Album Reviews Galore
Words: Dominic Valvona





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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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




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

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

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

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

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





See also…

Mike Gale ‘Go Help‘ Premiere 

Sweet Marie‘ 

B,C,D Sides Volume 1

Summer Deluxe‘ 




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




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

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

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

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

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






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




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

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

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

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

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

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





See also…

Ian Brennan ‘Interview’ (here)

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

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

Tanzania Albinism Collective ‘White African Power’ (here)



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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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




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

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

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

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

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

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





See also:

Jimmy W ‘Midi Canoe’ (here)

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




Reissue Features:


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




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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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






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




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

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

 

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

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

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





See also…

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

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’  (here)

Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’  (here)

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (here



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

REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





As usual, another international whirlwind of stopovers awaits reader, as I pick out choice and interesting new releases and reissues from across the globe. Channeling his traverses, mountain climbs and treks across the California wilderness into ambient peregrinations, Fran Dominguez as the Forest Robot, takes the listener out into the great outdoors, with his latest suite After Geography. An aural escape, a safe spatial plain, Dominguez creates an environment in which to take stock. A Finnish-American freeform jazz partnership is in vogue with Stanley J. Zappa’s new album for the Baltic coastal label We Jazz. Saxophonist and clarinetist Zappa (a nephew of the late Frank) and drummer/percussionist Simo Laihonen traverse British-Columbia and all points in-between on Muster Point. Creating the most hushed and diaphanous of cinematic dreampop, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski releases the Violent Flower album. I also take a look at the troubadour pianist John Howard, who from his Spanish studio home, ties in his latest adroit songbook To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection with the second part of his published memoirs, Illusions Of Happiness, this month. And in my reissues section there’s the first ever reissue of the West Java Yanti Bersaudara sisters honeyed soul and beat group psych exotic self-titled ’71 nugget. The Australian born, but bought up in a rural backwater of England troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe returns back to his roots with the expansive storybook, Ytown.

 

Towards the fantastical, though based in geological science, experimental dub unit Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones reimagine a lost continental bridge of shared deities and cultures on the new album Kafou In Avalonia. And finally, we have the new no-fi songbook of despondent poetic scorn and resignation from our very own Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, The King Of No-Fi’.

Zoe Polanski ‘Violent Flower’
(Youngbloods) Album/17th July 2020





Despite, at various times, living in one of the most contested dangerous spots on the global stage, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski transduces all the violence, danger and stresses into a most diaphanous, sometimes fantastical, synthesized musical haze. Her latest fully-realized shoegaze electronic swoon of an album – co produced and written with the Tel Aviv producer Aviad Zinemanas – is subtle but immersive, moody yet dreamy. Lit though by Polanski’s travails, a deep sense of sadness and sighed questioning lyricism permeates the wispy vaporous smoke machine pop production.

Beautiful throughout, hushed and fragile, Violent Flowers is a sweeping cinematic articulation of conflicted feelings. The title-track, and former single, draws upon the ongoing Israeli-Palestine tensions; which has taken on even more drama in recent months with the policy of planned Israeli annexations in the West Bank.

Channeling the Cocteau Twins and Chromatics, this gauzy serenade of blossoming synth-pop is a disarming evocation of lightness that features Polanski yearningly searching for a way back home amid the division. The album’s second single, ‘The Willows’, mourns not only the painful end of a “surreal” affair whilst travelling across the USA, but is also inspired by Polanski’s mixed feelings of empathy towards her Palestine neighbours with a longing to escape the rocket attacks that passed overhead when she lived in the atavistic port city of Jaffa, during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

Born in another ancient city port, Haifa, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Polanski escaped the tumult through music and cinema. After obligatory service with the IDF, the experimentally burgeoning musician, singer moved to the States; recording with the NYC band Katamine and enrolling on a summer course in cinematography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. The fruits of which can be heard evoking a kind of dream realism on this filmic scored album.

As it happens, on returning to Israel and settling in the liberal creative hothouse of Tel Aviv, Polanski started a new project of soaked-reverb “slow cinema verite” named after the renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Tarr’s actual cinematographer Fred Kelemen caught Polanski at a live show. So impressed, he invited her to score his own upcoming film.

This latest vision sees the visual-audio talent reach ethereal, almost apparitional scales of atmospheric beauty as she sings veiled lines over her creative foil Zinemanas’ mirror-y and airy synthesis of arpeggiator, sine waves and enervated percussion. Dream pop and neon lit electronica meets Israeli panoramas, mysterious island inlets, touches of Vangelis (on the glassy contoured ‘Humboldt Current’), soft bobbing beats and pulchritude waves of silk.

