REVIEWS SPECIAL/Dominic Valvona





From the very start of the Covid-19 epidemic I’ve emphasized the importance of supporting artists and bands. More than ever in an industry with ever diminishing returns for the majority, and with the ever increasingly domination of streaming taking over from sales, they need our financial help.

With that in mind, there are more than enough new and upcoming releases to get you salivating at the prospect of spending those dwindling funds in my July roundup. Travelling to and beyond both Earthly and Heavenly realms from the comfort of you own sofa, I take a look at the upcoming debut suite from Jason Kohnen’s newest adventure (in collaboration with Dimitry El-Demerdashi and Martina Hórvath), Mansur; a wanderers traverse of burnished ruins and temenos set to a cinematic, warping trip-hop soundtrack called Temples. Fresh out of Rio, Brazilian wonderkid Thiago Nassif releases another vibrant and sophisticated pop album of samba and bossa no wave. Melbourne artist Wu Cloud returns from his off-the-beaten-track Indonesian getaway with an atmospheric exotic ambient electronica suite of jungle sonics. Out of Helsinki, two Nordic jazz albums from the We Jazz label; the first, the Danish-Finn JAF Trio lay down their dynamic live sound on wax for the first time, and the experimental Gothenburg tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Otis Sandsjö produces another volume of deconstructive electronic-hip-hop-trip-hop-jazz. From the relatively untouched musical atoll of São Tomé & Principe, Bongo Joe reissue Pedro Lima’s 80s classic Maguidala. Closer to home, The Lancashire Hustlers offer another nostalgic songbook of quality psych pop and troubadour pastoral soul with their fifth album, Four Hands, Two Voices.


Thiago Nassif  ‘Mente’
(Gearbox Records)  Album/3rd July 2020



Feted no less by “no wave” off-kilter maverick and former Lounge Lizard Arto Lindsay, the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and producer Thiago Nassif has made a name for himself over the last decade for producing the most idiosyncratic tropical-flavoured pop music. Drawn to Nassif’s transformed visions of bossa nova and samba, Lindsay, who has a reputation for refreshing those genres and working with many of the forms star turns, has co-produced a number of albums for the Rio-based artist; including this latest neon afterglow, Mente.

Channeling some of the American all-rounder’s past productions, most notably his work with the legend Caetano Veloso and more contemporary Tom Zé, Nassif balances those balmy softened open-toed sandal sauntering rhythms with harder edged experimental no wave and synthesized tubular metallics. It’s a juxtaposition of atmospherics, of light and shade, of the organic and plastic, and even languages: Portuguese and English. In practice this sounds pretty brilliant; a liquid (a blancmange even) of often slinking, bubbling, uptown/downtown Beck, Eno & Cale, Prince, Ariel Pink and St. Vincent, picked up and flown to a retro-futuristic Brazilian beachfront nightclub. The opening no wave soul mirage ‘Soar Estranho’ (one of my tracks of the year) shows off this cultural mix; reimagining Lodger era Bowie flanked by James Chance and Lou Reed’s doo wop chorus of female backing singers perusing in a discotheque. In short: cool as fuck. But just as you get comfortable, a lurch and shriek of tumbled drums enters the fray: less a harsh jerk, more a delightful off-kilter excursion.

Yet despite those interesting excursions, jolts and hooks and the contemporary feel, the melodies prove often nostalgic: a dreamy electro-fashioned sheen envelopes those bossa and samba grooves and tango washes that headily send the listener back to the 70s and early 80s. Still, it’s a fascinating world that escapes Nassif’s mind; a place where vague Robert Fripp guitar traces wane against a sunbaked percussion of bottle rattling; off-center piano and elliptical grooves merge with Herbie Hancock funk; fanned phaser guitar comes of against skulking seedy Gauloise-puffing French sophisticated cool aloof; an alternative reality in which Eno remixes Caetano’s more showy popular samba romantics.

Very imaginative and experimental, Nassif pushes South American music into exciting directions with an album that oozes a coolness of liquid tropical no and new wave. Mente surfs a delicious ebb and flowing tide of quirky “plastique” pop: A leopard skin upholstered, neon lit sumptuous groove of the fuzzy, fizzling and sauntering.






Mansur  ‘Temple’
(Denovali Records) Album/10th July



Venturing once more into amorphous mysterious musical territories, Jason Kohnen finds another outlet for his traversing invocations with the Arabic named Mansur. Worn by infamous caliphs, this popular Middle Eastern name translates as “the one who is victorious”. The caliphate ruled by those who wore it was as vast and multicultural as the array of evocations and geography found on Kohen’s latest mini-album, Temple.

Previous esoteric and panoramic soundtracks by Kohen, from The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation to The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, roamed a borderless realm of influences. With even less jazz on offer (though those previous two jazz affixed outfits always had a vague interpretation of the genre), the cinematic atmospherics of this newest incarnation, the Temple drifts, sweeps and swoons across a gauzy veiled expanse of ancient Persia, India, Arabia, South Eastern Europe and the Aegean. Much of this is down to the array of international instruments that both Kohnen and his collaborating foil Dimitry El-Demerdashi (ex-Phurpa fame) use to stirrup this mirage state of Dionysus acropolises and atavistic Sufi mysticism. Various two-string and more bowed instruments (such as the Chinese “erhu”, Iranian, Armenian and beyond “kemenche”, and Indian “dilruba”) rub up against reedy flutes (the Persian “ney” and Indian “bansuri”) and both staggered and slurred trip-hop beats, slithered synthesized effects.

Floating in and out of the album’s titular spell, vocalist Martina Hórvath appears like an ancestral spirit or forgotten deity dreamily cooing sweet evocations; part Hellenic, part Celtic. This and its “revisited” companion piece both reminded me of the experimental Greek duo Xaos; though the second ‘Temple’ altarpiece offers up crunchier giant’s footsteps like thuds, and casts supernatural shadows on the pillars.

Elsewhere on this well-travelled five-track adventure, the esoteric Balearic chill in the sun ‘Disciples’ takes the listener to Muslim Spain via the toiled troubles and lament of the East, and the five notes per octave scale ‘Pentatonic Ruins’ travels in slow-releases across both the Arabian deserts and foothills of Tibet. The album’s final magical escape ‘Leyenda’ (or “legend”) brings in a piano, bowls and the kemenche flute to evoke a kind of semblance of 1930s Cairo: A soundscape of intrigue, suspense, bazaars and Arabian music halls converge.

Wandering a proscenium of afflatus burnished ruins and temenos to a cinematic, warping trip-hop soundtrack, Kohnen finds another fruitful creative release for his mesmerizing mythology of mystical and spiritual sounds.






JAF Trio ‘S/T’  (3rd July 2020)
Otis Sandsjö ‘ Y-OTIS 2’ (24th July 2020)
(We Jazz) Albums



Constantly delivering some of the best in contemporary jazz over the years, the Helsinki label and festival platform We Jazz has regularly popped up on the site with its quality catalogue of, mostly, European talent. This month sees the Nordic facilitators release two albums of opposing styled experimentation.

Dropping just this week, the first of these deft workouts sees the lauded Danish-Finn live act JAF Trio of saxophonist Adele Sauros (of Superposition renown), bassist Joonas Tuuri (Bowman Trio) and drummer Emil Bülow lay down their dynamic buzz on wax for the first time. Formerly awarded the We Jazz “rising star” award in 2017 for their “loft style” conjunction of cool but busy American and European jazz frills, tumbles and stretches, the trio now capture that live spark in a studio setting.

With a faint air of nostalgia, or at least the influence of those hip cats Mingus and Wayne Shorter, and a lift of Be-Bop, the trio proves to be one classy act. Sauros blows and honks both a mean and snozzling (even clarinet like at times) sax over Tuuri’s double-bass bodywork tapping runs and bowed sloping and Bülow’s quickened drum spills and accentuated concentrations. Signature loftcore, the opening account of ‘Ninth Row Of The Fifth Floor’ is a showcase for clicked walking basslines, skipping breaks and schmoozing sax spontaneity.

Each track seems to start in one place but end up in another; liberally handing out solos and more stripped spots, both busy and more methodically studied, as they go. Whatever the mood, whether that’s more humming and whistled saxophone contemplation or counter d’n’b like rhythm erratics, the chemistry is playful but always probing. Loft space meets Pierrick Pédron on a contemporary breakbeat, the JAF Trio bounce ideas around in the studio to produce some top-drawer jazz.





Making good on his previous free-fall in motion Y-OTIS LP (which made our albums of the year), the second of We Jazz Records’ July releases finds the Berlin-based Swedish tenor sax and clarinet bandleader Otis Sandsjö once more pushing the boundaries of electronic jazz. Volume Two of this simultaneously flowing and fractured, stumbled jazz breakdown sees Otis deconstruct his group’s performances in real time. Like a remix before the originals even been finished, Otis enacts his ennui like wonder for changing the rhythm, groove and direction.

Backed by fellow label mates Petter Eldh (bass and synth) and Jonas Kullhammar (flute) of Koma Saxo fame, plus Dan Nicholls (keys and synth duties), Tilo Weber (drums), and with featured spots from Per “Texas” Johansson (flute), Lucy Railton (cello) and Ruhi Erdogan (trumpet), the native Gothenburg sonic explorer elliptically skips and trips through hints of J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Four Tet, John Wizard, Takashi Kokubo, 808 State and Bobbi Humphrey.

The jazz elements, which sound like a transmogrified electric Byrd, drift and waft in starts and stops. Otis sax hoots like a magical owl on the woodland fairytale turn Eddie Gale spiritual joint ‘Tremendoce’.

With two flute players in the ranks and Otis also on clarinet, there’s obviously a lot of wind being blown around; and again it’s mostly quite dreamy, organic and floating as it wraps around the constant breaks and lurch or dragging drum parts.

From the cosmic and celestial to earthy, the familiar is turned inside out on an album that mixes soul, hip-hop, d’n’b, trance, electronica and jazz together. Every bit as extraordinary and inventive as the previous volume, part two is a unique, re contextualized, pinball flipper driven rush that takes jazz forward. This is a really great trip of an album, as blissful as it is intense. Definitely in my choice picks of 2020; one of the best jazz albums you’ll hear all year.






The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Four Hands, Two Voices’
(Steep Hill) Album/12th June 2020



There’s nothing more reassuring and cozy than a new Lancashire Hustlers album. Bathed in a nostalgic glow of peaceable 60s and 70s harmonies and a lilted haze of the familiar, Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes always turn-out a disarming songbook of psychedelic and troubadour melodies worth savoring.

Following previous mini pop operas and a collection of songs based on the poems of Walter de la Mare, the Stockport duo reconvene for an album of self-discovery, raincloud love-lost misery, the philosophical and regretted: Not strictly a thematic album, more a concept of age-old tropes that continue to trouble the soul.

