alone or lonely) to the oddest, ‘Hellophobia’ (fear of Greeks; perhaps a hangover of that old adage, beware of Greeks bearing gifts). Thirteen tracks long, with a finale of post-industrial withering in its name, sufferers of ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ may want to avoid this album. But for the rest of us, this record (if over long) is a wrangling, caustic hallucinating avant-garde therapy session of apparitional narrators, strangulated guitars, sonorous trickles, Gothic throbs, gangly buzzing resonance and hi-pitched pecked saxophone. Permutations of dank lo-fi, Einstürzende Neubauten, A Happy Kitchen Is A Clean Kitchen, Faust, Cabaret Voltaire and 39 Clocks revolve like a languid carousel.

Untied to a particular location or time, Rootea amorphously linger in both the cerebral and visceral as they transcribe the untranscribable on an ambitious work. A difficult, often overlong, experience Phobias should be prescribed in small doses.





Elizabeth Joan Kelly ‘Farwell, Doomed Planet!’
LP/ 25th October 2019




Into the great expanse of a universe as ominous as it is magically mysterious, New Orleans-based composer Elizabeth Joan Kelly ventures far on her latest electronic suite. From the enormity of space the Cassandra of imperiled doom gazes back at Earth from advantageous lofty heights: a siren voice of lyrically cryptic lament and woe, strung-out aboard some sort of Kubrickian mission to gather research.

Equally deft at composing contemporary symphonies as she is Warp label imbued kinetic and industrial electronica, Kelly coos and soundscapes a lamentable vision of the apocalypse that combines aria-like space operatics with tubular metallic breakdowns, stirring ambient swells and darker twists of contorting nuanced sonics. Kelly even transduces the afflatus classical hymnal music of Bach on the swooned and serene ‘Trinity Quadrant Cantata’.

From pollution on land and in the seas to inner existential angst, the protagonist cosmonaut at the centre of this bleak analysis mourns amongst heavenly bodies in the celestial.

An album of both impending doom, yet filled with wondrous pulchritude, Farwell is a haunting enough score with evident supernatural atmospherics on tracks such as the reversal ethereal elegy ‘Harm’ – echoes of a spooked Broadcast and Quimper – and the ghostly nuclear landscape desolation ‘Exclusion Zone Earth (Or, All Hail Chernobyl Wolves)’.

Present vocally on a majority of the album’s tracks, Kelly’s voice is often veiled and gauze-y: so much so that you can barely hear a trace of it. Even in full song that voice is obscured; sounding like either a spirit from beyond the ether or, a distant broadcast from deepest space and time.

Cinematic in places, setting an astral mirage of dreamy and bestial proportions, Farewell is a beautifully scary drama that evokes touches of Bowie, Tangerine Dream, Bernard Szajner, Diva Dompe, Moroder and Vangelis. Kelly does wonderful things amongst the stars; the apocalypse has seldom sounded so celestially operatic and electronically choral.





New music reviews/Words: Dominic Valvona





Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by the Dur-Dur Band, Spike & Debbie, Angels Die Hard, Cassini Division, Vigüela and Kiddus.

As always an eclectic mix of music from around the globe, the latest edition of my reviews jamboree and recommendations includes two albums released through the Benelux-heavy Jezus Factory label; the first, a prog, alt-rock, math rock and Krautrock environmental charged tropical Island soundtrack from Angels Die Hard, the second, an analogue synth driven oceanography purview of the Bermuda Triangle phenomena (released on cassette tape) by Miguel Sosa, under the guises of his Cassini Division moniker. Analog Africa keep up the good work in digging up and reissuing the most essential music from Africa and beyond with their latest and most dangerously sourced album collection yet: the very rare first two albums from the Somalia new wave-funk-reggae-soul-traditional fusion sensations, the Dur-Dur Band.

ARC Music bring us another meticulously researched and performed traditional songbook of music from Spain; the Vigüela troupe, ‘Ronda’ style, once more breathing life into sones, laments, carols and fandangos from the country’s interior; and Tiny Global Productions bring us a compilation of past musical projects from the Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie partnership Spike & Debbie; and finally we have the brand new EP from the hallucinogenic languid soulful new Bristolian talent Kiddus, Snake Girls.


