Album Review/Dominic Valvona



R. Seiliog ‘Megadoze’ (Turnstile Music) 30th November 2018


The Welsh producer’s most cerebral and tactile electronic evocations yet, Robin Edwards’ (under the mantle of his R. Seiliog moniker) new album subtly pushes out into the expanses of a naturalistic imbued void with a depth and patience seldom heard outside the fields of ambient and new age music.

Echoing the trance-y and controlled build-ups of techno’s burgeoning creative epoch in the early to mid 1990s – especially the likes of Seefeel, Sun Electric, Beaumont Hannant and, well, a fair share of the Warp and R&S labels output in that period – Edwards ‘ambisonic’ visions shift seamlessly between the mysterious and radiant; weaving together elements of Kosmische, minimalism, intelligent techno and even psychill into wondrous soundtrack of discovery.

Megadoze is in no way, as the title might suggest, one big somnolent snooze fest; even if there is a lot of suffused ambience to be found, and tracks take an unhurried amount of time to unfurl their brilliance and scope. The minimalist whispery, silvery and peaceable ‘DC Offset’ (a reference to ‘mean amplitude displacement’ too lengthy to discuss here) for example bears traces of The Orb and David Matthews, yet also features the sort of downplayed beats and rhythms associated with sophisticated dance music. In fact, no matter how gentle or languid, each track features constantly stimulating and evolving textures of metallic and crisp, whipped beats amongst the vapours, undulations, drones and waveforms.

A manufactured wilderness and cosmos, Megadoze sounds like Autechre rewiring The Future Sound Of London and Steve Reich: Imagine cascading waters, volcanic glass, the dewy lushness of fauna and awe of the constellations organically shining or ringing through omnipotent machinations and the itchy, pitter-patter of computerized, sequenced drums.

In many ways a 90s album thrust into the next century, produced on more sophisticated apparatus; Edwards’ brand of nuanced electronica is rich with the possibilities of both eras. His most ambitious work to date, Megadoze is alive with ideas and tactile sensibilities, a moody record that can, over time, open-up with wonder and radiant magic.




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Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup





Another fine assortment of eclectic album reviews from me this month, with new releases from Papernut Cambridge, Sad Man, Grand Blue Heron, Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, Junkboy, Dr. Chan, Minyeshu, Earthling Society and Brace! Brace!

In brief there’s the saga of belonging epic new LP from the Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu, Daa Dee, a second volume of Mellotron-inspired library music from Papernut Cambridge, the latest Benelux skulking Gothic rock album from Grand Blue Heron, another maverick electronic album of challenging experimentation from Andrew Spackman, under his most recent incarnation as the Sad Man, a primal avant-garde jazz cry from the heart of Trump’s America from Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, the rage and maelstrom transduced through their latest improvised project together, American Nocturne; and a bucolic taster, and Music Mind compilation fundraiser track, from the upcoming new LP from the beachcomber psychedelic folk duo Junkboy.

I’ve also lined up the final album from the Krautrock, psychedelic space rocking Earthling Society, who sign off with an imaginary soundtrack to the cult Shaw Brothers Studio schlockier The Boxer’s Omen, plus two most brilliant albums from the French music scene, the first a shambling skater slacker punk meets garage petulant teenage angst treat from Dr. Chan, The Squier, and the second, the debut fuzzy colourful indie-pop album from the Parisian outfit Brace! Brace!


Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music) 26th October 2018

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her latest epic LP, Daa Dee. The sound of reassurance that Ethiopian parents coo to accompany their child’s baby steps, the title of Minyeshu’s album reflects her own, more uncertain, childhood. The celebrated singer was herself adopted; though far from held back or treated with prejudice, moving to the central hub of Addis Ababa at the age of seventeen, Minyeshu found fame and recognition after joining the distinguished National Theatre.

In a country that has borne the scars of both famine and war, Ethiopia has remained a fractious state. No wonder many of its people have joined a modern era diaspora. Though glimmers of hope remain, and in spite of these geopolitical problems and the fighting, the music and art scenes have continued to blossom. Minyeshu left in 1996, but not before discovering such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele; all of whom she learnt from. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged: “Home is me!”