Musically combining the shared harmony of Turn Breaks with the idiosyncratic romantic psych pop of bands such as The Left Banke, they often stirrup a smorgasbord of congruous bands and artists. Four Hands, Two Voices is no exception, with surprise shades of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield on the pastoral soul opener ‘Top Gun (In Retirement)’, and a kind of Anthony Newly starring musical meets XTC on the more theatrical ‘Stuck In The Middle Of A Week’. Elsewhere amongst a repeating musical leitmotif of quasi-swami atmospheres (brassy resonating faux-sitar and finger-cymbal trinket charms), you will find dalliances with Bacharach (sharing a stage with George Harrison) on the lilting romantic waltz whimsy ‘It’s Too Early’, the voice of Glenn Tilbrook on the beautifully pining rained-off ‘The Flowers And The Reservoirs’, and Badfinger harmonizing with Dylan on the quivery, dreamy malady ‘Letters I Should’ve Written’.

Disarming what is a touching but poignant selection of both melancholy and lamentable reflection, the duo’s loving and comfortable, even smooth musical sheen makes the sadness and yearning parts more palatable.

Whether venturing into the mind to connect with an object of desire or sailing across the subconscious on an adventurous voyage into psychoanalysis, these northern hustlers are guaranteed to make the journey a most harmonious one. The duo’s fifth album is another lovely songbook of maverick encounters, pastoral soul and soft bulletins.






Wu Cloud  ‘Pulsa Rimba’
(The Slow Music Movement) Album/18th June 2020



Under the sticking heat of a lush Indonesian jungle canopy and on the edge of golden idyllic Sumatran beaches, the free-rolling Melbourne artist Wu Cloud places the listener in a sumptuous soundtrack of resonating, delayed field recordings and subtle, distant lo fi rhythms on his debut longplayer for the Lisbon label The Slow Music Movement. An immersive sound experience, produced from a “rucksack studio”, Pulsa Rimba –which literally translates as the “pulse of the jungle” – is a insect chattering, monkey (or in this case, to use the old world appellation of the species, a “Monyet”) calling, bird hooting menagerie of local Indonesian wildlife and fauna; augmented by the most accentuating and intuitive of effects and enervated tricking and chiming of beats.

Almost carefree and meandering, Wu’s backpacker recordings take-in the exotics and dense jungle throbs of ‘Weh Island’ (an island off the northwest of Sumatra, often known by its biggest city and capital, Sabang) and the cross-traffic sounds of both nature and human encroachment in the Sumatran city of ‘Jambi’ (a busy port metropolis and greater province that lies close to the ruins of the ancient Srivijaya kingdom city of Muaro Jambi) on a gentle, unfolding ambient suite of the organic and synthesized.

From the hammock to bumpy bus rides, Wu captures in an ad hoc fashion a living moistened terrain. And those field recordings are left to drift and waft as a fine gossamer layer of undulated gamelan-esque rhythms, hand bell like softened chimes from the local bamboo tube apparatus known as a “angklung”, sloping refractions and water pouring percussion is added. Sometimes so hypnotic as to be somnolent, at other times mysterious and exotic enough to evoke some extraterrestrial activity (the lunar bound ‘Flying Lizard’), the jungle pulse is a mirage of kinetics, Eno and Cluster ambience and spacey-echoed remembrance of geography experienced.

Enchanting escapism, Wu Cloud’s atmospheric Indonesian jaunt is a conservation of sound; a contemplative wildlife sonic survey of what’s left of an untamed landscape.






Reissue


Pedro Lima  ‘Maguidala’
(Bongo Joe) Album/17th July 2020



Seldom in the spotlight or given much attention, the African island nation of São Tomé & Principe remains relatively obscure: especially music wise.

A former Portuguese colony, whose African population were mostly enslaved souls shipped in from the continent’s interior and coastlines, this fertile island became famous for growing cocoa, sugar and coffee. Most heinously though, it soon became a transit post for the slave trade itself; its location off the coast of Gabon in the mid Atlantic offering an ideal cove for the transporting human cargo.

It would take over four hundred years but independence finally came in 1975. Though revolts against the colonial masters were a constant throughout its history, even as late as the 1950s when long-suffering Angolan contract workers rioted, enforced labour continued right up until political revolutionary groups such as the Movement For The Liberation of São Tomé & Principe overthrew the Caetano dictatorship. Democratic reforms would be slow but peacefully introduced in the 90s, and the island is now considered one of the most stable free nations in Africa.

An outspoken advocate of change, and star of this welcoming reissue, Pedro Lima was an activist and lauded recording artist who for his political stance was anointed by the islanders as “A voz de povo de São Tomé”: “the people’s voice of the island”. Not that you detect that revolutionary zeal in his most joyous, sun-scorched island life harmonies. Those sweetened but dynamic tones disarm any kind of anger or rage.

Remarkably, until recently, and through those discerning people at the Bongo Joe label/store, there hadn’t really been any musical survey of the São Tomé & Principe. Their Léve Léve compilation, which takes its title from the locals carefree “take it easy” attitude, was the first. Bongo Joe now hones in one of that compilation’s star turns with this reissue of what is considered as Lima’s best album, Maguidala – if nothing else, this reissue could save you a hefty sum, as the original is going for anywhere up to £350 on discogs.

Originally recorded in ’85 with his trusted band Os Leonenses, this both sauntering and scuffled four track highlight from the catalogue showcases an artist at his peak. Relaxed but also driven at times, Maguidala is a conjunction, as fertile as the soil, of influences from across not only the island but also African continent. Perhaps picked up when recording on the mainland in Angola for a number of labels, and further afield in Lisbon during the 80s for the IEFE imprint, Lima’s sound took in the famous Congolese rumba style of Soukous, the Dominican Merengue and local “Puxa” rhythms. The results are a most buoyant, harmonious dancing groove of scuttling percussion, beautifully lulled sweet voices, trickling, picked and streaked guitar and peaceable goodwill. The title-track and finale (‘Lionensi Sá Tindadji’) are both busy, more constantly, if softly, driven performances that skiffle and rattle along. Lima for the most part serenading, attempts to add a few shrills and “whompahs” on the latter.

‘Sãma Nanzalé’ seems more drifting; almost a beachcomber lullaby. Whilst ‘Cxi Compa Sã Cã Batéla’ skips, saunters and shuffles towards that Congolese rumba influence.

The laissez faire sound of an island hideaway, Lima’s Maguidala showcase is a perfect summer album; a piece of escapism we could all do with right now. Prompted in part by Lima’s death last year, Bongo Joe has revived a warranted classic and shone a light on a musical legacy. Stick it on and let the good time rumba and Créole harmonies wash over you.






Special word from me, founder and basically one-man operator behind the Monolith Cocktail.

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.

New Music Of Interest Style Roundup/Dominic Valvona





The Perusal is my regular one-stop chance to catch up with the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload the Monolith Cocktail’s inboxes each month. A right old mishmash of previews, reviews and informative inquiry, this weeks assortment includes Ammar 808, Jon Hassell, Itchy-O, Kamo Saxo and Tony Price.


Ammar 808  ‘Marivere Gati (featuring SUSHA )’
(Glitterbeat Records)  Single/12th June 2020





“Except you, Divine mother, who else in this earth is to protect us ?

The ones who fall on your feet, giving up completely their ego,

you protect them, take care of them.

Meenakshi I believe in you.”


Dropping out of the nowhere, the latest trailblazing syncopation of transformed futuristic Pan-Maghreb languages, rhythms and ceremony from the leading producer Sofyann Ben Youssef expands the sonic horizons to collaborate with the Carnatic singer Susha.

Converging under Youssef’s most free spirited of electronic projects AMMAR 808, the signature propulsive TR-808 bass and warped effects of that alias meet with the alluring, buoyant spinning tabla driven devotional music of southern India, on the first single to be released from the forthcoming ‘Global Control / Invisible Invasion’ album. An ode to the goddess Meenakshi, who is an avatar of Parvati, the Hindu goddess of Fertility, love, and devotion, this hypnotizing throbbing fusion paves the way for an ever evolving and worldly sonic adventure.

Related from the Archives:

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’ Album Review



Kamo Saxo  ‘Koma Mate / Jagd (Feat. Jameszoo)’
(We Jazz Records)  Single/12th June 2020


With a psychosis of breakbeats and prowling, jostling conscious jazz – the kind that channels the likes of such titans of the form as Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Lloyd Miller, Leon Thomas and Albert Ayler – the exciting quintet Koma Saxo emerged last year as a new vehicle for a wealth of adroit European contemporary jazz musicians. Assembled by the Berlin-based Swedish bassist/producer Petter Eldh under the umbrella of the brilliant Finnish Jazz label We Jazz, the horn heavy ensemble includes many of the label’s stars, including Jonas Kullhammar, Mikko Innanen, and Otis Sandsjö on brass, and Christian Lillinger on the drums. The group made their performance debut at the label’s own festival in 2019, followed by a double A side single, the exotic flight of fantasy entitled ‘Part Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’, and a self-titled long player.

The latest double A-side single to drop from the ensemble refashions the conscious jazz swinging, double-bass tripping ‘Koma Tema’ performance from that debut album. Reincarnated as ‘Koma Mate’, the beats are dialed up, the skipping even more tripping, and the horns serenading. A sort of breakbeat abstraction with signs of melodious drifting, and cooing diaphanous spirits it doesn’t so much improve on the original as take it in a oft-kilter direction.

On the “flip” side, the Dutch producer Jameszoo is let loose to deconstruct and rebuild the Koma Saxo sound on the flexed and untethered tooting horn ‘Jagd’. Tenor sax floats and meanders over another tripped-up fluctuating groove to push the jazz group towards a hypnotized and fractured dancefloor.

Related from the Archives:

Koma Saxo ‘Port Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’ Single Review



Itchy-O  ‘Milk Moon Rite’
(Commissioned by Onassis Foundation as part of the ENTER series) Performance/3rd June 2020




First aired at the beginning of June but recorded on May 7th, as the moon loomed large orbiting at its closest point to Earth, the grand gesturing esoteric Denver collective of Itchy-O executed its own “Milk Moon Rite” performance.

As the ensemble explain: “Earth’s only natural satellite has orbited our sky as a massive emblem for countless religious worshippers across the eons. Known to the Greeks as Selene, the Hebrew Yarcah, and the Hindu lunar god Chandra; Egyptians also associated the moon with Isis, to name just a few appearances across mythos. It personifies the mysteries of life and death, both scientifically and spiritually.”

The 13-minute film is part of ENTER, a series of new works commissioned from artists across the globe, created in 120 hours or less, and drawing on experiences and transformations faced through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In a call to the gods for balance between opposites”, members of the drum driven art ensemble laid down a squalling friction of extemporized industrial ceremony and repetitive taiko beatings and hammerings: a vision that evokes Alejandro Jodorowsky conducting a unholy communion between Faust and Sunn O))) in a landscape in which the chthonian meets satanic. Settle down to the unsettling my children.

Itchy-O have in the past performed with David Byrne & St. Vincent’s band, shared the stage with experimental legends Devo, and anchored the world-renowned Dark Mofo Festival in Tasmania. Other performances include opening for Beats Antique, Melvins, and headlining Austin-based Fantastic Fest three years in a row.



Jon Hassell  ‘Fearless’
Taken from the upcoming new album Seeing Through Sound Pentimento Volume Two/24th July 2020




Progenitor of the borderless and amorphous evocatively traced, hazy dream experiments, John Hassell’s transmogrified nuzzling trumpet and sonic soundscape textures have inspired a generation of artists over the last forty odd years. The composer and trumpet player’s pathway, from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed an polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi. Hassell attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier West, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first.