Gentle, enchanting with an aching depth, Zoe Polanski together with Zinemanas have created a refreshing vision of dreamwave electronic pop and filmic music; one that offers a different perspective and sumptuous mystery. Turmoil has seldom sounded so gossamer and hushed.







Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Zoe Polanski ‘Pharaoh’s Island’



Stanley J. Zappa ‘Muster Point’
(We Jazz) Album/7th August 2020




A regular stopover on my global tour of reviews, the Helsinki festival-label-store hub We Jazz are proving to be among the most prolific deliverers of quality contemporary and experimental jazz. Earlier this month the assured label put out albums from the Danish-Finn JAF Trio and Gothenburg saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. Their latest release pairs up two former acolytes of the Mitford Graves school of free jazz enterprise: the American tenor/soprano saxophonist and alto clarinetist Stanley J. Zappa (who’s name embellished this LP) and Finnish drummer, percussionist Simo Laihonen. The Queens-made drummer extraordinaire and teacher Graves is renowned for his avant-garde contributions working with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and the N.Y. Art Quartet; a reputation that is lapped up by his former students on this set of probing impulsive serialism recordings.

You may have guessed by the name, and yes Stanley is indeed a scion of the famous Zappa family tree: a nephew of the late rock-fusion genius Frank. Erring towards jazz, Stanley proves that old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; highly adroit and proficient in pushing at the foundations, able to switch between the spiritual and hard bop. His foil Laihonen, of the long-standing Black Motor trio, proves equally as talented, propelling in bursts and snaps or in an amorphous fashion hitting and reeling shapeless accents and meanderings.

Joining them on the odd radial exploration, bassist Ville Rauhala adds some stringy, rubber-band thrummed double-bass runs and bodywork thwacking: less rhythmic and traditional, more loose and wandering.

Muster Point, a reference heavy album of track title locations (much of which name check places in Stanley’s British Columbia Canadian home), was recorded both in the studio and out on the road. You can hear some of the live spontaneity and an appreciative applause on the flighty clarinet and looming bass, with sporadic drum breaks, avant-garde piece ‘Muster Point IV’. Split between shorter ambling and more energetic incipient Muster Point entitled flexes, and deeper, longer workouts this album strikes out towards Pharaoh Sanders’ Egypt on the opening suite to dishing out tougher, heavier breaks on the street map ‘538 E14th, City Of Piss, USA’.

Fluting, twirling and coiling over the tumbling drums, rumbling timpani and shaking percussion, Stanley’s vibrato sax hawks and spirals with both longer and shorter breaths. Often sailing at a counter speed to Laihonen’s quickened rolling patterns, that wondering instrument trills freely as light as air itself. Well, for the most part. Stanley can also toot rapidly and with force when the occasion arises.

From drawing on the ancestral (on the Kahil El’ Zabar watery percussive underflow ‘Pleasant Avenue’) to skitting across a NYC boardwalk, Muster Point plays hard and footloose with freeform jazz; dipping into the spiritual and rapidly evoking hard bop dashes. Yet again its another fruitful experiment and performance from the We Jazz label.




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


Forest Robot ‘After Geography’
Album/28th August 2020





With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez provides a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times. When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic; a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

With over 400 ascents and 6,000 odd miles of cross-country exploring under his belt, Dominguez tunes into those experiences when composing music under the Forest Robot title. Intuition, that main motivation and driver for the latest tonal contouring suite, After Geography, comes into practice after all the preparation in the world fails to allow for the variables that arise when climbing those magnificent rocky peaks. Though obviously a great title in itself and an encapsulation of the Forest Robot’s meditative semi-classical, semi-Kosmische maps, the inspiration behind it comes from Ringo Starr. As the anecdote from rock’s backpages goes, the bejeweled digit fingered Beatles drummer proposed it when the Fab Four were stumped for a title for their next album after Revolver. As a lighthearted chide at the rivals, The Rolling Stones, who’d just released Aftermath, Starr chimed in with “After Geography”. It seems highly appropriate in this context, and in this time.

An escapist survey that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, the album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. Track titles become descriptive reference points and wildlife moments experienced, on this aural map; a clue at times to the scenic inspirations that encouraged them. ‘Of Birds Migrating In The Distance’ is for example a winged patted dance and flutter across the ivory, and the marimba-like bobbing ‘Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor’ features crystalized icy notes and melting droplets: it’s almost as if Dominguez captures the sunlight gleaming off the slowly melting glacier. ‘Over The Drainage Divide’, which doesn’t exactly sound very inspiring, is surprisingly wondrous, even spiritual, with its choral ethereal waves and hints of ghostly visitations. An ascendant version of that choral spirit can also be heard on the soft droning, delayed and bouncing notes beauty ‘All Across The High Plain After The Storm’.