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ (Analog Africa) 14th September 2018

Bravely (or foolishly) indifferent o the climate of the Somalia flashpoint of Mogadishu, Analog Africa’s head honcho Samy Ben Redjeb travelled to the former trading hub jewel of the African NorthEast coast in 2016 to both dig and soak up the atmosphere and history of the very streets and sounds that once provided the infectious deep funk fusions of the legendary Dur-Dur Band.

A failed state in fluxes since the 1990s, Somali and by extension the faction-fighting battleground of its capital is, to put it mildly, bloody dangerous! Accustomed to risky and contentious political no-go zones Redjeb has form in visiting some of Africa’s most volatile hotspots in his pursuit of tracing the artists and original recordings down. This trip, which had been on the cards for years and had become a personal preoccupation, was I imagine hinging on security issues. But with an armed escort (an ad hoc volunteer at that) in tow at all times, Redjeb eventually arrived to source that elusive band’s impressive discography.

Going further than most to prove it was all worthwhile Redjeb digs up one of the funkiest and cool finds from the African continent yet. Embodying a period in the 1980s when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb. Particular places of interest in this story and geography are the iconic moiety of record shops the Shankarphone and Iftinphone, both run by members of the Dur-Dur Band’s nearest rivals, the Iftin Band, and the Jubba Hotel, where the Dur-Dur enjoyed a fractious residency: Balancing this coveted spot at one-point with a, by popular demand, extended run as the backing band for the play ‘Jascyl Laba Ruux Mid Ha Too Rido (May One Of Us Fall In Love)’ play, at the Mogadishu national theatre.

Making an impact, creating a “wow” from the outset, they enjoyed a short reign as the country’s number one band; releasing a quick-succession of albums, the first two volumes of which alongside two previously unreleased tracks make up this, the first in a series of Dur-Dur Band, re-releases. Though certainly a sensational and popular act the civil unrest that followed in the 90s would all but stifle their potential. They would only come to a greater audience outside Somalia via cassette-copying, Youtube and by happenstance; most notably the Milwaukee-based musicologist John Beadle, who in 2007 uploaded a tape he’d been handed twenty years previously by a Somalia student to his Likembe blog. Featured under the now famous ‘Mystery Somali Funk’ heading, Beadle’s post originally miscredited this convulsing funk gem to their Dur-Dur Band’s chief rivals of the time, the already mentioned Iftin Band – a mistake rectified by the Iftin’s band leader, who suggested it was in fact the fabled Dur-Dur.





So what makes this band and their rare recordings so special? Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave new wave melting pot.

They were fortunate with their insightful founder and keyboard star Isse Dahir who molded a formidable forward-thinking group from a number of other Somali bands, including the rhythm providers, Ujeeri on bass (plucked from the Somali Jazz) and Handel on drums (the Bakaka Band). He also drafted in his siblings, with Abukaron taking on lead guitar and Ahmed enrolled as the band’s permanent sound engineer; a role that partially explains why they became known as one of the country’s ‘best sounding’ groups. The vocals meanwhile, which sway between the spiritually devotional and pop, were split three ways between another former Bakaka Band member, and Daantho style acolyte, Shimaal, the young female singer, whose voice assails the homeland to sound at times almost Indian, Sahra Dawo, and the spaghetti body shaped, nicknamed, Baastow – brought in for his ‘deep knowledge’ of traditional Somali music, in particular the atavistic spirit summoning ‘Saar’, a style perceived as far too dangerous by the manager of the infamous Jubba Hotel for his European guests: “I am not going to risk having Italian tourists possessed by Somali spirits! Stick to disco and reggae.”

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk. Opening with wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ, ‘Ohiyee’ lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dancefloor thriller. This is repeated on the bands first official hit ‘Yabaal’, which turns a traditional song into something approaching the no wave of ESG, mixed with tooting Afrobeat sax and disco swerves. The bendy warbled guitar soloing, snozzled sax fluttering ‘Doon Baa Maraysoo’ sounds like The J.B’s cantering down the Via Roma, or a lost Stax Vaults recording.

Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’. Sweeter dreamy saunters meet Muslim belt funk on songs such as ‘Jaceyi Mirahiis’, and on the singles ‘Dab’ and ‘Diinleeya’ you can hear evocations of quasi-reggae: Mogadishu meets Kingston on a spiritual plain!