Though an independent artist pioneer in his own right, his name has become synonymous with that of Brian Eno’s, the pair working together on the first ambient traversing volume in Hassell’s Possible Musics series of iconic albums, in the late 70s.

Though he has continued to produce futuristic amorphous peregrinations, his back catalogue has in more recent years been rediscovered through various reissues. As a companion piece to the first Pentimento series of albums, 2018’s Listening To Pictures suite, a second volume is being released later next month. Pentimento is defined as the “reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over”; a process, a layering of coats that is reflected musically on this upcoming experimental vision, Seeing Through Sound. From that album, the foggy-headed mysterious lurking, fanning rayed, early Can metronomic ‘Fearless’.

Related from the Archives:

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno ‘Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics’ Album Review

Jon Hassell ‘Dream Theory In Malaya’ Album Review

Jon Hassell/Farafina ‘Flash Of The Spirit’ Album Review



Tony Price ‘Interview’
Track preview from the upcoming LP Interview/Discount/17th July 2020




Abstracted No Wave meets dream fuzzy sparkled organ jazz on the latest suffused nuzzled trip from the multitasking Toronto visionary Tony Price. The New York based producer, musician, and songwriter makes his debut on the Telephone Explosion hub with a new album; a couplet of traversed vaporous jazzy meditations that seem to have been recorded from behind a cozy if mysterious fog. Maybe not a veiled fog, but as the first track from this side-long duo of tracks, ‘Interview’, is described in the accompanying blurb “a meditative exploration of the tile-tunneled labyrinths of NYC’s subway system at night.” You could say a field recording of the most amorphous group of subway jazz buskers emanating thoughts and musings into the nocturnal ether.

Leader on this dial tone hazed peregrination, Price lends his fingertips to an assortment of eye-candy keyboards and synthesizers (Fender Rhodes, Hohner D6 Clavinet, Arp 2600, SP1200, Prophet 5), sketches out gossamer guitar strands and a repetitive lurking bass and also programs the drums. Flanking him on this distant recording are some experimentalist heavyweights: Giosue Rosati on fretless electric bass, blog stalwart and friend Andy Haas on signature untethered saxophones & effects, and Dan Pencer on bass clarinet.

The imbued fleeted spark of modal jazz, electro-funk and narcotic non-linearity of 1970s minimalism style LP is framed as “an electrifying collision of fractured jazz- concréte and combustible downtown funk that crushes the entire continuum between minimalism and maximalism into a hypnotic wreck of metropolitan sound matter.” In practice, to these ears, it sounds like a communion of the Cosmic Range and Zacht Automaat. A winner in my book.

Price has lent his expertise to a wide range of critically acclaimed records on labels like 4AD, DFA, Slumberland and Burger Records amongst many others. In 2017 he founded his label and creative services unit Maximum Exposure, which quickly became an in-demand entity, providing production and design expertise to the likes of Capitol Records, Pat McGrath Labs, Vogue, SSENSE, 4AD, and Night School Recordings amongst others. The new album will be released next month, 17th July 2020, but you can now sneak a listen of the A-Side.




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.

Reviews Special/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.



Cosse ‘Nothing Belongs To Anything’
(À Tant Rêver du Roi/Grabuge Records) EP/12 June 2020



This EP has a certain moody dark grey charm about it: all Slint atmospherics and Jeff Buckley carefree smiles, a place where angst and beauty collide to make the soundtrack of a unmade 90’s road movie. Snarling feedback guitars and beautifully screamed whispers from both males and females slowly strips the layers of dust and heartache to leave the naked throbbing of the stripped down decaying heart of a future yesterday memory.






8 Floors Up ‘Roman Bones Make Good Glue’
Single/26th June 2020



Ah is this going to take us back to the wonderful summer of 89 when baggy ruled the airwaves. This is quite a magical groove that reminds one of the golden days of the Mondays and Roses a song I can see doing very well radio play wise in the months ahead. And for once, a song that will be worthy of such an honour; a track that is lying in the stars staring at the gutter.






Cathedral Bells ‘Undertow’
Single/29th May 2020



This is quite a lovely thing indeed, Johnny Marr ‘These Things Take Time’ guitar and the swooning like Cocteau Twins vocals merge into a blissful just under three minute pop rush of pure indie perfection: a song to be listened to on repeat with your favourite person by your side smiling along.






Inglourious Basterds ‘Something In the Air’
Single/3rd June 2020



A cover of the old Thunderclap Newman classic you’re asking yourselves? And the answer is yes. Covering a well known and overplayed radio fave is always a risky move unless you are willing to take the track and reinterpret it in a completely different way, making the song sound like your own; and to a certain extent The Inglourious Basterds succeed. The first part of the track just being drums and a fine vocal that brings out the beauty and meaning of the wonderful lyrics highlighting again the fine melody of the original and then it explodes into a Sonic Youth meets Dinosaur Jnr. guitar duel, where both parties are left beaten to a pulp by the tracks end and the winner being you the listener. It’s free to download from Bandcamp.






National Treasure ‘Come And Go’
(Keep Me In Your Heart) Single/19th June 2020



This track reminds me of a school project to make a pop single that’s to be sung by a saucy maths teacher. It has that slightly seedy feel which is a good thing. It also has a looseness and throwaway pop fluff feel to it too. The song is about faking an orgasm so maybe this sounding like a school project faking a pop single is what they were going for.






HighSchool ‘Frosting’
Video Single/8th June 2020



Joy Division keyboards, early Cure matching bass and guitar lines and sub Ian Curtis vocals: yes it’s another how much we loved indie in the 80s release. And this is a jolly enough affair. And if you like the indie sound you will like this as it is done very well, and is their debut release so good luck to them.







Aimee Steven ‘Darling’
(Jacaranda Records) Single/15th May 2020



I quite like how this sounds like Chicory Tip, not an influence you hear everyday it must be said but this is a catchy little ditty that goes around in a riff shaped circle, which for those who do not know what shape that is should listen to this lovely piece of guitar pop. I can imagine Mickie Most giving this a thumbs up on New Faces; and do you know what? The old chap would be right.





The Rubettes ‘Glamnezia’
Single/12th June 2020



I really wanted to love this, I really did. I loved The Rubettes in the 70s; them alongside Mud and Alvin Stardust and Gary Glitter sound tracked my infant and junior school days: I remember being sat in front of the TV every Thursday transfixed by the magic of Top Of The Pops. But sadly this song I listened to over and over again trying to decide as whether it was a joke or not, the lyrics really are so bad they are laughable, it has even to my mind surpassed Oasis’s song ‘Little James’ as the worst song written by a grown up. In fact I have to tip my hat to them for their guts to release it. “It does not get much easier in fact it gets much sleazier when you have amnesia”, even Jack Black would not succumb to such depths with his unfunny homages to hard rock; this track does in a cartoon overblown way, with the guitar turned up to eleven and the torturous vocals [yes torturous to listen to]. I bet the singer could eat three shredded wheat and I’m sure the producer must have had shredded wheat rammed down his ears to get through the recording session. But saying that, I’m looking forward to the album.



Guts Club ‘Song For Carm’
Single/29th May 2020



Since I’m the only person in this world who has never watched The Sopranos I have nothing to compare this to, as this is a cover of the theme song. Saying that, I like this; it sounds like a drunk mumbling down a well which is a lot better than a lot of the aural shit I have ploughed through this afternoon believe me.






Chris Cech ‘Sloth’
Album/8th May 2020



I know nothing of Chris Cech apart from the fact he recorded this wonderful album in his mother’s basement and it’s available to download from his Bandcamp site, which I advise you to do, as it recalls the manic pop thrills of the four great guitar ‘bs – Big Star, Beatles, Buzzcocks and Big Star again – without actually sounding like any of them. Actually it has more of a feel of the great Alex Chilton’s solo work and the early Go Betweens, but anyway it is brillant guitar music and has melodies aplenty and Chris has that rare pop nouse to make quite timeless gems sound like quite timeless gems, and this album is full of the little blighters. A very fine album indeedy.






Reviews/Brian ‘Bordellos’ Shea





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and, under the guises of the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it. We urge you all to keeping supporting; to keep listening.


The Legless Crabs ‘Be A Sadist’
LP/Available Now


If you remember a few weeks ago I reviewed a single from The Legless Crabs declaring them the future of rock n roll. Well they have just compiled a free to download LP of all their singles and EPs, and released it as a free to download compilation.

Essential is the word dear readers, essential! The early Mary Chain meets the Shaggs with a touch of Daniel Johnson and Pussy Galore thrown in, it’s dark and it has guts and a do not give a fuck attitude. It is a shambolic noisy stew of noise but with wonderfully written melodies and lyrics. The best band to come from the USA since the Banana Splits: no doubt about it.





No Exits ‘No Exists EP’
Available Now




The 80s post punk sound really is making a bit of a re-emergence, and why not, as when it’s done well it’s a fine thing indeed: and No Exits do it very well indeed.

Their music takes me back and has me thinking of very early Dead Or Alive and Theatre Of Hate with a touch of Soft Cell, and something about it really reminds me of Theatre Of Sheep (maybe its their guitar sound), but very entertaining nonetheless. So if the 80s post punk swirl is your thing you should really enjoy this fine EP.





The Loungs ‘Hey Brain’
(Fresh Hair Records) Single/Available Now




It’s nice to have those St Helens Psych Monkees The Loungs back after a far too long a layoff since their gem of a third LP, the 2015 baroque flavoured Short Circuit. And this little beauty carries on where that fine album left off. ‘Hey Brain’ being a quirky short stroll through the Summery psych of one’s past, recalling the woozy delights of the Super Furry Animals with a hint of the Zombies and Cat Stevens, but with a charm of their very own. A true delight, which could of only been better if it was called, “Hey Brian”.





DeathDeathDeath ft. Lomi MC ‘Love Is A Construct’
(Numavi Records) Single/Available Now




I love this. It’s rather quite beautiful and whoever says they don’t make pop music as quite magical as they used to do should be made to listen to this on repeat until they admit they are wrong. It has a wonderful warm quality about it that takes my aging mind back to the wonderful music of Jane and Barton. A soft summer aural seduction that I advise music lovers of all ages should allow themselves to be seduced by. They won’t be sorry.





Graham Domain ‘Waking World’
(Metal Postcard Records) EP/Available Now




What we have here is another EP from one of Manchester’s greatest hidden musical secrets. Yes, there is something quite engrossing about the music of Graham Domain, a certain quiet dignified subtle madness that completely beguiles. It has a dark seductive charm from the tinkling piano and synth strings and jazz bass that lures you into the textured dream of the songs, and as it pulls you in and you begin to lose yourself in the magic you then notice the beauty of the lyrics and the phrasing: nobody quite sings like Graham Domain anymore. I’m sure that somewhere along the line the quiet genius of his music will find a audience and hopefully the large one it deserves, plus on the track ‘What Love Means’ there is the best crazy synth solo one can ever hope to hear.





Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
LP/Available now




If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love, she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer. Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.





Drew Davies ‘Drew Davies’
(AD1) LP/Available now




Is the good old 80s the new 60s? I wonder as I’m getting sent a load of music that is so influenced by the decade. This LP by Drew Davies could have easily been released in that decade – if I hadn’t known better I would have thought this was a reissue of some album that slipped under the radar at the time.