A mostly peaceable geography, Dominguez’s latest impressive suite offers the safety of a timeless rugged pristine panorama. A breath of fresh air; a sonic plain on which to gain some perspective, that intuitive methodology proves highly successful on a most pleasing, imaginative ambient experience.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




Following up on the impressive choral anthem ‘Good Lord’, which we premiered last month on the MC, the yearning troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe proves he has more than it takes to deliver the full emotionally stimulating package with his new, generous EP Ytown. Over seven tracks of similar beautifully realised rustic anthems and shorter mood passages, Campbell expands his themes of escaping the pastoral backwaters of small town life.

Both a travail down memory lane and pilgrimage, nature’s son returns from London to the town in which he spent those formative years, on the outskirts of Bristol, to mull over the past, but above all, as the Australian born songwriter/multi-instrumentalist set out to serenely on that ‘God Lord’ hymn, seeks to find himself amongst the humdrum scenery. Ytown could be many towns, any town, yet it proves evocative and creatively fertile enough to inspire this expansive songbook. The very essence of the place seeps into the music through field recordings and the sound of the local church’s pump organ – used very subtly as a sadly reverent undertow on the setting-sun curtain call ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 2’ a couplet to the EP’s only scenic twinkled if musing instrumental, The Shins like ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 1’.

Entirely self-produced and recorded from the bedroom of his youth, Ytown pays homage to innocence, to his childhood relationship with his ‘Father Carpenter’, and the unburdened freedoms of nature. The first of those is a powered-up Midlake country folk anthem, the latter, an achingly harmony rich longing to be as free and detached as the ‘Dandelion’.

Almost echoing an early Radiohead paired with the Fleet Foxes, the tender woven poetic ‘Pastel Porcelain’ seems to have stepped out of a medieval tapestry, and the opening dappled lit blossoming ‘The Sun Appeared’ shows an almost filmic and experimental quality to Campbell’s music.

A balance of acoustic naturalism and full on, climatic singles, Ytown is a great piece of expansive storytelling, a conceptual EP perfect in length, depth and heartfelt searching.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/16th August





The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

The idiosyncratic de facto leader of the long standing dysfunctional family legends The Bordellos, and the barely concealed instigator of the anti-Brit pop and plodding rock Idiot Blur Fanboy, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea (who I must also point out is a regular contributor to these very pages) follows up on his recent solo offerings, the Liverpool Hipster Scene EP and Boris Johnson Massacre single, with another album for the Aussie platform, Metal Postcard Records. Recorded during lockdown whilst growing tired at the lack of revolutionary zeal and wit in contemporary music, and the reliance upon of nostalgia, regurgitation in the industry (both musically and through blogs, publications, radio), Brian has penned a quite sincere collection of romanticized sufferings, regrets and love songs.

Making even Sparklehorse sound like ELO in comparison, the no-fi production values on offer are raw but never really coarse or discordant. No augmentation, filters, effects or sundry, just a bare accompaniment of rough’n’ready but melodious acoustic guitar and the whirling of a rudimental four-track; the click of the record button and, at the end of each performance, the stop button.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock’n’roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally falls on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.

Quite swooning in places, this is neither a plaintive nor angry songbook, but as I said before a sincere often humorous yearn from a maverick soul stuck in lockdown. The King is dead; long live the King.


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

The Bordellos ‘Will.I.Am You’re Really Nothing’



Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company) Album/19th June 2020





Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Developing out of a volcanic arc at the northern edges of the “supercontinent” Gondwana (we’re talking about 550 million years ago; when this leviathan contained one-fifth of all the planet’s land) but decoupling to form a drifting micro continent of its own, Avalonia, if it didn’t eventually breakup and collide with Pangea, would have bridged what is now the Atlantic Ocean. Crustal fragments underlie parts of Southwest England, Southern Ireland and the East Coast of America. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica.

Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar.