The beautifully stirring ‘Yetal (Where Is It?)’ for example is both a winding saga, with the lifted gravitas of swelling and sharply accented strings, and acceptance of settling into that new European home.

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe the overladen daily trudge of collecting wood on ‘Enchet Lekema’; a hardship borne by the women of many outlier Ethiopian communities. Though it can be read as a much wider metaphor. The blues, in this case, the Ethiopian version of it (perhaps one of its original sources) that you find on ‘Tizita’ (which translates as ‘longing’ or ‘nostalgia’), has never sounded so lilting and divine; Minyeshu’s cantabile, charismatic soul harmonies, trills and near contralto accenting the lamentable themes.

There is celebration and joy too; new found views on life and a revived tribute to her birthplace feature on the opulently French-Arabian romance ‘Hailo Gaja (Let’s Dance)’, and musically meditating, the panoramic dreamy ‘Yachi Elet (That Moment)’ is a blissed and blessed encapsulation of memories and place – the album’s most traversing communion, with its sweet harmonies, bird-like flighty flutes and waning saxophone.

Not only merging geography but musical styles too, the Daa Dee LP effortlessly weaves jazz (both Western and Ethiopian) R&B, pop, dub, the theatrical, and on the cantering to lolloping skippy ‘Anteneh (It Is You?)’, reggae. Piano, strings and brass mix with the Ethiopian wooden washint flute and masenqo bowed lute to create an exotic but familiar pan-global sound. Minyeshu produces a heartwarming, sometimes giddy swirling, testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling our various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to those Ethiopian roots.





Don Fiorino and Andy Haas ‘American Nocturne’ (Resonantmusic) 16th September 2018

 

Amorphous unsettling augers and outright nightmares permeate the evocations of the American Nocturne visionaries Don Fiorino and Andy Haas on their latest album together. Alluded, as the title suggests, by the nocturne definition ‘a musical composition inspired by the night’, the darkest hour(s) in this case can’t help but build a plaintive warning about the political divisive administration of Trump’s America: Nicola Plana’s sepia adumbrated depiction of Liberty on the album’s cover pretty much reinforces the grimness and casting shadows of fear.

Musically strung-out, feeding off each other’s worries, protestations and confusion, Fiorino and Haas construct a lamentable cry and tumult of anger from their improvised synthesis of multi-layered abstractions.

Providence wise, Haas, who actually sent me this album after seeing my review of a U.S. Girls gig from earlier in the year (he was kind enough to note my brief mention of his Plastic Ono Band meets exile-in-America period Bowie saxophone playing on the tour; Haas being a member of Meg Remy’s touring band after playing on her recent LP, In A Poem Unlimited), once more stirs up a suitably pining, troubled saxophone led atmosphere; cast somewhere between Jon Hassell and Eno’s Possible Musics traverses, serialism jazz and the avant-garde. The Toronto native, originally during the 70s and early 80s a band member of the successful Canadian New wave export Martha And The Muffins, is an experimental journeyman. Having moved to New York for a period in the mid 80s to collaborate with a string of diverse underground artists (John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Thurston Moore and God Is My Co-Pilot) he’s made excursions back across the border; in recent times joining up with the Toronto supergroup, which features a lion’s share of the city’s most interesting artists and of course much of the backing group that now supports Meg Remy’s U.S. Girls, the Cosmic Range (who’s debut LP New Latitudes made our albums of the year feature in 2016). He’s also been working with that collective’s founder, Matt ‘Doc’ Dunn, on a new duo project named KIM (the fruits of which will be released later this year). But not only a collaborator, Haas has also recorded a stack of albums for the Resonantmusic imprint over the years (15 in total), the first of which, from 2005, included his American Nocturne foil, Fiorino. An artist with a penchant for stringed instruments (guitar, glissenter, lap steel, banjo, lotar, mandolin), Fiorino is equally as experimental; the painter musician imbued by blues, rock, psychedelic, country, jazz, Indian and Middle Eastern music has also played in and with a myriad of suitably eclectic musicians and projects (Radio I Ching, Hanuman Sextet, Adventures In Bluesland and Ronnie Wheeler’s Blues).

Recorded live with no overdubs, the adroit duo is brought together in a union of discordant opprobrious and visceral suffrage. Haas’ signature pained hoots,   snozzled snuffles and more suffused saxophone lines drift at their most lamentable and blow hard at their most venerable and despondent over and around the spindly bended, quivery warbled and weird guitar phrases of Fiorino. Setting both esoteric and mysterious atmospheres, Haas is also in charge of the manic, often reversed or inverted, and usually erratic drum machine and bit-crushing warped electronic effects. Any hint of rhythm or a lull in proceedings, and it’s snuffed out by an often primal and distressed breakdown of some kind.

Skulking through some interesting soundscapes and fusions, tracks such as the opening ‘Waning Empire Blues’ conjures up a Southern American States gloom (where the Mason-Dixon line meets the dark ambient interior of New York) via a submerged vision of India. It also sounds, in part, like an imaginary partnership between Hassell and Ry Cooder. ‘Days Of The Jackals’ has a sort of Spanish Texas merges with Byzantium illusion and ‘New Orphans’ transduces the Aphex Twin into a shapeless, spiraling cacophony of pain.

With hints of the industrial, tubular metallic, blues, country, electro and Far East to be found, American Nocturne is essentially a deconstructive jazz album. Further out than most, even for a genre used to such heavy abstract experimentation, this cry from the bleeding heart of Trumpism opposition is as musically traumatic as it is complex and creatively descriptive. Fiorino and Haas envision a harrowing soundtrack fit for the looming miasma of our times.



Papernut Cambridge ‘Mellotron Phase: Volume 2’ (Ravenwood Music/Gare du Nord) 5th October 2018

 

A one-man cottage industry (a impressively prolific one at that) Ian Button’s Eurostar connection inspired label seems to pop up in every other roundup of mine. The unofficial houseband/supergroup and Button pet project Papernut Cambridge, the ranks of which often swell or contract to accommodate an ever-growing label roster of artists, is once again widening its nostalgic pop and psychedelic tastes.

Following on from Button’s debut leap into halcyon cult and kitsch library music, Mellotron Phase: Volume 1 is another suite of similar soft melodic compositions, built around the hazy and dreamy polyphonic loops of the iconic keyboard: An instrument used to radiant, often woozy, affect on countless psych and progressive records. That first volume was a blissful, float-y visage of quasi-David Axelrod psychedelic litany, pop-sike, quaint 60s romances and a mellotron moods version of Claude Denjean cult lounge Moog covers.

This time around the basis for each instrumental vision is the rhythm accompaniments from Mattel’s disc-based Ontigan home-entertainment instrument. These early examples of instrumental loops and musical breaks were set out across the instrument’s keys so that chord sequences and variations can be used to construct an arrangement. Mellowed and toned-down in comparison to the first volume, though still featuring drum breaks, percussion, bass and on the Bacharach-composes-a-screwball-tribute-to-French-Western-pulp-fiction (Paris, Texas to Paris, France) ‘A Cowboy In Montmartre’, an accordion. If the French Wild West grabs you then there’s plenty of other weird and wonderful mélanges to be found on this whimsically romantic, sometimes comically vaudeville, and often-yearning fondly nostalgic album. The swirling cascade of soft focus tremolo vibrations of the stuttered ‘Cha-Cha-Charlie’ sounds like Blue Gene Tyranny catching a flight on George Harrison’s Magical Mystery Tour. The Sputnik space harp pastiche of ‘Cygnus Probe’ is equally as Gerry Anderson as it is Philippe Guerre, and ‘Boss Club’ reimagines Trojan Records transduced through lounge music. Kooky Bavarian Oompah Bands at an acid-tripping Technicolor circus add to the mirage-like mellotron kaleidoscope on ‘Sergeant Major Mushrooms’, Len Deighton’s quintessentially English clandestine spy everyman, as scored by John Barry, cameos on the clavinet spindly and The Kramford Look-esque ‘Parker’s Last Case’, and Amen Corner wear their soft soul shufflers on the Tamala backbeat ‘Soul Brogues’.