Drew Davies obviously worships at the altar of David Bowie, which indeed is no bad thing. He could have worshiped at the altar of Stefan Denis, and do we really need that. Instead we are treated to the kind of album a major label would have released in the 80s pretending that it was an indie. It has the same polished Alt rock glamour and choruses that has the audience punching the sky while keeping one eye for the queue at the bar to thin out so you can send your girlfriend. It is in no way the greatest LP you will hear this year or any year from the 80s but you will certainly hear worse, and any fans of Billy Idol or 80s Bowie or even John Moores Expressway [remember them] will certainly enjoy this album as I did, as melodies and glamour do not age.





Dog Paper Submarine ‘Slippery Satellites’
(Small Bear) Album/Available Now




So we finally get the final LP by Dog Paper Submarine, two years after it was recorded, and it was indeed worth the wait as it is as always fine indie rock: part dEUS part Pixies, but all Dog Paper Submarine.

Clattering guitars, instrumental surf basslines, melodies that prod and gouge and caress are all one wants from their indie rock. To be honest I’m not a huge indie rock fan, I find it incredibly dull mostly these days, which again from a personal point of view makes this album and Dog Paper Submarine even more impressive, as this is a album I will play and enjoy, and that should be enough for any music lover.





Salem Trial ‘Head On Rong’
(Metal Postcard Records) Single/Available Now




I love this. From the start the explosive wall of Thin Lizzy like double lead guitars leap out at you and joyfully throttle you ears to death in the nicest possible way, whilst Beefheart like vocals and a melody catchy enough to hook yourself make for a whopper. It’s a song that has me yearning for the wild and drunken nights at the Royal Alfred in the late 80s, while being entertained by the wonderful local band The Volunteers, who made one mini album of sublime Beefheart frenzy called Bladder Of Life. This song reminds me of those days. That’s high praise indeed believe me. ‘Head On Rong’ is a must have for music lovers old and young alike.





It’s Karma It’s Cool ‘Woke Up In Hollywood’
Album/Available Now




If your thing is music with sparkling guitars and joy filled melodies then this album is for you. At times recalling Lloyd Cole with his Commotions and maybe a poppy REM after overdosing on the sun, songs shimmer and cast shadows of one string Rickenbacker guitar solos, the kind that The Bangles would embrace and comb their hair to whilst kissing posters of Gene Clark.

Woke Up In Hollywood is an album that exists to take one back to the golden days of the California sounds from the mid 60s through to power pop of the early 80s; from The Byrds to The Tremblers, even at times reminding me of the English Beat.

If you like, this is an album that should come with a large cut-out sun to hoist up into your room as the heat and pure light emerges from your stereo or laptop.





Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona




Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown – though many of our international followers, and those across the border in England, are tentatively coming out of isolation – join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

This week’s roundup takes on an unplanned devotional vibe, with many of the featured albums/EPs inspired or imbued by religious music and themes. The cellist, composer Simon McCorry is a case in point, his latest ambient drone soundscape The Light Only Blinds is guided in part by the Catholic liturgy of a Requiem Mass; though drifts and expands into the universal and space itself. Equally the stirring hushed beatific new EP from Swedish artist David Åhlén, ‘My Face Will Shine’, is also (among other things) inspired by Christian liturgy: especially the Biblical Psalms. Meanwhile, Bhajan Bhoy, the alter ego of Ajay Saggar, proves a transcendence of spiritual, talking to Yogi, style Kosmische and post-punk reverence. A strange performative alchemy is struck up between the collaborative union of Valentina Magaletti and Marlene Ribeiro on their mysterious, primal ‘tropical concrete’ communion Due Matte.

Not so spiritual, and untouched by the afflatus, Daniel J. Gregory (and his Carnivorous Plants) composes and assembles a ambient and lingering post-rock blues soundscape to the images he captured on a old Soviet camera, Fela Kuti disciples Les Frères Smith pack a punch on their explosive Afrobeat imbued new LP, Mutation. Love-Songs release their inaugural convolution of the organic and synthesized, Nicht Nicht, for the Hamburg label Bureau B. And finally, there’s the inaugural album from Carey Mercer’s new project Soft Plastics; an extraordinary, ambitious album at that.


Les Frères Smith ‘Mutation’
(Amour et Son) LP/22nd May 2020




Adepts of the Fela Kuti patois, the self-described musical ‘smugglers’ Les Frères Smith not only emulate their inspiration but even feature the Afrobeat progenitor’s youngest scion Seun Kuti on the group’s latest, and third, infectious bustle, Mutation.

Speaking Kuti fluently this eleven-strong group doesn’t just imitate the sun-bleached heralded horns, Tony Allen shuffles and entrancing grooves of the Nigerian superstar’s music but also channel his loosely delivered vocal protestations too. Always keeping it funky and suffused with a sauntered jostle even in the face of ever-growing tensions, the threat of increasingly hostile nationalism and the rise of populism the political slogans are liberally peppered or soulfully woven into the tapestry by the group’s rallying flanked singers and motivators Swala Emati and Prosper Nya. Les Frères Smith fill-in for Seun’s Egypt 80 on the splashed drum and Clav frills ‘No Waiting’: An impatient message of African unity rides over a signature nimble Afrobeat performance that has Seun deliver a usually cool vocal and swinging saxophone.

Of course these sonic contraband handlers of the faith will find their politics, freedom of movement even harder to evangelize in the current miasma of epidemic lockdown. For now, we’ll just have to let them musically take us on a backpack tour of riches. Because they don’t just fly Air Lagos but make stopovers in Cameroon (check out those basslines), Ghana, Guinea and on the shimmery fluted desert escape ‘Arouah’, Arabian North Africa. What they call the “Afrikanbeat” is a smooth merger of all these geographic scenes. Throw in some nitty, nifty Congolese guitar licks, some Orlando Julius lilted Afrojazz, reminisces of The Sweet Talks and Ebo Taylor, and then from across the seas, add a pinch of stateside soul sister Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, some Stevie Wonder and even a touch of The Brand New Heavies to find all the sunshine hustle grooves you could want.

Bedeviled, limbering, relaxed, Les Frères Smith lend a Gauloise flair to the Afrobeat blueprint on an album of bustled liberating energy.





Soft Plastics ‘5 Dreams’
(Paper Bag Records) LP/5th June 2020




From the embers of Frog Eyes rises Carey Mercer’s vivid dreamology, the Soft Plastics; an extraordinary-voiced inhabited vision, playful, untethered yet also intense. With partner and creative foil Mel Campbell at his side and an intimate circle of musicians – many of which are from the ranks of fellow Canadian scenesters Destroyer – Mercer’s abstract dreams are channeled into a magical, if often sad, songbook of lyrical symbolism, metaphor and passages of trauma.

Everyone is probably aware of the idiosyncratic songwriter’s travails, coming out the other side of throat cancer years ago; the very best outcome an affect on his music career and obviously his already unique bellowed, sibilant, fluctuating, weaving vocals. Though free from a cohesive theme as such, amongst the recurring lyrics of “swirling”, allusions to a green miasma, “wyld thyngs” and an actor’s diorama there’s the constant presence of “angels”: guardians perhaps. But it’s the album’s references (again, perhaps) to Mercer’s most dramatic episode on ‘The Party’s Still On’ that evocatively alludes to that diagnosis: “Knocked on the roof of my mouth, and said “shelter me in warmth”.

With some visions weighing heavier than others, and some darker, the inaugural LP under the Soft Plastics furnishing uses the imagery and lucid recall of Mercer’s dreams. These “remembrances” were sent to soundboard Joshua Wells (just one of the Destroyer cast that feature and help facilitate this album) as a foundation for, what is, a visceral journey through the musician/vocalist’s imaginings and augurs. It’s an ambitious world – not many albums come with a contextual-style essay. 5 Dreams “exists in a land that is deeply wet, dark, flooded” we’re told. The dank dampness is however broken by the occasional “gilded sun-beam” that “comes out of nowhere”, at which point “the song just stops and stares in bloody awe at what we are given, what we might see.”

Almost theatrical, the musical stage is expansive and deep; a counterbalance between the darkness and light. Sins, the omnipresence of a nuclear threat (of the winter, and family stasis kind), the pains of loss, and the biblical feature heavily on a soundtrack that omnivorously feeds on elements of lilted mariachi horns, industrial post-punk, ragged soul, new wave, shoegaze, pop, indie-dance, funk and Mercer’s back catalogue (Frog Eyes, Swan Lake). This means wandering hints of Blixa Bargeld, Talk Talk, Alex Harvey, Wolf Parade, The Mekons, New Pornographers and The Rapture. With a vocal freedom, between the languidly winding and more intense falsetto, the pathway traverses wildly imagined southern borderlands; a virtual dystopia where the hangman’s rope looms as a warning; a place where fascism lurks in the small towns. There’s something not quite right with this scene however; an artificial construct, peopled by willing (or unwilling) actors, playing the part of Mercer’s vivid dreamscapes and actions.

Mercer’s dream weaving evocations are, as I’ve already said, extraordinary on this ambitious, mesmeric album suite. Cryptic and charged, wondrous and yet dark, the Soft Plastics go further and deeper into the psyche to fathom the unfathomable. 5 Dreams warrants a place in every choice and best of the year lists at the end of this anxious, epidemic ravaged year. It really is that good.





Bhajan Bhoy ‘Bless Bless’
(Wormer Bros. Records)   LP/5th June 2020




Veiled in swathes of reverence and an afterglow of Gothic shoegaze, post-punk and the kosmische Ajay Saggar turns his fanned, flange reverberating guitar towards the transcendental on his first solo outing. Recently appearing in my January roundup as part of the Deutsche Ashram collaboration with Merinde Verbeck, Saggar extends that duo’s vaporous spiritual waves and dreamy translucence on this six-string led Eastern cosmology.

In case you missed the “blessed” anointed direction of this heavenly – if just as moodily mysterious and full of trepidation – panoramic opus, the alter ego “Bhajan” of this incarnation’s name refers to the amorphous devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. Synonymous with Hinduism, but also Jainism, this melodic raga form of worship has no set rules, and so fits in well with Saggar’s formless framework of layered melting guitar phrases, gossamer radiance, space-echo unit delay and ripples in the cosmic fabric atmospheres. Bhajan can be translated as “revere”, but also can be read as “sharing” too, and that’s what Saggar does: sharing his spiritual oeuvre of the esoteric and meditative.

We’re “welcomed” to this service with a brassy vibrating mantra: an introduction set-up for what’s to follow. The pouring guitar washes of Manuel Gottsching’s Ash Ra Temple permeate the album’s first long wave devotion ‘Strung Out’, which also features the Washington artist Prana Crafter as congruous communal collaborator. Those lingering six-string explorations increase with intensity as the traverse goes on; bending and craning with fuzz and scuzzy sustain in a Gunter Schickert fashion. Second guest spot goes to Holly Habstritt Gaal; her lulling siren coos beckon from the ether on the ethereal post-punk free-falling embrace ‘Cascade’.

On a pilgrimage of the magick and Indian mysticism, Saggar aligns wisps of Popol Vuh mantra otherworldliness with cause winds on the strangely titled ‘Stuck In A Barrel’, and casts a pulsing prodded synthesized spell of Roedelius arpeggiator and the Tangerine Dream on ‘Magicho’.

Whether drifting off after trekking the ‘King’s Mountain’, or circumnavigating the Kush interior, Saggar finds enlightenment in a cosmic vacuum. Sensory glides, harmonic rings, creepier growls, the twinkled and dub-y all merge on this ebbing tide of devotional music. Emerging from this isolation with a spirit of wonderment, Bhajan Bhoy reimagines a kosmische version of The Mission; a space rock Slowdive on an expansive multilayered guitar meditation.






Love-Songs ‘Nicht Nicht’
(Bureau B) LP/22nd May 2020




It shouldn’t come as a surprise to find the visceral electro-acoustic trio from Hamburg gravitating towards that incubator of Kosmische and expletory German electronica, the Bureau B label: A label that’s ranks include not just the second (or third) generation of Germany’s electronic and experimental music revolution but also some of the progenitors that started it, from surviving members of Faust to Roedelius.

Love-Songs inaugural convolution of the organic and defined for the label absorbs much of that pioneering providence, especially the Kosmische and the quasi-tribal, quasi-ceremonial wood-rim-clatter drums of Faust’s Zappi Diermaier.

A mysterious, sometimes Byzantium, invocation of the improvised, the synthesized and the acoustic, Nicht Nicht is a veiled world of amorphous resonance. There’s the use of Chinese cymbals that hints towards Tibetan and East Asian mysticism, what sounds like a clarinet or oud offers Egyptian fantasy, and the cattle bells evoke mountain cowherds of the Steppes. Add to this the utterances and chanted cadence of Love-Song’s vocalist Thomas Korf, which aren’t so much sung as lyrically described as they occupy the gauzy space. Korf’s lyrics are described as ‘Surrealist’, ‘Dada’, though I’d have no idea as he sings in German throughout.

Electronically sonic wise, pulsating bass throbs echo throughout this labyrinth alongside carefully, dare say sophisticated, arpeggiators, dark wave undercurrents and, when it really gets going, cybernetic techno beats. Suffused and vibrating with that air of mystery, Love-Songs create a stirring environment of reverberated tubular synthesized evaporations and both naturalistic scuttled rhythms and percussive trinkets. Nicht Nicht finds a balance between the two on a most experimental fusion of Kosmische, Techno and the mystical; an album that finds the trio pushing the boundaries further than ever.





Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro ‘Due Matte’
(Commando Vanessa) LP/11th June 2020




A communion of sonic forebode and untethered visions of the universal, the collaborative Due Matte performance ascension brings together Valentina Magaletti (of Vanishing Twins fame) and her foil Marlene Ribeiro (of both Gnod and Negra Brancia) to forge an uninterrupted exploration of what the artistic partnership has coined “tropical concrete”. A counterbalance of the improvised and form, the natural and augmented, synthesized effects and the acoustic, this tropical concrete soundscape weaves recognizable instrumentation with (as the ‘concrete’ of that term would suggest) a masked assemblage of found objects and utensils. And so, an ever-present tolled, processional frame drum patters out a repetitive beat as the trinkets of tapped bottles, scrapped tin and other metallic objects trickle or scratch across a mysterious alchemy of Latin esotericism and an ever-shifting echoed soundbed of filters.

Metal bucketing, the circled ringing of bowls, brushes across the surface of a drum skin, water-carriers, revolving mechanisms, rasps and rustling noises and sounds are all the more mysterious as they spiral or spindle on this magic-reality soundtrack. In a fluxes between the supernatural and dreamy, the lucid and hypnotizing reverberations of an ambiguous world, cast adrift of its moorings, stirs up various references: whether intentional or by happenstance – a spell of South East Asia one moment, the Nile and even an atavistic Iberia the next.

Cooing voices and obscured talking add another layer of mystique to the serial Gothic, religious and fantastical elementals.

This, the third release on the burgeoning Italian ‘boutique label’ Commando Vanessa, was originally performed as part of Francisca Marques’ curated project Hysteria; a result of the collaborators artistic residency at Sonoscopia in Porto, a project conceived to ‘offer a look at female production and creation in today’s musical universe, creating new bridges between creators and audiences.’ The fruits of this strange, mostly uncalculated vision of artistic freedom traverse a mirror-y, occasionally primal, world of abstracted death knolls and rituals, under a killing moon. Let’s hope there’s more to come from this congruous union in the future.






Simon McCorry ‘The Light Only Blinds’
(Herhalen Recordings) EP/14th May 2020




Proving prolific in this year of anxious isolation and lockdown misery, composer, artist and adroit cellist of renown Simon McCorry is once more conjuring up evocative soundscapes, both introspective and universal, on his latest ambient suite The Light Only Blinds. After two recent Monolith Cocktail premieres of McCorry standalone singles – the minimalist Acid Techno imbibed ‘Pieces Of Mind’ last month, and the stirring atonal ‘The Nothing That Is’ in February –, and following in the wake of the fully-realized escapist, haunted environments and materialized spaces of the ambiguous atmosphere-building Border Land LP, McCorry offers a trio of light inspired meditations on the power, immensity and light-giving properties of the Sun.

Veiled, longing and at times inhabiting the awe and mystery of Kubrick’s cinematic visions of space, the arid lunarscapes and terrains of this lightened sonic escapism are both magisterial and daunting. Though alien in parts, with passing leviathans and gauzy metallic gleams, saws and waves suffused throughout, the EP is not just bathed in the rays of the Sun but also loosely imbued by the themes (hence the Latin liturgy titles, ‘Sanctus’, ‘Benedictus’ etc.) of the Catholic Requiem Mass. Instead of the David Axlerod route, McCorry gravitates towards the almost supernatural Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Aventures suites of revered composer György Ligeti; all of which of course featured in Kubrick’s 2001AD, A Space Odyssey opus.

But this sacred wonderment at the Sun was also developed from the sound design work for a play that the ambient and neoclassical composer worked on in early March. “The theatre we were working in closed around us and the play only went as far as the first dress rehearsal. I’d been experimenting with a couple of analogue monosynths and liked the idea of using these as the sole source of sound design material. They have an unpredictable organic nature and paradoxically sound unnatural and alien. The play, Born Bad written by Debbie Tucker Green, is an intense family drama with a lot not said or on the verge of being said, it is an exercise in a slow build of tension that never quite overwhelms but threatens too as more and more is revealed. I wanted the sound design to be as if it is was the space, the hum of the electric appliances, lighting and heating, occasionally clawing it self into consciousness from a bed of churning chaos that lies behind everything.

The prevailing bed of those hums, undulations and waves sit under a synthesis of universal secrets, as enervated solar winds blow across the moonscapes and interiors, and shrouded movements trigger unearthly stirrings and shooting stars fly by in the night sky. An escapist soundtrack, McCorry’s subtle enlightened contemplations prove atmospherically evocative, another quality suite of minimalist gravity.






David Åhlén ‘My Face Will Shine’
(Jivvär) EP/15th May 2020




You may remember we premiered the Swedish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Åhlén’s moving hymnal ‘If I Have You’ single, recently on the Monolith Cocktail. A whispery diaphanous veiled plaint that’s informed and inspired by the artist’s study of mystical Judeo-Christian texts on the Swedish Island of Gotland, and his own personal faith, this most beatific and angelic of songs also features on the new release, the devotional My Face Will Shine EP.

Though faith has once more concentrated the minds of many during this epidemic – you could say there’s been a resurgence -, society in general still casts a cynical derision of suspicion at those who practice religion. A lot of Christian music is of course dire, especially the modern happy-clappy sort. Åhlén though has found a gossamer balance between the choral-backed worship lament of tradition and a breathtakingly heart aching form of chamber pop.

Particularly moved by the Biblical Psalms, lyrics from the first single – lines such as “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waters” – are directly inspired by Psalm 42, as David explains: “Many of the lyrics for the EP are about the mystery of our soul speaking to God and the longing that follows”. Musically steeped in this traditional influence and spiritual yearning, ‘If I Have You’ like the rest of the music on this EP are elevated further towards the heavenly by the inclusion of the holy tones of The Boy’s Choir Of Gotland and a an attentive, sympathetic chamber ensemble.

Åhlén’s hushed and cooed falsetto softly ascends the Cloisters atmosphere like a yearning, robed, Antony Hegarty taking communion. The reverence is suffused across all four spiritual elevations, from the beautifully wooed and bowed longing string accompanied stunner ‘My Face Will Shine’, through to the ethereal Biblical cosmology ‘Shamayim’ (the Hebrew word for “heaven”).

My Face Will Shine offers a full immersion into the devotional and longing; a connection to a higher calling you could say; a step away from our own preoccupations into the moody chamber pop of holy reverence. Aside from the spiritual leanings, many will find this an incredibly constructed heartfelt and beautiful record.




Daniel J. Gregory & Carnivorous Plants ‘Dusty Starlight’
(Kirigirisu Recordings) LP/Available Now




From rifling through workshop drawers like a sound burglar, to lending the most lingering traces of post-rock and blues-y guitar to attuned radio/TV broadcasts from an unspecified European geography, Daniel J. Gregory’s minimal sonic collage for the Japan-based Kirigirisu label is an album of channeled refracted landscapes. From mountains to coastlines and cities, Gregory’s serial synthesis of guitar and textured drones and winding mechanisms soundscapes give a sound and visceral life to pictures taken on an ‘old Soviet camera’.

A photo album given an assemblage of ambient resonate waveforms and more noisy musique-concrète, Dusty Starlight passes through ‘Blue Holland’ colour palette waterways and scrapped contours of a vague landscape. Foreign transmissions intermittently crackle and spark into action but offer only more mystery. You can even hear the artist himself counting in, or, in soliloquy style mumbling under his breath on the rummaging ‘V’.

Over various hums, signals, static, chains, clicks, camera loading and caustic interference Gregory plays various electric guitar renderings. Played with a light touch, these sometimes reverberating, often rippled and drifting trails linger between touches of Craig Ward, Spaceman 3 era Jason Pierce and Raül Refree. On the album’s final Roman numeric entitled ‘VII’ there’s even a hint of a more enervated, less dark, Sunn O))). But this could be framed as a kind of post-rock blues; a style not too dissimilar to the label boss Neil Debnam’s very own Broken Shoulder/Flying Kites alter egos.

A soundtrack in many ways that offers a strange collage of found, usable object manipulations and tremulous experimental guitar, the Dusty Starlight album looks through a removed lens at a scarred, displaced landscape. One that’s more mysterious and subtly stirring than dystopian or even haunting. This old Soviet tech offers another angle on ambient experimentation.






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.

PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’





By now we’ll probably all aware and getting jaded by the constant newsroll of Covid-19 horror stories, and the ominous stench of pandemic armageddon. To return to some sort of normality, the Monolith Cocktail promises to keep finding all the best new music for you to enjoy and mull over. No cheap epidemic cash-ins and no tenuous links to self-promotional lockdowns here. Just great music, which we hope you will all keep supporting during these anxious uncertain times.

For those of you that have only just joined us as new followers and readers, our former behemoth Quarterly Playlist Revue is now no more! With a massive increase in submissions month-on-month, we’ve decided to go monthly instead, in 2020. The March playlist carries on from where the popular quarterly left off; picking out the choice tracks that represent the Monolith Cocktail’s eclectic output – from all the most essential new Hip-Hop cuts to the most dynamic music from across the globe. New releases and the best of reissues have been chosen by me, Dominic Valvona, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Matt Oliver.



THE TRACKS IN FULL ARE:

Lunar Bird  ‘A Walk’
TrueMendous  ‘Hmmm’
Awale Jant Band  ‘Just Be Free’
Mdou Moctar  ‘Ibitlan’
Collocutor  ‘The Angry One’
Superposition  ‘Antiplace’
The Stroppies  ‘Holes In Everything’
Pozi  ‘Whitewashing’
Loose Fit  ‘PULL THE LEVER’
The National Honor Society  ‘First Among The Last’
Jacqueline Tucci  ‘Fear’
Jaga Jazzist  ‘Spiral Era (EDit)’
Jennifer Touch  ‘Attic’
Bedd  ‘Auto Harp’
The Saxophones  ‘Flower Spirit’
Schizo Fun Addict  ‘Whiskey’
Ploom  ‘Swish’
Tamikrest  ‘Amidnin Tad Adouniya’
Hifiklub & Roddy Bottum  ‘David Says’
Rowland S Howard  ‘Pop Crimes’
The Hannah Barbeas  ‘No Majesty’
The Proper Ornaments  ‘Broken Insect’
Irreversible Entanglements  ‘No Mas’
Nduduzo Makhathini  ‘Indawu’
Masta Ace  ‘GMO’
Riz Ahmed  ‘Fast Lava’
Voodoo Black  ‘Fizzy’
dug & Hassan el HoBo  ‘Electric Sheep’
Harold Nano  ‘Menton Train Jump’
Slitty Wrists  ‘Su-Mi-Ma-Sen’
Shortwave Research Group  ‘Perpetual Midnight’
Cult Of The Damned (Lee Scott, Mikavelli, BeTheGun, Bill Shakes, Sly Moon & Saler)  ‘OFFIE’
Run The Jewels Ft. Greg Nice & DJ Premier  ‘Ooh LA LA’
Super Inuit  ‘Mothering Tongue’
Sebastian Reynolds  ‘The Universe Remembers’
Chouk Bwa & The Angstromers  ‘Move Ten’
Tom Caruana  ‘Dennis The Space Hopper’
Clear Soul Forces  ‘Chinese Funk’
Ghostwood Development Project Ft. Kool Keith  ‘Gulley’
Bishop Nehru  ‘Too Last’
Nomad, Chester P  ‘Athens In Mordor (Secondson Remix)’
Cut Beetlez. Nice Guys  ‘Cut Ya Ass Up’
Jehst  ‘Wild Herb’
Mr Key  ‘Kids Story 2’
Pwaz One, DJ Dister, Akrobatik  ‘No Contest’
Estee Nack, Superior ft. Daniel Son  ‘POPROCKCLASSICS’



And Now, A Word From Our Founder

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





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres, which I hope you will support in these anxious times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

From Java, there’s the latest project from the Hive Mind label in collaboration with Indonesian music digger Kai Riedl, a showcase of 2007 recordings from Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan plus a number of reworked transformations from a host of sonic and electronic artists. Various Maghreb artists from the 80s and 90s Lyon café and club scene can be heard for the first time on vinyl with a new compilation from Bongo Joe, the electrified Raï, Chaoui and Staifi K7 Club collection. Formed in London, the combined talents of Senegal singer/songwriter Biram Seck and French guitarist foil Thibaut Remy come together once more under the Awale Jant Band umbrella for another Afrobeat and soul showcase, Yewoulen. I also take a look at the Passepartout Duo of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito’s amorphous travelogue peregrination through Switzerland, the Caucasus, former Soviet Asiatic satellites and China performances, Vis-à-Vis; available next month on vinyl and digitally.

There’s also the upcoming Mexican cross border fraternization musical odyssey from Sergio Mendoza and his Orkesta, Curandero.

Back in Europe jazz bassist extraordinaire Ville Herrala is doing inventive things as a solo artist with the double bass; releasing his debut experimental LP for the Helsinki label We jazz. Still in a European jazz setting, there’s the debut LP from the disruptive JZ Replacement pairing of Zhenya Strigalev and Jamie Murray; the saxophonist and his drummer foil collide together with a myriad of rhythms and ideas to kick jazz into a new decade. We also have the most recent ambient voyage across graph paper from Moonside Tape’s founder Jimmy W, Midi Canoe.


Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan   ‘Javasounds Vol.1: Jaipongan Music Of West Java’   (Hive Mind) LP/6th March 2020




Borne from a dire situation, Indonesian composer and choreographer Gugum Gumbira circumnavigated the country’s authoritarian ban on rock and roll by creating the traditional infused Jaipongan style. Hidden beneath a hybrid of honest harvesting ritual music and atavistic gamelan lay a more sensual spark that encouraged dancing intimacy and a rapid, galloping rhythm that pushed this musical form towards rock: seen by those who made it and loved it as a rebellious gesture. The authorities seemed to have been unaware of its creator’s motives, as the dynamic sound spread throughout the country, unabated, finding favour amongst both the working classes and more affluent.

Mesmerizing with its quickened, often complicated, rhythms – which either flow constantly like a trickle or tumble in a sporadic fit – and bowed quivers, Jaipongan percussion and undulated metallophones are counterbalanced by untethered vocals of romantic and humbled wooing; sung, in this case, on this new edition of Gumbira recordings by the beautiful aria fluctuating Idjah Hadidjah. Gumbira met his muse in the early 80s, luring the iconic singer away from the Sundanese Shadow Puppet Theatre to join his Jugala Orchestra troupe; a collaboration that would go on to last the decade. They would reunite in 2007, recording at the Jugala Studios in Bandung, Java, backed by the studio’s house band. That session now forms the basis of this new vinyl/digi release from Hive Mind and the Indonesian music evangelist Kai Riedl, who present six original tracks from that reunion and a second disc of ‘reworks’ from a variety of contemporary artists in the field of soundscaping and sonic transformations. Riedl, of the Indo-influenced Macha band, has plenty of experience in this sector having made trips to the island of Java with sound engineer Suny Lyons in the noughties to record everything from solo string players to thirty-member gamelan orchestras, in locations as diverse as a darkly-lit nightclub to off-the-grid hideaways. As facilitators they offer up a showcase of the genre’s most entrancing siren and backing group.

Transporting the listener towards the gateway of an exotic unfamiliar geography, the resonating chimes, trinkets, gongs and clapping woody undulations, in fits and starts, playfully evoke both the earthy and ethereal in equal measure. Songs like ‘Sanja’ have a rustic, ritualistic vibe, yet the accelerating rhythm and beat suggests the club dancefloor.





Those Javanese intonations and accentuate sounds are transformed with this package’s Riedl instigated ‘reworks’, an extension of his project to open-up access to the music of Indonesia to western musicians. A range of assemblage inventive artists takes the source material on a journey of variously successful experiments: a music that lends itself well to this treatment as it happens. The North Carolina based artists Bana Haffar turns in a slow trance-y skying vision of the tumbling ‘Hiji Catetan’. N.Y. based musician Bergsonist transduces gamelan into signaled code on her dreamy Orbital-esque remembrance transformation, and Indonesian composer, sound-designer Fahmi Mursyid ratchets up the material with a Autechre breakdown of rewiring, buzz saw beats, dropped metallic ball bearings and zapped bass. For the most part these reworks wander in a serialism and ambient fashion of transcendence; the use of Hadidjah’s startling vocals especially lends itself well to these float-y deconstructions: It’s Jaipongan, but not as we know it.

This latest well-chosen project from the label and friends is another enticing, captivating window into a musical world few of us are even aware of: A great discovery eastwards, with more to follow hopefully.





JZ Replacement  ‘Disrespectful’
(Rainy Days Record)  LP/13th March 2020




Positively disruptive rather than ‘disrespectful’ to the fundamentals of jazz, the ‘symbiosis’ (as they call it) pairing of saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev (Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland) and drummer Jamie Murray (Sun Ra Arkestra, Native Dancer) play hard and frantically fast with the genre on their latest union, JZ Replacement.

Crossing paths regularly on the London jazz stage, Strigalev has already made an appearance on Murray’s solo project, Beat Replacement. Pooling that talent once more for a new iteration, the JZ duo flex, bounce and distort an abundance of contemporary influences, from trip-hop to d’n’b, on their debut album. Recording with the very much in demand bass guitar maestro Tim Lefebvre – a member of Donny McCaslin’s troupe that famously backed Bowie on his last curtain call -, who brings yet another eclectic layer of dynamism to the polygenesis stew, the JZ pile full-throttle through off-kilter accelerations, breakbeats, hard-bop and vague Eastern European folk traditions to knock jazz into a new decade.

They’re as connected to Roni Size’s own transformative 90s fusions as they are to both modern North American and European jazz, and the explorative deconstructions of Ornette Coleman; blending in a dramatic, sometimes hardcore, fashion a spiraling vortex of squawking bleats with rattling erratic drumming. The previously featured ‘Tubuka’ is an example of those wide-ranging influences; skulking along as it does to a Massive Attack like broody bass line and a dubby post-punk menace before being harried by Murray’s drums and the spooked elephant heraldings of Strigalev’s saxophone. Wavering between a number of rhythmic and intense step-changes, the duo deftly react with both a rush and relaxed vigor. ‘Marmalade For Radhika’ changes that dynamic again with a sweetened drifting exploration that wafts through lingering traces of Savoy label jazz, the blues and the Cuban. But you’re just as likely to hear staccato jerks, short bursts of no wave Blurt and Liquid Liquid, hovering flange, space echoes and piercing squalls in a suffusion of ever-progressive performances.

Two artists at the height of their imaginative prowess, the JZ show a healthy disrespect for conventions as they blast apart the jazz scene; yet somehow make the intensity and waywardness flow. More please!





Awale Jant Band   ‘Yewoulen (Wake Up)’
(ARC)   LP/27th March 2020




Predominantly imbued by the Senegalese heritage and ‘gawlo’ storyteller tradition of this London-formed polygenesis collective’s songwriter/singer Biram Seck, and by some of its drumming/percussionist circle, the Awale Jant Band effortlessly broadens its musical horizons with another loose fusion of Afrobeat, soft heralded horn section soul and bustled funk. A merger of the Dakar-born dynamic Jant band and French guitarist foil Thibaut Remy’s Awale group, the lilted unison of West African and European musicianship once more leaps into action on the debut follow-up Yewoulen.

It’s a title which when translated from the Wolof people’s language – the dialect that Seck mostly sings in – of Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania encourages a “wake up” call. A unifying wake up call that is, with many of the both expressively joyful and sadder yearns driven by injustice and a need for understanding in a morosely hostile society. First though, there’s romanticism of a sort in the form of the album’s ascendant, snozzled horn and soft rolling, rattled and skipping ‘Sope’; a tender love paean that features a soulful trilling Seck vocally crossing paths with Al Green and Youssou N’Dour – which is handy, as the group’s Senegalese percussionist Medoune Ndiaye was a member of his backing group. Equally as loving, even sweet, is the Highlife with echoes of South America celebration ‘Amandine’; written by Remy as a dedication his first daughter. Staying with the upbeat (musically speaking), there’s what sounds like a busy groove-generated stopover in Lagos with the mellow Kuti vibes funk ‘Domi Adama’; a live feel track with plenty of swirling horns and bobbing sabra drumming action, courtesy of Fofoulah’s Kaw Secka). It’s followed by the Accra vibe and Stax Watts’s horn blasting song of happiness ‘Cubalkafo’.