A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues, the Dur-Dur Band collection is quite unique. And a shining example of African fusions seldom heard outside the borders of its origins. Redjeb’s perseverance has paid off, introducing us to the formidable and exciting Somali polygenesis funk scene of the 80s. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can compare or compete with this band’s solid sound.




Spike & Debbie  ‘Always Sunshine, Always Rain’  (Tiny Global Productions)  21st September 2018





A convoluted rock family tree, the meandering interwoven historiography behind one of Cardiff’s ultimate underground indie sensations, The Young Marble Giants, draws in the congruous lilted partnership behind this most brilliant new collection from the Tiny Global Productions label.

As a catalyst facilitator for the YMG’s leap from disbandment on the cusp of the 1980s to success and cult status after signing to a burgeoning Rough Trade, Mark ‘Spike’ Williams is perhaps forever immortalized as the ‘guitar pal’ who talked the feted band into recording the two tracks that would turn-around their fortunes: Already a well known figure on the diy Cardiff scene, instigating various projects (Reptile Ranch being just one) and co-founding Z Block Records, he encouraged a dejected YMG into providing a couple of songs for the Is The War Over? compilation; the rest is history as they say.

Forming all manner of collaborations with various YMG band members, Spike has and continues to work with the band’s Alison Statton (originally as the Weekend and currently going under the Bimini moniker), but also formed Bomb And Dagger with more or less the entire Giants lineup in 1983 (an offshoot of another Cardiff obscurity, Splott). From outside the YMG sphere, Bomb And Dagger would feature Debbie ‘Debris’ Pritchard, an artist and disarming vocalist who’d appear alongside Spike under an umbrella of guises including Table Table and The Pepper Trees. From this union a collection is born, Always Sunshine, Always Rain, pretty much a fey summary of the partnerships sighing demeanor and sound collects all manner of recordings from across the full spectrum of their endeavors.

Beautifully sung to a mostly lo fi Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie backing of scuffling skiffle brushed drums, tropical lilted melodies and post-punk guitar, the sunny disposition of the music is a counterpoint to the political messages that lie at the heart of Debbie’s peaceable protestations and multicultural celebrations. From what is a collection of mostly rare recordings, ‘Strike’ builds a musical union between the under-the-cosh miners of Wales and their kin in South Africa. A post-punk Paul Simon twinning Cardiff indie with Soweto solidarity, ‘Strike’ (a track originally recorded for a miners benefit compilation) is a perfect example of Spike & Debbie’s pleasant shuffling and soulful magic.

Finding a tropical balance between Family Fodder, The Marine Girls and The Raincoats, the duo delivered messages of anxiety, oppression, patriarchal domineering, both physically and mentally (a recurring theme of being suffocated, drained and controlled by a partner in a relationship, permeate) to a most sauntering backing. At times limbering towards Camera Obscura and even the Cocteau Twins, they evoke a fantastical vision of Pauline Black fronting Ludas, though the most odd conjuncture is the elasticated ‘Houses’, which sounds like The Raincoats’ Ana da Silva fronting an Unlimited Edition Can.

For fan and completest alike this collection features the original lo fi quality skitty soul meets ruminating pop ‘Seaport Town’, later revisited by Spike and the Alison Statton, and the ‘Ilkeston’ version of a scratching dawdled guitar and echo-y ‘Assured Energy’, which appeared in a completely different form on the Stuart Moxham (another YMG, but going under The Gist title here) album Holding Pattern.

In chronological order, it is fair to say that most of the compilation has until now remained difficult to acquire or source. Differing in recording quality with slight musical differences between groups of songs, as each project adds or draws in a myriad of inspirations and musicians, this twenty strong collection is full of sunny gentle post-punk gems. The story of Spike & Debbie, their projection across a decade and more, proves an essential and pleasurable missing chapter in the story of the Welsh indie scene.






Angels Die Hard  ‘Sundowner’ (Jezus Factory)  1st September 2018





Keeping to the instrumental group’s psychedelic imaginations the latest concept album from Angels Die Hard is set in the dreamy, if in peril, Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago.

On a sabbatical, retreating to the wilds and ideals of life on the tropical island of Andaman, where, so the faux-legend spill goes, they hoped to find and record the mating call of the Drongo bird, the original trio passed the time playing all the local dives, opium dens and beach clubs. Chancing upon fellow sonic explorer and drummer/percussionist Alain Ryant, who was on a break from playing with Maxon Blewitt & Eriksson-Delcroix, the Angels expanded the ranks to become a quartet after some sort of tribal rites-of-passage style ceremony.

As backpacker anecdotes go this colourful semi-fictional backstory is one of liberal exotica consumption. It does however have a serious note: the ecological impact of a plastics-Moloch consuming society on the brink of a cataclysmic point-of-no-return, as the detritus of a throwaway globalized marketplace leaves no idyllic, isolated paradise untouched. Seeing the plastics efflux wash-up on the coastline of their present haven – a story about the final straw breaking the metaphorical camel’s back was seeing a local ‘sea gipsy’ smoking a bong made out of a Starbucks cup – the Angels were feted to dedicate, at least partially, their third and newest album, Sundowner, to this environmental tragedy. Of course a sizable chunk is also dedicated to those old tropes of emotional complexity (more specifically and blushingly, the ‘complex sensations’ before and after the act of lovemaking); articulated somehow in the group’s instrumental sagas and workouts.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more. Though this album doesn’t truly come alive until it reaches the VHS esoteric Western soundtrack title-track. It’s the first time we hear the arpeggiator neon space dream sequences, mixed with a panoramic Adam’s Castle view of psychedelic math rock: and highly dramatic and highly atmospheric it sounds too. Slower waveforms and smoke-machine effects appear on the lost Sky Records Kosmische meets Moroder cult theme tune meets Air ‘Dancing Algae’. But this album really gets going on the lengthy epic ‘Gutter Glory’, a two-part fantasy that progresses from a holy union of late 70s Eno, Jah Wobble and Andean soaring noodling to a full-on Brainticket sonic assault. Almost its twin in scale, ‘Acid Beach’ reimagines mid-70s Amon Duul II and Battles beachside at Cape Canaveral: the guitars mimicking a space shuttles thrusters and boosters.

Earlier tracks sound like space cowboy peregrinations accompanied by a cosmic reimagined vision of early U2 and Simple Minds, Holy Fuck and a motorik version of dEUS: A lot of ideas bouncing around inside the group’s shared mind-meld. They end on the album’s most serene if plaintive meditation, ‘Dirty Sunset’; a Floydian kind of jazzy blues serenading, with guitar notes falling like tears, the last image saved, the sun going down on a besmirched paradise: a downer bro.

You got to hand it to the Angels for expanding their horizons (literally), though far too many tracks end up going nowhere particularly new or rewarding. Yet when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity they produce one of their best albums yet.






Cassini Division ‘Bermudas’ (Jezus Factory)  August 31st 2018





The enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle, a confounding phenomena, a twilight zone of improbability, a loosely demarcated area in the North Atlantic Ocean that has been written about and inspired countless generations. Unexplained disappearance central, a chasm for the ships and aircraft that have either lost momentarily or forever within its dimensions, the Bermuda Triangle (also called the Devil’s Triangle) lies across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. For though hundreds of incidents have been recorded over the centuries, they form an almost insignificant percentage of the overall traffic that made it through this mysterious void unscathed. Many of these disappearances have been exaggerated and misreported, so accounts are spurious. Yet this hasn’t stopped the endless flow of conspiracy theories: extraterrestrial interference being top of the list alongside inter-dimensional fantasies, the paranormal and governmental maleficence.

Jezus Factory stalwart Miguel Sosa, better known for his part in the bands Strumpet, iH8 Camera, Monguito and Parallels, composes a conceptual purview of not only the Triangle but the surrounding geography on his analogue cosmic cassette tape special, Bermudas. Under the solo Cassini Division mantle, beaming an experimental score from his Buenos Aires studio, Sosa seems to be having fun with his 70s/80s rack of switchboard patches and analogue equipment, retuning and configuring the pioneering quirkiness of fellow Argentine Waldo Belloso, the more Kosmische soaring otherworldliness of Tangerine Dream, and on the album’s scarier foreboding and wilder moments (‘Tropical Cyclone’ for one), a union of John Carpenter’s score for The Fog and W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lindsay’s soundtrack for Shogun Assassin.

A barely veiled tribute to the burgeoning age of the Moog and ARP Odyssey this kooky experiment is filled with all the signature burbles, wobbles, modulations/oscillations you’d expect to hear; from the primordial soup miasma to the bubbling apparatus of a mad scientist and 8-bit loading sounds of a Commodore 64 game. Every now and then you hear something really odd, especially when the drum machine is added; tight-delayed paddled snares and toms are rapidly sped-up or strung out and staggered. There’s even, what sounds like, a marimba on the Tangerine Dream transmogrify The Beach Boys ‘Seaweed Theme’.

For the most part articulating looming otherworldly leviathans and ominous confusion, Bermudas extends UFO period Guru Guru with a supernatural oceanography of submarine sonar rebounds and tidal motion sine waves. Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle meets Chariots Of The Gods; Sosa’s analogue visions channel every facet of the Triangle’s legacy – the alien, supernatural, human and environmental -, his track titles plotting interesting and relevant historical and topographical references to events such as the point (or plateau) from which the Transatlantic cable started to the natural phenomenon of this region’s hazardous weather conditions.

As a break from the catalogue of bands he often plays with and leads, the Cassini Division instrumental psychogeography proves a worthy oddity of analogue synth curiosity.






Vigüela ‘A Tiempo Real – A New Take On Spanish Tradition’ (ARC Music) 24th August 2018


 

As the title of the latest album by the much-acclaimed Spanish troupe Vigüela makes clear, this atavistic imbued group of adroit multi-instrumentalists and singers offer a revitalization, a twist on the traditional paeans, chants, carols and yearning songs of their native homeland: especially their own El Carpiode Tajo village. Traditionally the music that permeates throughout Vigüela’s signature sound was never meant for the stage, but is played informally, almost unrehearsed, throughout the hamlets and villages of Spain’s interior.

Meandering through a timeless landscape finding and learning all manner of old customs, always ready to be taught or re-educated, an introductory anecdote from the group’s Juan Antonio Torres Delgado goes some way encapsulating both Vigüela’s methodology and inspirations. Torres believing he was quite well informed when it came to the courtship dance and folk song style of the Spanish ‘Jota’, was soon humbled by one of its leading lights, the singer Tia Chata, who he’d made a special pilgrimage to see in her home village of Menasalbas (located within the Toledo province, where the lion’s share of the music on this ambitious collection derives). Bringing out his guitar and (bearing in mind Torres is a pretty deft accomplished player) striking up a Jota rhythm, he was abruptly stopped in his flow by his muse: “Dear boy, you don’t know how to play the Jota. Wait until my husband comes home from work, he will show you.” The lady was right, once her husband returned home after work he really did show Torres how to play it. Though to be fair the Jota differs from region to region, each part of the country adopting its own unique version. As a testament to both their commitment and intergenerational interactions, learning and keeping local traditions alive, it proves a good one.

Returning to the source, adopting various customs on the way, they take a particular fancy to the ‘walking and singing in the street’ custom of ‘Ronda’. They reinterpret this unplugged carousing and minstrel like performance style alongside of others, including Christmas carols, ‘Seguidillas’, ‘Sones’ and the ‘Fandango’.

Spread over two discs with a generous running time of a hundred minutes, A Tiempo Real showcases not only the soul and aching heart of Spain but of course also shows off the masterful musicianship and voices of the groups meticulous lineup, which often expands to accommodate even more players: increasing in this case, from a quartet. Pretty much tapping, rubbing, peddling, plucking and strumming every sort of Spanish instrument they could lay their hands on, as well as a hardware store of miscellaneous object that include bottles and kitchen utensils, Vigüela go to work on their songbook collection.

With a more stripped and pared down accompaniment the first CD of this double album features an accompaniment of bottle-washer rattling percussion, huffing blows from an instrument (think a ceramic trombone crossed with a heifer) I can’t identify and the strange ‘Zambomba’ drum (traditionally used for music at Christmas to accompany chants and carols; played by hand with sticks or metal brushes). The impressive duets, call and response and chorus ensemble vocals are prominent above this backing. From rustic bewailing to robust a capella, these voices are all stoic, pained and even critical: Songs such as the theatrical, wry but joyful ‘Eldemonio El Calderero (The Demon Coppersmith)’ are characterized as a ‘Romance story’, yet you will find a satirical criticism within the lyrics, aimed at the Catholic Church. Raw but beautiful, endurance reigns above all else; the dreams and love trysts of a rural population exquisitely bound up in effortless serenades and Cantina porch sways, Vigüela bring us reverberations of Española, the Arabic Spain, and its overseas colonies in Northwestern and Southern America.

Metaphorical lovers depicted as birds (‘El Pájaroya Voló and ‘Arrímate, Pichón, A Mi’), laments brought back from the frontlines of war in 19th century Cuba (‘Allá En La Habana’) and tribunes to love interests (‘Moreno Mío, Cuán To Te Quiero’ and ‘La Niña De Sevilla’) are given a new lease of life by Vigüela. Straddling eras, blowing off the dust, they inject a bit of energy and dynamism back into the songs of their ancestors.

Taking a slightly different route on the second CD, the guitars are finally unleashed; courtship dances and songs of defiance now feature a fuller, sometimes cantering rhythm and flourish. Those signature trills, crescendos and unfurled castanets now accent or punctuate this songbook, giving it a great deal more volume, yet still subtle enough to accommodate and not override the beautiful chorus of voices.

It’s not integral – though this is every bit as academic a recording as it is an entertaining performance – but the linear notes, which are extensive, provide a providence and go some way to explaining exactly what you’re listening to and how Vigüela personalized it: Take ‘Que Si Quieres, Moreno’, a typical melodic variant from Campo de Montiel en La Mancha de Ciudad Real, it differs from some styles and ways of playing the Fandango by featuring the signature accent on the first beat. It helps to know all this of course to fully appreciate the group’s skill and attention to detail.

Already attracting plaudits in Spanish music circles, Vigüela could always do with finding a wider audience for their sincere interpretations and twists on the traditional music of the regions they research and relive. Hopefully this latest album will help; it will certainly enhance their reputation if nothing else. With a foot in both eras, they bridge the divides and generations to encapsulate the provincially isolated spirit of Spain; reaffirming a joy but also preserving songs previously neglected and forgotten.



Kiddus ‘Crazy You (Video/Single)’ & ‘Snake Girls (EP)’  TBA/Sometime in October

If Drake or The Young Fathers had made a record with the Anticon or UNO label it wouldn’t have sounded too dissimilar to the upcoming EP from the teenage Bristolian enigma, Kiddus. Shifting between hallucinogenic states of listless discord, Kiddus’ cathartic visages melt with languid beauty throughout. Dripping R&B amorphously merges with hip-hop and reverberations of The Gazelle Twin, Chino Amobi and the sort of neo-experimental electronic soul that sits well over at Erased Tapes on every track of this impressive release.

Just like The Gazelle Twin before him, Kiddus transmogrifies his own version of a Prince classic, ‘Crazy You’. The lead single from Snake Girls, this transformation of an early Prince classic replaces the original’s tingling percussion, falsetto and oozing sexuality with something far more sauntering, beat-y and loose. It sounds great: an over-layering acid trip of veiled soulful sadness and sophistication.

That quality of lingering sadness and nuanced encrypted inspirations is spread throughout the rest of the EP’s assuage meanderings. ‘Dreaming In 30 Fps’ and ‘Vapid Me’ (as the title suggests) are as vaporously float-y as they are disorientating. Multiple samples linger and echo in and out of focus, mirroring and articulating the various conflictions and anxieties of the young artist; building into a chaotic crescendo on the Radiohead-esque cyclonic drum fitting ‘ARGH’. Indolently beautiful in a dreamy psychosis, the finale ‘theplumeetwhenuronurown’ features fragmented warnings and a quant sample that disarms a message, perhaps, of terminally drifting off into a never-ending sleep.

Snake Girls is essentially a soul record: a deeply soulful one at that. A recontextualized vision of troubadour soul crooning, lost in a confused hyper-digitized virtual reality, Kiddus’ senses blinker, light up and then dissipate to a 21st century soundtrack of pliable experimentation.



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