A curious love letter to the forgotten (though a host of champions, from individuals to labels, have revalued and showcased their work) composers and mavericks behind some of the best and most odd library music, Mellotron Phase will in time become a cult album itself. As quirky as it is serenading, alternative recalled obscure soundtracks that vaguely recall Jean-Pierre Decerf, Jimmy Harris, Stereolab, Jean-Claude Vannier and even Roy Budd are given a fond awakening by Button and his dusted-off mellotron muse.






Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’ October 2018

 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017. Many of which have featured in one form or another in this column.

The latest and possibly most restive of all his (if you can call it that) albums is the spasmodic computer love transmogrification ROM-COM. An almost seamless record, each track bleeding into, or mind melding with the next, the constantly changing if less ennui jumpy compositions are smoother and mindful this time around. This doesn’t mean it’s any less kooky, leaping from one effect to the next, or, suddenly scrabbling off in different directions following various nodes and interplays, leaving the original source and prompts behind. But I detect a more even, and daresay, sophisticated method to the usual skittish hyperactivity.

Showing that penchant for exploration tracks such as the tribal cosmic synwave ‘Play In The Sky’ fluctuate between the Twilight Zone and tetchy, tentacle slithery techno; whilst the shifting bit-crush cybernetic ‘Hat’ sounds like a transplanted to late 80s Detroit Art Of Noise one minute, the next, like a isotope chilled thriller soundtrack. Reverberating piano rays, staggered against abrasive drumbeats await the listener on the sadly melodic ‘King Of ‘. That is until a drilling drum break barrels in and gets jammed, turning the track into a jarring cylindrical headbanger. ‘Coat’ whip-cracks to a primitive homemade drum machine snare as it, lo fi style, dances along to a three-way of Harmonia, The Normal and Populare Mechanik, and the brilliantly entitled ‘Wasp Meat’ places Kraftwerk in Iain Banks Factory.

Almost uniquely in his own little orbit of maverick bastardize electronic experimentation, Spackman, who builds many of his own bizarre contraptions and instruments, strangulates, pushes and deconstructs techno, the Kosmische, Trip-Hop and various other branches of the genre to build back up a conceptually strange and bewildering new sonic shake-up of the electronic music landscape.



Grand Blue Heron ‘Come Again’ (Jezus Factory) October 19th 2018

 

Grand Blue Heron, or GBH as it were, do some serious grievous harm to the post-punk and alt-rock genres on their latest abrasive heavy-hitter, Come Again. Partial to the Gothic, the Benelux quartet prowl in the miasma; skulking under a repressed gauze and creeping fog of doom as they trudge across a esoteric landscape of STDs, metaphorical crimes of the heart and rejection.

Born out of the embers of the band Hitch, band mates Paul Lamont (who also served time with the experimental Belgium group and Jezus Factory label mates, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen) and Oliver Wyckhuyse formed GBH in 2015 as a vehicle for songs written by Lamont. Straight out of the blocks on their thrashing debut Hatch, they’ve hewn a signature sound that has proven difficult to pin down.

Both boldly loud with smashing drums and gritty distorted guitars, yet melodic and nuanced, they sound like The Black Angels and Bauhaus working over noir rock on the vortex that is ‘Wwyds’, a grunge-y Belgium version of John Lyndon backed by The Pixies on the controlled maelstrom title-track, and Metallica on the country-twanging, pendulous skull-banger ‘Head’. They also sail close to The Killing Joke, Sisters Of Mercy (especially on the decadent wastrel Gothic ‘The Cult’), Archers Of Loaf and, even, The Foo Fighters. They rollick in fits of rage and despondency, beating into shape all these various inspirations, yet they come out on top with their own sound in the end.

Playing live alongside some pretty decent bands of late (White Denim, Elefant, The Cult Of Dom Keller) the GBH continue to grow with confidence; producing a solid heavy rock and punk album that reinforces the justified, low-level as it might be, hype of the Belgium, and by extension, Flanders scene.