A reference heavy album, with various “Loa” (spirits) and divinities summoned and made offerings, the track titles name check a pantheon of the worshipped. The opening gabbling dub and primordial shrouded ethereal jug-poured ‘Oxûm Over Water’ pays homage to the Yoruba peoples river goddess, while the singing chorus and insect chirped trans-Europa rail momentum Kraftwerk meets Guru Guru ‘Oxalá Of The White Sky’ takes its name from the Brazilian “sky father” and creator of human beings. Elsewhere, Haiti’s spiritual ancestors are represented in the shape of the serpent creator of the cosmos, Damballa (the On-U-Sound dub prowling low frequency crumbled bass languorous ‘Damballah Of The Dark Sky’), and senior Petro visitation born from the heinous savagery and injustice of slavery, Ezilí Dantor (the lolloping Orb submersion ‘Ezilí Dantor Awake’). Incidentally, that last spirit especially took kindly too offerings of crème de cacao and jewelry, and on its birthday, a wild pig. It’s believed that one such feast in honor to Dantor preceded the infamous slave revolt of 1791.

Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. And that’s me saying this is a bloody great experimental dub album. Seek out now.




John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’
(UK John Howard/USA through Kool Kat Musik) Album/7th August 2020




Chiming with the second candid, sometimes wistful, chapter in the pianist raconteur’s memoirs, this latest fragrant songbook manages past regrets with wizened heartfelt balladry. With plenty of time, including the lockdown, to mull over the past, after writing two volumes of self-effacing recollections (part two, Illusions Of Happiness, is scheduled to tie in with this album, published on the 7th August) John Howard channels a lifetime of setbacks and learning through the philosophical and metaphorical.

Coming to terms and letting go in some respects, the fledging 70s star set back by a series of career mishaps and a traumatic accident (forced to make a fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared in Earl’s Court with some colourful Filipino gay characters, who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder) muses over breakups (the la la, almost Christmas seasonal, chiming mini anthem ‘I’m Over You’) and a broken friendship (the regretful heartache ‘Echoes Of Pauline’). The latter’s real life subject appears as a recurring figure of that regret in John’s work; the best friend from school losing touch since 1973 (as John admits, probably down to him and not Pauline) first pops up on ‘The Flame’ from the career launching Kid In A Big World showcase, and later on ‘Pauline’s Song’, which featured on the 2009 EP Songs For A Lifetime.

Pauline’s presence, companionship is much missed it seems, as John looks out from his Spanish home veranda on an uncertain, if scenic, world. Idyllic though it is, his life in the Southeastern Spanish town of Murcia can’t make up for the pining of his former Welsh home, and even further back, Lancashire. Moving across the seas to preempt Brexit, John recalls a Welsh pastoral bliss on the wistfully beautiful melodious ‘And Another Day’. Yet both lyrically and through his signature subtle minor key changes moves deftly into the sadness of leaving it all behind. The scented waltz-y ‘Illusions Of Happiness’ ambles through a perfumed garden of delights but also mournfully wades out into the sea; waiting on something, a ship, vessel, the final boat ride perhaps.

Old ghosts mingle with analogies of saviors, and the tropes of coming-to-terms with one’s decisions. This is all done with a most adroit touch of pastoral organ, Baroque chamber pop, gentle Dylan-esque harmonica, concertina and softened tambourine rattled crescendos: all of which is played by John. It’s a sound that is saved from the saccharine and pushed towards the yearning beauty of the early Bee Gees, late 60s Beach Boys and the Incredible String Band, whilst echoing the flourishes of John’s burgeoning pianist troubadour career in the 70s.

The 17th album proper in a career that has regularly stalled (mostly down to the mishandling of others), with gaping holes in which John turned his hand to A&R, the lyrical To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection follows on from last year’s brilliant Cut The Wire – just one album in a long line of such releases from arguably his most creatively prolific tenure. The poetically scene-setting songbook is a perfect accompaniment to those memoirs; a mature retrospection of a life well lived.








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

Yanti Bersaudara ‘ST’
(La Munai Records) Album/7th July 2020





A beautiful three-part harmony serenade drifting out of West Java, the much sought after 1971 album from the endearing Yanti sisters is finally being reissued for the first time ever. From Indonesian musical treasure hunters, La Munai Records, a befitting repackaged version of that original Bamboo Music magical Sundanese suffused treat.

Previous twee recordings, which swing between Merseybeat and enervated gospel soul, have made it digitally onto a number of platforms and compilations over the years, but the sisters’ later self-titled nugget has remained pretty elusive.

Released towards the end of their tenure, this beautifully cooed, lulled and charming harmony rich record seems oddly out of step with its time; though the strict regime in Indonesia had the gall to ban rock’n’roll, and so outpourings of fuzz-thrilled rebellion and salacious gyrating were kept to the minimum: more the early fab four’s ‘Tell Me Why’ or anything by The Tremeloes than the dirty scuzz and teasing of the Rolling Stones. That’s not to say the odd frizzle of psych and a coarse guitar twang or two doesn’t pop up here and there, but this early 70s songbook is mostly dreamy, heavenly even, and spiritual.