In the more poignant and societal-political vane, Seck pays a plaintive jazzy lament to an old friend on the two-speed cantaloupe ‘Jules’, and comments on the sensitive issue of ritual circumcision on the African-rock lilted ‘Kassak’.

The message though is one of shared ancestry and a coming together for the benefit of others in an increasingly unsympathetic and dangerous world. This combined force of musicians does it with a real swerve on a groove that is constantly, gently moving between the spiritual and the soulful and funky. The Awale Jant Band turns in another great showcase of cross-fertilized rhythms.




Ville Herrala  ‘Pu:’
(We Jazz)  LP/21st February 2020




The Helsinki label of We Jazz is one that excels in pushing and remixing the boundaries of contemporary jazz; especially the role of the soloist, turning out vividly dexterous breathing experiments in counter-flow looped saxophone with Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s Imagine Giving Up, and now a suite of taut and quivering string and rhythmic slapped bodywork miniatures played using only the double-bass, by the Finnish bassist Ville Herrala.

A mainstay of the much admired Scandinavian jazz scene, the Turku born native has lent his adroit skills to such scene-setters as PLOP, Otto Donner, U-Street All Stars, Jukka Eskola Orquesta Bossa and the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Stepping out from the group set-up, the conservatoire graduate goes solo for his debut LP Pu:. Herrala knocks, pads and bends out-of-shape the familiar bass sound to often take on the characteristics of a distressed cello. Consisting of fourteen vignettes split between the bowed and rhythmic, Pu: balances the springy and elasticated with the spindled and ponderous on an album of various moody experiments. ‘Pu:2’ (all the track titles by the way have this suffix) has the sort of quivery sustain intro you might expect to hear on a Hendrix record – hanging on an air-string before launching into a wild psychedelic scream – whilst ‘Pu:6’ has the double-bass almost mooing. In the minimalist, more sound experiment camp, the pendulous ‘Pu:3’ sounds like something scuttling in the attic, and the pitter-patter ‘Pu:5’ sounds like Herrala’s rolling a ball-bearing across the spider-like strings.

There’s oblique runs up the fretboard, bows across the bridge and saw-motioned tautened frictions throughout an LP that is equally as morose and haunted as it is mysteriously avant-garde. Semi-classical, semi-jazz, semi-minimalist and semi-soundscape, Pu: is an inventive suite of articulations, tones and atmospheres fashioned from a double bass in discomfort; stretched to its limits. Herrala proves a congruous edition to a most explorative jazz label on the fringes of reinvention.





Jimmy W  ‘Midi Canoe’
(Moonside Tapes)  LP/22nd February 2020




Featured recently in the last Tickling Our Fancy revue with his Kirigirisu Recordings enabled Singapore Police Background collaboration with fellow ambient peregrination explorer Dan Burwood, James Wilson is back this month with an equally minimal atmospheric solo under the Jimmy W appellation. Released via his own brilliant limited cassette specialist label Moonside Tapes, his latest ebb and flow traverse, Midi Canoe, flutters and drifts across crackling graph paper. A concatenate collection of vignettes, passages and extracts, Wilson builds a evanescent soundtrack of static fields, snozzled foggy wafts and air flows; pricked by bendy space warbles, metallic shivers and a gliding piano. There’s also a masked twinkled chime that sounds like a marimba, falling like droplets on a bedding of gauzy washes.

Tracks like ‘Unnameable Little Broom’ are given a Casio preset choral effect lull, whereas the poetically surreal evoked ‘It Was Evening All Afternoon’ has an air of early Cluster.

Showing just how well read this ambient composer is, there’s a third-note emphasized chiming mirage with space birdy warbled piece entitled ‘Mr. Cogito’s Last Dream’; a reference to the Polish author-poet Zbigniew Herbert’s philosophical canvas everyman of the title, the protagonist of a number of reflective, questioning dialogues and poems written under the despair of Communism. Getting technical, there’s an overlap of ghostly trailing notes and repeated nice piano motifs piece that refers to the white notes ‘Lydian’ scale. A mode as it were, this particular scale includes all the notes of an F scale without the Bb.

A suffused wash of enervated motorization and dreamy resonance, Wilson’s Midi Canoe is a mysterious voyage of inner meditation and the otherworldly that’s well worth seeking out. And whilst you are at it, take a look through the whole Moonside catalogue, especially the 2018 abstract hand-painted Mhva LP Scend, a concentrated vapour of sublime ambience.





Passepartout Duo   ‘Vis-à-Vis’
(AnyOne)   LP/10th April 2020




A project that sadly now seems inconceivable in the face of a growing coronavirus pandemic, the freely traversing duo of Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito use the sounds and discoveries of a journey they made from Switzerland, via the Caucasus and former Soviet Asiatic satellites, to China. In conjunction with the AnyOne Beijing arts company label and curatorial platform to promote experimental and contemporary classical music to a ‘budding’ Chinese audience, the Passepartout Duo collaboration is a transportive album of scrap-built instruments and synthesized peregrinations, split into two separate seventeen-minute amorphous soundtracks.

The first part of these cross-panoramic sound adventures, ‘Heartwood’, expresses a sense of time passing; the metronome ticking away as the cycles of chimed strikes, sonorous drones and scuttling wooden undulations make way to crystalized gleams, spindled mechanisms and vague echoes of gamelan. The final section of this journey moves through uninterrupted duel divided melodies, glassy tubular drops and low veiled foghorn bass until ending on a trance-y spell.

The titular track begins with a busier sonic language of clanging and mallet metallics, overlapped with what sounds like an avant-garde video arcade of speed shifts, trickles and pattered Orientalism.

You’re never really sure of which terrain you might be passing through at any given time on this exploratory project of neo-classical travelogues, and that’s what’s so magical about it: anticipating what sonic landscape might come next, or where the duo will take us. In the process Vis-à-Vis flows through an undefined geography to create something fresh and different; a soundtrack untethered, if you will, to a particular time and place.




Orkesta Mendoza  ‘Curandero’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/10th April 2020




Another crisscrossing romp over the southern border, scion of the Calexico-Giant Sand-Xixa axis of Arizona-Mexican fusions, Sergio Mendoza once more leads his Orkesta out across a fertile musical geography on his new LP, Curandero.

And yet again, Mendoza pays a special homage to the sounds and myriad of styles he heard growing up between his two homes of Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico on an album that is playful and varied.

With an emphasis on pop, this guest heavy follow-up to 2016’s ¡Vamos A Guarachar! Has a more commercial and light sound. Recorded at a breakneck pace, without much planning. Mendoza and his collaborators go with the flow and mood on a Latino odyssey of reinvigorated musical staples. Songs like the 50s rock’n’roll tonk and cowbell tapping ‘Eres Official’ are meant to evoke the ghost of Buddy Holly, but also stir-up Ritchie Valens. US singer of Latin soul, violinist and fellow Arizona native Quetzal Guerrero makes one of many appearances on this low-rider wolf-whistle of a song. Mendoza says he was thinking about Stuart Copeland of The Police and his loud up the front in production style of drums when recording the bubbly undulated heatwave ‘Head Above Waters’. It sounds though like a jolly trek across the desert with Paul Simon in tow. The strangest flash of inspiration is with the broody love song ‘Little Space’, which features Nick Urata of Devotchka crooning like a mix of the Big O and Chris Isaak. Supposedly starting out like The Jam, Mendoza seems to have instead transformed The Beatles ‘I’m Looking Through You’ with the popular folk tradition of cumbia – a style that has had a renaissance in the last decade; modified, transmogrified to fuse with anything going, including electronica and dance music.

From the rambunctious to sauntering, cumbia is just one of the many Central and South American genres to make this LP. Expect to also hear concertina and raunchy ‘rancho’, blasted and serenaded ‘mariachi’, echoes of Joey Bataan and Andrew Sisters, the ‘boogaloo’ and matinee idol Mexican R&B on this sprawling songbook.

Mendoza is having a great time with all this, as he builds a musical escapism that one minute offers the corney, the next, a Ska like gallop across the border towards the Amazon. It’s a whistle-stop tour of lo fi Casio preset shimmy accompanied cruise ship lounge bars, wistful pining Western savannahs and Tijuana parties; a pop and rock celebration of a multifaceted and inspiring cross border melting pot, with something for everyone.




Various   ‘Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997’
(Sofa Records & Bongo Joe)   LP/27th March 2020




Music from the North African geography of the Maghreb as you’ve probably never heard it; shimmying with Arabian trinkets, rapid tabbing hand drums and exotic sand dune fantasy certainly, yet made otherworldly cosmic and electro-fied for the burgeoning democratized age of affordable low end tech: welcome to the Arabian expat scene in 80s and 90s Lyon.

From the assured collators Bongo Joe and, on this compilation, their partners Sofa Records a eight-song collection of Casio-preset and synthesized transformed musical poetry and lovelorn heartache from a myriad of Algerian artist’s that congregated around the French city’s North Eastern African café and bar hub. Joints such as the Le But Café, the Croix-Rousse and Guillotière were home to a social network hive of activity for conducting business and booking appearances for weddings, galas and studio sessions.

Musically a crossover of the Oran City folk Raï tradition and Zendari rhythm festive Staifi style from back home, the electrified sounds that emanated from this fertile scene were mostly distributed on cassettes, released by facilitators like Top Music, Édition Merabet and SEDICAV. Extraordinarily, and the reason for this collection, vinyl was discarded for the cheap and flexible culture of tape sharing at the time. The fast turnover, not only in recording these tracks but also in getting them on the market, cut out the middleman and helped foster a thriving local distribution network. Still, the power seemed to be with the publishers who could not only modify the lyrics but tamper with the style itself – adding synthesizer and drums – without seeking consent or even running it by the artists that recorded them. This led to some interesting results, as you’ll hear.

For the first time ever, the Maghreb K7 Club LP makes available a smattering of tracks on vinyl; tunes like the Arabian milky way swish ‘Maliky a Malik’ by Zaidi El Batni – which has a strange intro; someone’s footsteps walking through a cheap echo-chamber effect and some slapping – and the bandy, slinky liquid pop mirage with soothing female sighs ‘Goultili Bye Bye’ by funk-disco maestro Nordine Staïfi. Nordine gets two bites of the dancefloor glazed cherry on this album; his second feature, the infectious whistle-and-clap ‘Zine Ezzinet’ is a standout highlight – imagine an Arabian Nile Rodgers mixing down an Orange Juice funk.

Elsewhere, 808 rattles and harmonium merge with spirited song, whilst heavy accentuated Algerian romanticism is augmented by a Miami soundclash of electro beats. Though the most blatant use of that synthesizer influence is found with Salah El Annabi’s Francophone ‘Hata Fi Annabi’, which unexpectedly drops in a whole chunk of Jean-Michel Jarre’s famous ‘Oxygene’ to the mix.

The 90s sourced tracks in this collection are for obvious reasons more polished, but there’s a certain innocence and fuzzy sheen that I quite like about those older, 80s recordings.

Worth a punt just to own ‘Zine Ezzinet’ – fast becoming one of my favourite, essential movers of the year -, this compilation from Bongo Joe and friends is a wonderful platform to discover another bit of ear-opening musical history.



The Monolith Cocktail is now on the micro-payment donation site Ko-Fi:


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.



Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical -monolith cocktail


A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

This week’s roll call of honours includes A Journey Of Giraffes, Northwest, Ranil and Violet Nox.


Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’
(Analog Africa)   Teaser from the upcoming LP ‘Iquitos – Amazonía – Perú’, released 20th March 2020



Drifting back towards the Amazon, Analog Africa – via their congruous Limited Dance Editions imprint – once more float upstream towards the outposts of the South American continent to discover the sauntering sumptuous delights of ‘cumbia’ music. Venturing past the city of Manaus and past the Brazilian/Peruvian border, to the city of Iquitos. It might be fatalistic or encouraging depending on your feelings about the film, but the remote Iquitos, completely cut off from the Peruvian coast, accessible only by air and water, and surrounded by impenetrable forests, was where Werner Herzog filmed the maddening visionary Fitzcarraldo: the epic story of one man’s struggle to bring opera to the Amazon; the travails of which entailed dragging a great big paddle ship over a mountain. Cut off then from the outside world, this lush if hardy place to eke out a living, incubated a novel version of the famous, polygenesis folkloric music.

Though everyone on the continent has had a go at adopting and tinkering with the original form, the melodious Cumbia hails from Colombia. Informed by a trio of cultural influences it can be broken down as thus: the rhythmic foundations derive from Africa, the indigenous offer up the flute-y sound, and the Europeans the costume and choreography. In recent times it has been electrified, adopted by untold contemporary bands.

Iquitos’ favourite son of cumbia Raúl Llerena Vásquez – known to the world as Ranil – was a Peruvian singer, bandleader, record-label entrepreneur and larger-than-life personality who moved to the heady lights of the capital, Lima where he swirled the teeming buzz of the Amazonian jungle, the unstoppable rhythms of Colombian and Brazilian dance music, and the psychedelic electricity of guitar-driven rock-and-roll into a knock-out, party-starting concoction.

When Ranil returned to Iquitos after several years teaching in small towns, he assembled a group of musicians and prepared to take the city’s nightlife by storm. His unique blend of galloping rhythms and trebly, reverberant guitar was so successful that he was soon able to take his new band to Lima to record their first record at MAG studios, where many of Peru’s most successful psych, rock and salsa bands began their recording careers.

Yet Ranil had no intention of entering into the indentured servitude that comes with signing one’s life away to a record company. Instead he established Produccions Llerena – possibly the first record label founded in the Peruvian Amazon – which allowed him to maintain complete control over the release and distribution of his music. His fearsome negotiation skills and his insistence on organising his own tours turned him into one of the central figures of the Amazonian music scene.

Although his records were popular throughout the region, Ranil never sought his fortune in the capital, preferring to remain in his hometown of Iquitos where, in recent decades, he has concentrated his considerable energies on his radio and television stations, and become involved with local civic politics. Yet his legacy has continued to grow among those fortunate enough to track down copies of his legendary – and legendarily difficult to find – LPs.

Ranil’s extraordinary output has remained one of the best-kept secrets among collectors of the genre and psychedelic Latin sounds.

Ahead of the Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical album we’re sharing just one of the three teaser tracks currently doing the rounds; the sauntering lilted and scrappy ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’. This will go some way to keeping you warm during these miserable rain-lashed and freezing winter months.

Of interest from the Archives:

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special

Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo ‘Siriá’ Compilation Review

Bitori ‘Legend of Funaná ‘The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands’ LP Review

Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ Review


Northwest ‘All Of A Sudden’
(Temple Arts) Video





On occasion, due to time constraints and the sheer volume of requests/submissions thrust upon the Monolith Cocktail each day (let alone week or month) the odd sublime band slips through our hands. The adroit cerebral and artfully beautiful Northwest duo is one such example of this: though we managed to at least feature the slow-released beatific ‘The Day’ lull in our last ever Quarterly Revue Playlist, at the end of 2019. Taken from the duos most recent (and second) album of subtle yearning pop and neo-classical lent mini-opuses II, the achingly ethereal voiced and purposeful heart-breaking ‘All Of A Sudden’ has been furnished with a new video. A favourite not only of ours but the duo themselves, who consider it one of the best songs they’ve ever written (they might just be right on that), Northwest’s heavenly voiced Mariuca García-Lomas explains that the message behind this tender feely classically brushed and gauze-y trembled strings evocation has been difficult to express before in words. Hopefully these metaphorically blinded and bandaged visuals – recorded on an emotionally charged cold morning in an English garden – will enlighten us further.

Taking the plunge a few years back, quitting their jobs in the bargain and relocating to the UK, Mariuca and her foil Ignacio Simón have released two albums so far under the Northwest moniker, though they also appear under various other guises – this particular incarnation of the duo expands to accommodate a small chamber orchestra. They’ve also recently launched their own label hub, Temple Arts, for all theses projects; a one-stop platform you could say. Not confined to just breathtaking music, they’ve also released a series of little films and performances, two manifestos, organized an arts festival in a church in London and collaborated with a wealth of other artists, such as dancers and costume designers.

Romantically plaintive with a political dimension, their last video-track ‘Pyramid’ (taken from the first LP) was directed by the artist Álvaro Gómez-Pidal on 16mm film and used a drawn-on-film animation technique. This latest visual accompaniment is no less sublime.

Of interest from the Archives

Quarterly Revue Playlist Part 4



Violet Nox  ‘Future Fast’
(Sleep FUSE)  EP/Out Now





A slightly disorientating and ominous vision of futurism waits on the new unearthly cybernetic EP from the Boston, Massachusetts synth-heavy troupe Violet Nox. Gazing into the mainframe this quartet of light-bending minimal techno and ambient explorers fashion a strange cosmology from their tech setup. The subtly engineered wispy and whispery vapour trail opening ‘Cosmic Bits’ features an ever-intense soundscape of lightbeams, downplayed acid burbles, resonating satellite signals and air-y sine waves. It also reminded me a bit of the organic subterranean trance of the Future Sound of London and various records put out by the R&S and Hart House labels in the early to mid 90s. The moist atmospheric ‘Moonshine’ merges post-punk with bity techno, with its use of what sounds like flange-y guitar – though this could be the sound of a guest ‘ukulele’ – reverberations, bendy effects and cybernetic voices on an increasingly mind-altering journey. More metallic robotic like voices can be found on the fizzle lashed echo-y ‘Superfan’ – a track that just keeps getting weirder and nosier as it progresses – whilst ‘Bell Song’ sends those broadcasts and masked annunciations into a vacuum of trance-y tubular ambience and vague percussive industrial washes.

More intriguing and mysterious than dystopian augur, Violet Nox’s warped explorations prove intriguing and adroit in navigating brave new (alien) worlds.



A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
LP/Out Now





Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. The safari has moved, in more recent years, away from Lane’s Beach Boys imbued driftwood suites to more ambient and traversing experimental influences. Previous excursions from the Baltimore composer include an aimless supernatural field-recorded walk through the forest, – a mixture of Arthur Russell meets Panda Bear and Alejandro Jodorowsky in John’s Maryland backyard -, and the love letter to the late Japanese electronic composer Susumu Yokota, Kona – a ceremonial, Zen like soundtrack that evokes the Fourth World Possible Musics of Jon Hassell, Popol Vuh and the higher plain communal glistened zither transcendence of Laraaji.

The latest album looks to the edges of Eastern Europe, where the Caucasus meets the Middle East, and the mysterious of Armenia. A land much disputed, fought over and most tragically, its population during WWI herded from their lands towards one of the 20th century’s most heinous genocides (still contested by the perpetrates to this day). Atavistic psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry form the inspiration on this generous 44-track album of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack. I’m not sure how many more great records John has to make before he gets the recognition he deserves, but it better be soon.

Of interest from the Archives

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Kona’

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘F²’

Expo ‘She Sells Seashells’


The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-fi

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.

PLAYLIST SPECIAL 
COMPILED: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio
ARTWORK: 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 – that’s me, Dominic Valvona, and Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in a continuous musical journey.

The final playlist of 2019 is no less eclectic and frantic, with electrifried peregrinations from Mali next to the best new hip-hop cuts and a wealth of post-punk, souk rock, jazz, noise, indie and the avant-garde.


That tracklist in full:

Automatic  ‘Too Much Money’
Dead Rituals  ‘Closer’
Comet Gain  ‘The Girl With The Melted Mind And Her Fear Of The Open Door’
BRONCHO  ‘Boys Got To Go’
SUO  ‘Honey I’m Down’
Pocket Knife  ‘Manger Constructeur’
Prince Rama  ‘F.A.T.E (Bought Us Together)’
Cate Le Bon & Bradford Cox  ‘Fireman’
Elizabeth Joan Kelly  ‘Baleen Executioner’
Bear With Me  ‘Cry’
Max Andrzejewski’s HUTTE  ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hits The Road’
Tapan Meets Generation Taragalte ‘Yogi Yamahssar’
Junis Paul  ‘Baker’s Dozen’
Invisible System  ‘Diarabi’
Homeboy Sandman  ‘Yes Iyah’
Guilty Simpson & Phat Kat  ‘Sharking’
Iftin Band  ‘Il Ooy Aniga’
Kalbata ft. TIGRIS  ‘Tamera’
The Budos Band  ‘Old Engine Oil’
Aziza Brahim  ‘Hada Jil’
Atomic Forest  ‘Life Is Anew’
Klashnekoff ft. K9 & Ricko Capito  ‘The Road Is Long’
Chris Orrick & The Lasso  ‘No Place Is Safe’
Blockhead  ‘Spicy Peppercorn’
Willie Scott & The Birmingham Spirituals  ‘Keep Your Faith To The Sky’
Jehst & Confucius MC  ‘Autumn Nights’
Xenia Rubinos  ‘DIOSA’
Genesis Elijah  ‘Haunted Trap House’
Rico James & Santos  ‘New York Cut’
Hiach Ber Na  ‘Another Human Brain’
Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier  ‘Cold Sun Warm Beer’
TELGATE  ‘Cherrytight’
Land Of OOO  ‘Waiting For The Whales (Radio Edit)’
Big Thief  ‘Not’
Gary Davenport ‘True Freedom’
Northwest  ‘The Day’
The Cold Spells  ‘I Hate It When You’re Sad’
Mick Harvey & Christopher Richard Barker  ‘A Secret Hidden Message’
Boa Morte  ‘Sleep/Before The Landslide’
Vola Tila  ‘All Alone’
Owen Tromans  ‘Burying The Moon King’
The Good Ones  ‘My Wife Is As Beautiful As A Sunset’
Dub Chieftain  ‘Enter The Chieftain’
Provincials  ‘Cat’s Cradle’
Right Hand Left Hand  ‘White Sands’
Ringfinger  ‘Burning’
Giant Swan  ‘YFPHNT’
Rafiki Jazz  ‘My Heart My Home Home (Shallow Brown/Light of Guidance/The Settlers Wife/Shedemati)’


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