Dr. Chan ‘Squier’ (Stolen Body Records) October 12th 2018

 

Keeping up the petulant garage-punk-skate-slacker discourse of their obstinate debut, the French group with just a little more control and panache once more hang loose and play fast with their spikey influences on the second LP Squier.

Hanging out with a disgruntled shrug in a 1980s visage of L.A. central back lots, skating autumn time drained pools in a nocturnal motel setting, Dr. Chan crow about the transition from adolescence to infantile adulthood. Hardly more than teenagers themselves, the band seem obsessed with their own informative years of slackerdom; despondently ripping into the status of outsiders the lead singer sulkingly declares himself as “Just a young messy loser” on the opening boom bap garage turn space punk spiraling ‘Wicked & Wasted’, and a “Teenage motherfucker” on the funhouse skater-punk meets Thee Headcoats ‘Empty Pockets’.

The pains but also thrills of that time are channeled through a rolling backbeat of Black Lips, Detroit Cobras, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Hunches, Nirvana and new wave influences. The most surprising being glimmers of The Strokes, albeit a distressed version, on the thrashed but polished, even melodic, ‘Girls!’ And, perhaps one of the album’s best tracks (certainly most tuneful), the bedeviled ride on the 666 Metro line ‘The Sinner’, could be an erratic early Arctic Monkeys missive meets Blink 182 outtake.

The Squier is an unpretentious strop, fueled as much by jacking-up besides over spilling dumpsters, zombified states of emptiness and despair as it is by carefree cathartic releases of bird-finger rebellious fun. Reminiscing for an adolescence that isn’t even theirs, Dr. Chan’s directed noise is every bit informed by the pin-ups of golden era 80s Thrasher magazine as by Nuggets, grunge and Jon Savage’s Black Hole: Californian Punk compilation. The fact they’re not even of the generation X fraternity that lived it, or even from L.A. for that matter, means there is an interesting disconnection that offers a rousing, new energetic take. In short: Ain’t a damn thing changed; the growing pains of teenage angst still firing most of the best and most dynamic shambling music.





Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana) 12th October 2018

 

Looking for your next favourite French indie-pop group? Well look no further, the colourful Parisian outfit Brace! Brace! are here. Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

Squirreled away in self-imposed seclusion, recording in the Jura Mountains, the isolation and concentration has proved more than fruitful. Offering a Sebastian Teller fronts Simian like twist on a cornucopia of North American and British influences, Brace! Brace! glorious debut features pastel shades of Blur, Gene, Dinosaur Jnr., Siouxsie And The Banshees (check the “I wrecked your childhood” refrain post-punk throb and phaser effect symmetry guitar of ‘Club Dorothée’ for proof) and the C86 generation. More contemporary wafts of Metronomy, Mew, Jacco Gardner, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter (especially) permeate the band’s hazy filtered melodies and thoughtful prose too.

At the heart of it all lies the subtly crafted melodies and choruses. Never overworked, the lead-up and bridges gently meet their rendezvous with sweet élan and pace. Vocals are shared and range from the lilted to the wistful and more resigned; the themes of chaste and compromised love lushly and wantonly represented.

This is an album of two halves, the first erring towards quirky new wave, shoegaze-y hearty French pop – arguably featuring some of the band’s best melodies -, the second, a more drowsy echo-y affair. Together it makes for a near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment.






Junkboy ‘Old Camera, New Film’Taken from Fretsore Record’s upcoming Music Minds fundraiser compilation; released on the 12th October 2018

 

Quiet of late, or so we thought, the unassuming South Coast brothers Hanscomb have been signing love letters, hazy sonnets and languorous troubadour requests from the allegorical driftwood strewn yesteryear for a number of years now. The Brighton & Hove located siblings have garnered a fair amount of favorable press for their beautifully etched Baroque-pastoral idyllic psychedelic folk and delicately softly spoken harmonies.

To celebrate the release of their previous album, Sovereign Sky, the Monolith Cocktail invited the duo to compile a congruous Youtube playlist. Proper Blue Sky Thinking didn’t disappoint; the brothers’ Laurel Canyon, Freshman harmony scions and softened psychedelic inspirations acting like signposts and reference points for their signature nostalgic sound: The Beach Boys, Thorinshield, Mark Eric, The Lettermen, The Left Bank all more an appearance.

A precursor to, we hope, Junkboy’s next highly agreeable melodious LP, Trains, Trees, Topophilia (no release date has been set yet), the tenderly ruminating new instrumental (and a perfect encapsulation of their gauzy feel) ‘Old Camera, New Film’ offers a small preview of what’s to come. It’s also just one of the generous number of tracks donated to the worthy Music Minds (‘supporting healthy minds’) cause by a highly diverse and intergenerational cast of artists. Featuring such luminaries as Tom Robinson, Glen Tilbrook and Graham Goldman across three discs, the Fretsore Records release coincides with World Mental Health Day on the 12th October.

Sitting comfortably on the second disc with (two past Monolith Cocktail recommendations) My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics and Yellow Six, Junkboy’s mindful delicate swelling strings with a hazy brassy, more harshly twanged guitar leitmotif beachcomber meditations prove a most perfect fit.






Earthling Society ‘MO – The Demon’ (Riot Season) 28th September 2018

 

Bowing out after fifteen years the Earthling Society’s swansong, MO – The Demon, transduces all the group’s various influences into a madcap Kool-aid bathed imaginary soundtrack. Inspired by the deranged Shaw Brothers film studio’s bad-taste-running-rampart straight-to-video martial arts horror schlock The Boxer’s Omen, the band scores the most appropriate of accompaniments.

The movie’s synopsis (though I’m not sure anyone ever actually wrote this story out; making it up in their head as they went along more likely) involves a revenge plot turn titanic spiritual struggle between the dark arts, as the mobster brother of a Hong Kong kickboxer, paralyzed by a cheating Thai rival, sets out on a path of vengeance only to find himself sidetracked by the enlightened allure of a Buddhist monastery and the quest to save the soul of a deceased monk (who by incarnated fate happens to be our protagonist’s brother from a previous life) killed by black magic. A convoluted plot within a story of vengeance, The Boxer’s Omen is a late night guilty pleasure; mixing as it does, truly terrible special effects with demon-bashing Kung Fu and Kickboxing.

Recorded at Leeds College of Music between November 2017 and February of 2018, MO – The Demon is an esoteric Jodorowsky cosmology of Muay Thai psychedelics, space rock, shoegaze, Krautrock and Far East fantasy. Accenting the mystical and introducing us to the soundtrack’s leitmotif, the opening theme song shimmers and cascades to faint glimmers of Embryo and Gila; and the craning, waning guitar that permeates throughout often resembles Manuel Göttsching later lines for Ash Ra Tempel. By the time we reach the bell-tolled spiritual vortex of the ‘Inauguration Of The Buddha Temple’ we’re in Acid Mothers territory, and the album’s most venerable sky-bound ascendant ‘Spring Snow’ has more than a touch of the Popol Vuh about it: The first section of this two-part vision features Korean vocalist Bomi Seo (courtesy of Tirikiliatops) casting incantation spells over a heavenly ambient paean, as the miasma and ominous haze dissipates to reveal a path to nirvana, before escalating into a laser whizzing Amon Duul II talks to Yogi style jam. The grand finale, ‘Jetavana Grove’, even reimagines George Harrison in a meeting of minds with Spiritualized and the Stone Roses; once more setting out on the Buddhist path of enlightenment.

Sucked into warped battle scenes on the spiritual planes, Hawkwind (circa Warriors On The Edge Of Time) panorama jams and various maelstroms, the Earthling Society capture the hallucinogenic, tripping indulgences of their source material well whilst offering the action and prompts for another set of heavy psych and Krautrock imbued performances. The Boxer’s Omen probably gets a much better soundtrack than it deserves, as the band sign off on a high.





Review: Words: Dominic Valvona



Stella Chiweshe  ‘Kasahwa: Early Singles’ (Glitterbeat Records) 14th September 2018

Spearheading a second revival and paving the way to a comeback of a sort, the previously only available as a digital-release version (via that increasingly encroaching behemoth, Bandcamp) of the Zimbabwe music icon and maestro of the mbira instrument Stella Chiweshe’s Kasahwa: Early Singles collection, has been picked up by the award-winning global music label Glitterbeat Records. To be released on the full gamut of formats (both physical and digital) this remastered smattering of previously rare healing paeans and emotional tumults will for many, be an introduction to the diaphanous and earthy roots metal-y springy mbira accompanied soul of Chiweshe.

With her most formative years spent in colonial Rhodesia, before Zimbabwe’s eventual independence in 1980, in an environment that didn’t exactly encourage or foster equality between races let alone sexes, the strong-willed Chiweshe nevertheless pursued a career in music. More attuned to the Western sounds of Rock’n’Roll and Country than the atavistic culture of her native homeland, feasting instead on a diet of Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jim Reeves and The Everly Brothers (and why not), it would take some time and an epiphany before Chiweshe picked up the mbira: an instrument and style she would soon master; so much so that she would be hailed as the ‘Queen of Mbira’ in the following decades.

Confusingly for the student and novice, mbira refers not only to an instrument – made-up of 22 to 28 metal keys, mounted on a ‘wooden healing tree body’ – but also an all-encompassing Zimbabwean spiritual but also secular culture and way of life. Mbira, which is cultivated by the Shona people of the region, involves the ceremonial ritual practice of invoking contact with deceased ancestors and tribal guardians through musical accompaniment; just one of the influences that imbues the voice and playing style of Chiweshe’s captivating songs.

Showing the independent spirit she’d long be admired and celebrated for, a younger Chiweshe would, despite meeting stoic opposition, overcome the bigotry of her male compatriots and elders to embrace not only the Mbiri heritage but the instrument too. Stiff resistance from teachers and even instrument makers, outright refusing to build her a mbira, wouldn’t stop her from recording a debut single (the one that give’s its name to this compilation) in 1974: even though she would have to borrow an ad hoc thumb piano; unable to lay her hands on a mbira. Chiweshe would not only preserver but flourish.

Trumpeted in our modern virtue-labeling climate as a ‘feminist’, the outspoken star was certainly strong-willed, even a rebel. Making a name for herself overcoming the obstacles of tradition and a patriarchal-dominated society, her obstinacy soon garnered attention, not only in Zimbabwe but further afield. In a decade that saw a surge in Western interest in ‘world music’, thanks in part to (in the UK anyway) such global music explorers and passionate advocates as Andy Kershaw and John Peel (who would play host to two Chiweshe performances on his coveted Radio 1 sessions), the Mbira star would soon be touring internationally: first as a featured soloist with the New National Dance Company of Zimbabwe, and later under her own name. Chiweshe would even make a second home for herself in Berlin, criss-crossing between the German city and her native home for the next 35 years.

Still performing her spiritually soulful intense and trilling vocals and mbira craft, but perhaps not as prominent a figure on the world stage, this re-introduced eight song package of formative years recordings will revive an interest in not only Chiweshe but the music of Zimbabwe: a state that looked to be finally emerging from the grasp of Robert Mugabe, whose role (lets face it) has soured and hidden the true face and culture of the country; though in the aftermath of his resignation and after new elections, his successor in the ZANU-PF party, candidate President Mnangagwa and self-declared winner of those elections, has meted out extreme violence on oppositions supporters (killing a number of them in the process) taking to the streets in protest at the contested results. An uneasy tension exists, even with outside observers presiding over these elections, as Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change candidate Nelson Chamisa stoically refuses to back down, rejecting the results outright.

With helpful encapsulation style suffixes summing up each song’s theme, the early singles opens with the determined ‘Ratidzo’; a high whistling and trickling stream like mbira melodic accompanied invocation of the lush landscapes of Zimbabwe that pretty much encompasses Chiweshe’s struggle to become a musician with its matter-of-fact subtitle, ‘Managing to do what people considered impossible’. More traumatic themes follow, with the unceasing waterfall cascades of the mbira and earthy lamented ‘Musarakunze’ suddenly making an emotional impact when translated as ‘An orphan seeing what the late elders never saw’; so beautifully played as to almost hide the plight. The ‘Innermost emotional pain is like a fishbone stuck in the throat’ ‘Kasahwa’ has a similar air of beautiful delivery even when kicking up the dust and rotating to a more abrasive and rubbing scratchy percussion; the pained evocations confined to that title rather than performance.

Mbira as a living tradition and healing process is enacted on the grasslands lilted ‘Chipindura’‘The herb that transforms anything’ – and the placeable tubular turning ‘Mayaya’ (in two parts no less; the longest articulation on this entire collection) – ‘The effect of healing herbs’. Both of which, whether it’s intentional or not, feature a percussion that reflects the rubbing, grinding preparation of these herbs. Elsewhere the routine travails of a people kept through colonial oppression and then the misrule, surviving in abject poverty, is evoked on the yodeled sung ‘Nhemamusasa’; a song that describes and articulates ‘Cutting branches for a temporal home’.

Channeling the very soul of Zimbabwe, performing the mbira with energy but also certain serenity, and in a soliloquy manner voicing the empirical, Stella Chiweshe’s early recordings may sound swimmingly diaphanous, yet they serve as a reminder to the struggles of change. Recorded during the Chimurenga – roughly translating from the Shona language as ‘revolutionary struggle’, this, the second such ‘war’ or uprising, pitted African Nationalist groups against the predominantly white minority government; also known by its eventual victors as the Zimbabwe Liberation War, it would lead to independence and the rise of one of the resistance’s key figures, Robert Mugabe – revolution these singles, no matter how lilting, could be celebrated as a testament and clarion call for not only a resistance to the patriarch but seen also as a break from the atavistic status quo, with Chiweshe’s twist laying down the path for those to follow; a more equal rebalance giving voice to the often repressed matriarchal singers and musicians of Africa.




WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Samba Touré   ‘Wande’   Glitterbeat Records,  25th May 2018

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook. Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. Previous albums Albala and 2015’s Gandadiko were made during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for an autonomous state within the desert borderlands of Mali. Based in the western, more urban, Bamako, Touré encapsulated the fears of his fellow countrymen caught up in, what seemed highly probable until an intervention from the former colonial masters France, a struggle of ideologies that threatened to destroy Mali and bloodily remove its government. Reaching far into the Mali interior, certainly victorious in the field of propaganda in taking the legendary trading post of Timbuktu, Touré was well within his rights to feel anguish and fear as the hardliners – hardly an accommodating presence, known to burn instruments and even musicians that entertained anything other than their own warped sense of myopic worship – inched ever-closer to Mali’s capital.


Photo: Karim Diarra.




Darker albums certainly, yet still so lovingly meandrous, even buoyant, as to exude hope and caring sensibility. Better still, and even with the fallout from this insurgency ongoing (if forgotten by western media), Touré calls, as he does now, for unity: a return to peace.

Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande: though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

The ‘Songhai’ and ‘Crocodile’ bluesman, for that is the style he is most synonymous with, wouldn’t pigeonhole himself personally, preferring to call it contemporary ‘universal’ rock music. Touré has previously said, and reiterates now, that he doesn’t play ‘desert blues’ – a term he rightly associates as the music practiced in Northern Mali, Niger and Mauritania -, and you can also forget about calling it African ‘this’ or African ‘that’ too. Yet at the roots and core, for these are the lands where it all started, Touré’s subtle and relaxed guitar lines traverse the very ideas of blues etymology. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues Yerfara/We Are Tired could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done) even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon.

Throughout the album, whether it’s in paying a devotional paean to his beloved wife on the title track or gliding magically on the opening Yo Pouhala/Blah Blah Blah, Touré’s electric, and occasionally deft acoustic, guitar is accompanied by the buoyant and bobbing bending rhythms of the traditional tama talking drum, bowed waiving of the sokou and the vibrating spindle sound of the ngoni: All of which are played with an emphasis on the natural, unrehearsed and relaxed.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré classic.




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