Whilst channeling the siblings (that’s Yani, Tina and Lin Hardjakusumah) West Javanese heritage of Bamboo Music, Gamelan and Jaipongan, you will also hear a constant sustained and fanning ray of church organ too. The lovely honeyed vocals even reach the ethereal heights, sounding like an Indonesian version of Dusty sings gospel.

The second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia, the Sundanese people (a name derived from the Sanskrit prefix “su”, which means “goodness”), of which the sisters belong, reside in a part of the country synonymous for its rich musical traditions. Soothed into an exotic dreamboat mix of angklung ringing and bamboo bobbing, reedy staccato surf guitar and ticking away drums those delicate ancestral chimes are propelled into the beat group era, and on the misty organ ghostly ‘Bulan Dagoan’, a spooked funhouse garage band era.

Coquettish, enticing, at other times like the 5th Dimension and choral rhyming, the girls vocal sound is sweetened; flourishing with yearned and exotic swooning.

For those of you wishing to enjoy a languorous dreamy slow boat to Java, with just enough fuzz thrills to pique the interest, let the Yanti sisters provide the hip accompaniment. If you’ve already been entertained by the trio, then you’ll find this ’71 release less saccharine and girl-group than previous albums; more magical and with more stained glass soul.






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

PREMIERE/REVIEW/Dominic Valvona



Luke Mawdsley ‘Misery Gland’ taken from the upcoming album Vulgar Displays Of Affection, released on 24th July 2020 through Maple Death Records.


For those of you with a morose curiosity you’ll find that Luke Mawdsley’s metaphorical river of consciousness runs deep with it. The former Mugstar guitarist circumnavigates the dark waters of trauma and anxiety on his second solo outing, but first for the caustic experimental Italian label Maple Death Records, Vulgar Displays Of Affection.

Billed as a “cathartic meticulous journey brimmed with emotion and failure”, Mawdsley’s spoken-word mise en scène dictation is masked with a warped and slurred daemonic vocal effect, both menacing and disdainfully as it splashes around in the mire of minimalist industrial electronica and the harrowing flagellations of Scott Walker. Plumbing the depths Mawdsley’s one part King Midas Sound, one part the more deranged examples of a “verbasier programmed” Bowie on the Outside album removed voice pours a lucid string of vivid depictions and despair into the listener’s ears. Today’s premiere track, taken from that upcoming album, is a case in point; the murky generator throbbing and wretched stained ‘Misery Gland’, a vision of Einstürzende Neubauten trading blows with Coil, seers with despondent spoken monotones and more speeded-up demon giggles.

The scene is set with sonorous rings, strung-out tremolo, hammerings and knocks, tight-delayed repetitive drum machine hi-hats, fizzles and a looming threat of synthesized atmospherics. It is a stench as much as a tonal soundtrack that reaps a malady of industrial noise, drifting esoteric blues and the Lynchian. An uncertain, anxious and often sinister creeping discourse on the themes of sexuality and disorientation, this haunted murky generated dungeon music draws from a well of disillusion.

The lyrics themselves either slither through the mulch of a mashed-up brain or almost predatory turn subjects into the lurid and dangerous. There are various play-on-words type track titles, from ‘Vauxhall (Cavalier) & I’ – a space-echoed car boot lubricated with a threatening musk – to ‘A Grudge Supreme’, and a chilling Ry Cooder blues fantasy built around the fictional parody of the Dr. Steve Brule hosted public access psycho-analysis spoof Check It Out! – the naïve Brule character played by John C. Reilly, expunges by happenstance horrifying details of his life story whilst discussing a range of topics. Sometimes despite the pain, distress and that creepiness, Mawdsley can offer a twisted sort of humour with the surreal images he conjures up. And the music does offer some lovely melodious waves, and even the glimmer of something less suffocating.

‘The River Takes It All’ declares the album’s finale; an increasingly distorted caustic and hostile wrangle of a climax with tortuous appeal, the waters of which threaten to engulf. A deeply revealing experience of the lurid, coarse, disturbing and vivid, Mawdsley’s immure vulgar displays rest wearily upon the shoulders. In this cursed time of uncertainty and vehement argument, the pained artist struggles through the miasma of indignity to create a drip-feed of chthonian distress.

 

Ahead of its release, we bring you the premiere of the album track ‘Misery Gland’.


Maple Death Records · Luke Mawdsley – Misery Gland



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/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.


%d bloggers like this: