DOMINIC VALVONA’S ECLETIC REVUE

Al-Qasar ‘Who Are We?’
(Glitterbeat Records) 16th September 2022

Bubbling up from the Barbès Algerian enclave of Paris (the 18th Arrondissment boulevard that’s home to the yet to be gentrified and tourist-friendly passed Little Algeria community) and crisscrossing continents, the Al-Qasar group fuzz-up and electrify the sound of Arabia and its diaspora.

Helmed by instigator-in-chief Thomas Attar Bellier that neighborhood bustle is elevated and blasted back out into the world at large, absorbing and picking up sonic waves, spikes from Northeast Africa to a hardcore California and a rich tasting Sublime Porte.

It all helps of course that Attar Bellier is a global nomad, having lived in New York, Lisbon and Paris, but also having worked in the recording studios of L.A. during that circumnavigation of multicultural living he produced enough tracks of his own, releasing the well-received Miraj EP.

I get the impression that this is a fluid project, but at the time of this, the debut longplayer, Attar Bellier has opened up the ranks to include Jaouad El Garouge on vocals and a number of instruments synonymous with Moroccan Gnwa and North African traditions, Guillaume Théoden on bass and sub-bass duties, Nicolas Derolin on a myriad of percussive and hand drum instruments and Paul Void on drums. That seems the core anyway, but in this electric saz tangling and psychedelic post-punk rich sound there’s a cast of guest pioneering musicians to add yet another layer, another sonic perspective.

From the start there’s Sonic Youth’s guitar-sculptor Lee Ranaldo providing multi-layers of sustain, whines and abrasions to both the opening Swans meet Faust squall turn spindled and more familiar Middle Eastern electric fez intro ‘Awtar Al Sharq’, and the second, dervish-spun spirited and phlegm-voiced tour of Anatolia, The Balkans and Arabia, ‘Awal’.

That legend of the California punk scene, miscreant Dead Kennedys founder Jello Biafra goes free-radical on the staccato jangling ‘Ya Malak’. In a kind of John Sinclair mode, he reads out a poignant translation of a poem by the famous Egyptian revolutionary poet Ahmed Fouad Negam, updated for the cataclysmic state of the world in 2022, and the crumbled, violently oppressed post Arab Spring. This is where, despite the Cairo-futurism, the rattled and slapped hand drum energy, that the political motivations, the despair and anger comes to the fore; all that history, the post-colonial tumult and also fall-out from an Arabian-wide protest movement seeking modernization, the right to earn and end to greed. Read through a tiny transistor style radio Biafra’s agitator spirit turns this into a sort of Arabian Fugazi.

Moving on, but just as political, the New York-based Sudanese vocal doyen Alsarah (of Alsarah & The Nubatones renown) brings her impressive expressive outpourings and trill to the rattlesnake desert song ‘Hobek Thawrat’. In that soulful, rising loved-yearned voice there’s a protest against the coup on her homeland, the chorus itself repeating a slogan from the recent demonstrations. A sound of the Sahel, the women folk of Tinariwen and a little Bab L’Bluz Gnawa hover over this beautifully delivered protestation.

It runs throughout, this sound’s birthplace, but Al-Qasar pay a special homage on the (so good they name it twice) ‘Barbès Barbès’, which also features the electric oud pioneer Mehdi Haddab (of Speed Caravan note). Metal work drums, a nice rolling groove and souk candour prove a friendly hustled soundtrack for a meander in the heavily African outpost. Haddab gets a solo of a kind, providing a romanticized, poetic and folksy oud, with bursts of blurred quickened neat fretwork that borders on Baba ZuLu style psychedelic rock.

The finale, ‘Mal Wa Jamal’, features the longing ached vocals of the Egyptian singer Hend Elrawy soaring over an inspirial organ and almost post-punk push. Elraway’s beautiful wails prove disarming as the song’s lyrics concern a female-centric outlook on prostitution and its consequences. There’s attitude certainly, but it’s all wrapped up in a fizzled, fuzzy and mystical film of Arabian dance and fantasy. No surprise that they’ve been added to the Glitterbeat Records label roster, an imprint for just this sort of fusion; one in which you’ll hear an Arabic Muscle Shoals merging with Anatolian psych, a touch of Electric Jalaba and Şatellites if remixed by Khalab. A brilliant package of transformed traditions wrapped up in electrifying futurism; the sounds of Arabia, North Africa and beyond are thrust into a dynamic, unifying and eclectic direction. 

Clear Path Ensemble ‘Solar Eclipse’
(Soundway Records)  9th September 2022

Out of the Wellington jamming session hothouse incubator and blossoming jazz scene in New Zealand Cory Champion rides the sun-birched rays and waves to cook-up a congruous album of many flavours. From a knowing position the jazz percussionist flows freely between a 70s ECM back catalogue of inspirations and the funk, fusion, spiritual and more freeform genres of his chosen art form.

Under the Clear Path Ensemble alias – his second such alias, also going under the Borrowed CS title when making leftfield deep house and techno cuts – Champion channels both Latin and Uniting Of Opposites style brassy Indian reverberations on the golden ‘Kihi’; offers up an acid jazz turn retro zippy-zappy late 70s disco funk fusion on ‘Drumatix’; and magic’s up a post-Bitches Brew Mile Davis band mystery of African-flavoured marimba and jug-poured, lava-lamp liquid cosmic spiritualism on ‘Revolutions’. But the mood, musicality changes again when we reach the jazzy-suspense score ‘Absolvo’: an early 70s cool cult vision of a Lalo Schifrin thriller.  

The finale, ‘Tennis Ball’, could be said to have taken Liquid Liquid’s percussion, beats and a bit of the Style Council’s laidback washy soul-funk. And the dreamy seasonal solstice ‘Sunrise Motif’ finds a blend of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the willowy fluted bucolic and Nate Morgan. All the while translucent bulb-like notes flow or float from the vibraphone as other light-footed percussive vibrations dance and softly quicken the pace.    

A harp run here and muffled, mizzle sax or trumpet there; a touch of electric piano and pining strings on anther track; all elements that come together across a changing groove.

Clive Zanda meets a less busy Michael Urbaniek on a minor jazz odyssey of nostalgic but very much alive and contemporary fusions, Champion’s second album in this role is a sophisticated, smooth but also freeform set of moods, visions and counterflows. It proves a perfect fit for the eclectic and much-praised Soundway label.

Forest Robots ‘Supermoon Moonlight Part Two’
(Subexotic)

After an initial redolent arpeggiator wave of Roedelius, a rainbow of trance, vapoured breathed coos and transience follows, marking what will be an entirely different kind of record for the Californian electronic artist and topographical trekker Fran Domingeuz.

Under the Forest Robots alias/umbrella, Fran has produced numerous adroit, studied and evocative ambient and neoclassical soundtracks to the myriad of landscapes and forest trials he’s traversed over the years. As the world dramatically succumbed to a global pandemic, and the chance to escape to the wilds became scarce, the signature form stayed but now the music was suddenly a therapy and a vehicle for channeling the anxiety, stresses of such uncertain times.

Now (thankfully) with the worse behind us, Fran emerges with the ‘long gestating’ follow-up to Part One of his Supermoon Moonlight suites from 2018. Although recording sessions for Part Two started back in 2019 it has taken a while to finally process the last couple of years and to finish and release this beautifully conceived album of suffused and uplifting hope.

The geography and National Geographic almanac proverb-like and Zen titles remain (‘All The Rivers Born In The Mountains’, ‘Wind Always Runs Wilder Along The River’s Current’) but the underlying theme has Fran exploring the complexities of parenthood and the ‘kind of spiritual and emotional legacy a father would wish to leave for his kids.’ A warming sentiment and inspired prompt makes for a very different kind of album though. From the same gifted mind and ear yet swimming in the sine waves of trance, synth-pop, 90s techno and dance music this is relatively a new but welcoming direction, expansion on his signature sound.

Upbeat as much as reflective, the feel is often dreamy; the gravity and awe of nature gently present; cut-out mountainsides, flowing connective rivers and a canopy of redwoods, the stage is set as stars shoot across the night skies and moonbeams illuminate.

In the slipstream and bubbled undulations The Beloved shares space with The Orb, Stereolab, 808 State, Sakamoto, Vince Clarke, Boards Of Canada, I.A.O., the Aphex Twin and Ulrich Schnauss. This is a beautiful combination that filters the aftermath of the rave culture, the burgeoning British minimal techno scene of the early 90s Warp label, 80s synth-pop and electronic body music. Yet there’s room for a certain crystallised chilled sparkle of the Chromatics and the Drive time moody, ruminated dry-ice scores of Cliff Martinez within that beat-driven glow. And the elements of charcoal fires crisply burning and flickering, and the poured waters have a certain Luc Ferrari influence – albeit far less avant-garde.

Playful and sophisticated with a surprising dance-y pulse and radiant outlook, Part Two should act as a testimony to an inspired and inspiring composer. I think his kids will be rightly proud of their dad and his musical legacy: electronic music with a soul and purpose.      

Machine ‘S-T’
(WEWANTSOUNDS)

Back again in The Perusal (becoming a 2022 regular) those vinyl specialists at WEWANTSOUNDS have remastered and pressed that rarest-of-rare conscious-soul-funk LPs, the obscure assembled Machine’s self-titled debut (and only) album from 1972.

The rumour-mill is strong on this one; the cause of its £500 plus price tag on Discogs believed to be a result of either a very limited release or no release at all – shelved as it were. It could be down to the sheer quality of the competition, arriving as it did in the wake of similar social-political soul as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly (but also his albums previous to that). Both prove a massive influence on this smooth and funky eight-track showcase.  

What we do know however is that the make up of this group included a trio of well-rehearsed session players from the All Platinum Studios stable in New Jersey. That included main man Michael Watson on vocals and guitar, bass-player Curtis McTeer (also playing with labelmates The Rimshots) and drummer Donald McCoy, who were then fattened out with the organist/pianist Ray Jones, another bassist, Frank Prescod, and both Dee and Cordy Pridges on horns. On the same label and one of the most established, successful acts The Whatnauts lent both their backing vocalists and, rather oddly, their manager (credited on percussion) Bunch Herndon to this widening lineup. And on top of all that, the notable Sammy Lowe (arranging for such distinguished company as Nina Simone, Sam Cooke and James Brown) offers a subtle suite of strings to the mix, taking it down the Rotary Connection route.

The Whatnauts prove a pretty integral ingredient to the Machine track list, lending both the ‘Only People Can Save The World’ and ‘Why Can’t People (Be Color Too?)’ songs to the album. Machine keep the sentiment of both, but add both an almost bucolic and pastoral gospel-rayed yearn to the first, and up the Gator funk and Stevie Wonder boogie on the Sly Stone on-message second.

They open on the relaxed but simmered Southern-funk-hits-the-streets-of-NYC style ‘Time Is Running Out’. Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s buzzy licks meet Maxayn attitude sass, sweet sax and touch of ‘Brotherman’ The Final Solution on a conscious-political workout – the repeated vocal refrain apparently ad-libbed.

Very much of its time and again on-message, ‘World’ tunes into the Vietnam War and its impact on and confliction with the African-American community. The actual groove is quite percussive with a touch of The Temptations Psychedelic Shack, Mayfield and The Meters.

There’s a seagull hovering harbor scene, not a million miles away from Otis’ wistful gaze, on the gear-changing ‘Trails’. It starts with that atmospheric rumination, a hint of the Latin and some romantic allusions before quickening into a banjo-rhythmic strumming West coast jive. It then goes on to wail and cry with a sequel of electric guitar. ‘Lock Your Door’ however could be a lost Northern Soul dancer, and the balladry pined ‘Boots In The Snow’ is another of those Marvin Gaye try-outs, with a touch of 70s Motown.

An enervated Nat Turner, Undisputed Truth, Mary Jane Hooper, Johnny Pate with those Mayfield and Gaye inspirations, Machine stepped-out to lead their own socially conscious project. But whilst the elements are all present, the sound isn’t quite unique enough, overshadowed as they were by a multitude of bands/artists working in the same groove and message. Still, at least you can now own a real rarity without forgoing this month’s rent, gas or mortgage payment. And it’s well worth a spin at that.

Noah ‘Noire’
(Flau Records) 26th August 2022

Ever the diaphanous siren of soothed vaporous experiments and song, the Hokkaido-born artist Noah once more drifts and floats across a sophisticated combination of futuristic etudes and distilled electronica. Following on from the beautiful balletic-inspiredÉtoile (given a glowing review by my good self), this latest emanation of whispered and cooed translucence is just as lovely and swathed in dreamy effects.

A collection of tracks from between a pre-Covid era of 2015-2020, the Noire album is awash with studied yet effortless sounding sonic theme variations; a nine-track congruous suite that riffs on Noah’s signature of ghostly plinky-plonked semi-classical piano (occasionally an electronic one by the sounds of it) and minimal 808-style synthesized waves, percussion and bobbled beats.

Noah’s breathless vocals and atmospherics seem to be reaching us from the ether: often just the reverberations of some distant hazy whisper. The opening transparent slow spiral ‘Twirl’ could be a distant relation to Julee Cruise; an enchanted but haunted echo from a palatial ballroom, yet still highly intimate. ‘Odette’ oozes languorous modern soul and R&B, like Solange drifting over the Boards of Canada.

Undulated by softened kinetic ratchets, screws and turns there’s a coming together of purposeful techno and more rhythmic retro house beats, enervated as to never overpower the general woozy and beautifully longing mood. 

Shorter reflections, pieces are balanced by extended tracks and the heavenly, bobbing and echoed looped single ‘Gemini – Mysterious Lot’; the sound relaxing as it moves from transformed Sakamoto to cool dreamy pop.

Remaining something of an enigma Noah appears and then floats away, leaving a lingering presence with music created in a dream. Noire is another great, captivating showcase for that talent.

Lampen ‘S-T’
(We Jazz) 9th September 2022

A re-release of a kind, in case you both missed it the first time around or because of its limited run on CD, the free and post-jazz Finnish duo Lampen are now offering their 2020 self-titled album on vinyl for the first time – a very nice package it is too.

I would be one of those people that did miss it the first time around, and so I now find myself discovering its highly experimental, explorative qualities, imbued as they are by the Japanese art of “kintsugi” (or “golden joinery”), the repairing art of mending areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver and platinum. As much a philosophy as a method of repair, the breaks and cracks are treated and documented rather than disguised or thrown away.

The binding metal dust is like a woven vein and testament to that object’s knocks and history. With all its obvious metaphors the Lampen lads are less than careful, seeming to deconstruct and rebuild simultaneously in an act of free-spirited concentration: if that makes sense. For they break and stretch the performances yet, because their craft is obviously brilliant, they seem to always be in unison, synchronicity throughout.

Across five crawling and more crescendo splashed tracks, guitarist Kelle Kalima and percussionist/sampler Tatu Rönkkö rattle and wane; bend and set in motion a tumult of krautrock, progressive, industrial, post-punk, psychedelic and avant-garde workouts and soundtracks. In abandoned rusted turbine dominated factories, mysterious chambers but also hovering over lunar terrains Lampen evoke hints of Rhyton, Peter Giger, Krononaut, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Orchestra, King Crimson, Faust and The Mosquitoes. All good and appealing to those like me longing to hear jazz pushed into such directions.

Rather surprisingly, amongst the sustained drones, harmonic pings and sculpting Kalima’s guitar bursts into acid-country indie-rock territory – think, of all people, John Squire on the Stone Roses second album. There’s even spots of no wave and dub to be found emerging from various tangents and untethered directions.

Impressive throughout, whether that’s in slow motion or more maelstrom driven bursts, Lampen’s debut album is a barely contained, unnerving in places, cranium-fuck of excellent moody jazz and industrial resonating experiment. Second time around then, the duo offer us another chance to indulge in their brand of unbridled post-jazz. I think you should take them up on the offer.

Qrauer ‘Odd Fazes’
(Nonostar) 22nd September

Following on from their debut Heeded showcase for Alex Stolze’s burgeoning Nonostar label back in April, arrives an extended debut album from the German electronic duo Qrauer, who transduce chamber music, the semi-classical and percussive into a sophisticated transformation of minimalist-techno and intelligent EDM suites.

The combined, refined but ever open skills of percussionist, producer and remixer Christian Grochau and his foil the pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Ludwig Bauer come together to fluidly remodel their chosen instruments into a both mindful and danceable work of electroacoustic moods and soundscape sonic worlds.

Instead of a pulled-together album of 12”’s and mixes and the like, Odd Fazes feels like a complete journey from beginning to end, with shorter more ambient gazing vignettes alongside longer more evolving pieces. And so you have the trance-y, droned and transformed glitch-y orchestral spell of the incipient stirring ‘Reg. Capture’ followed immediately by the polyrhythmic, clean percussive and galvanized EDM noirish ‘Drumthrives’. Or the Drukqs era Aphex Twin piano – played on a distant echo-y stage – beautifully, but slightly off-kilter, resonating ‘Fuq’ following on from the Artificial Intelligence series trance and suspense soundtrack ‘Cool Edit’. This offers a variation and nice set of breaks between the more techno pumped movers and sonic imaginations.

Later on, Nonostar labelmate Anne Müller adds her swoonstress cello to a couplet of evocative tracks. The first of which, ‘Rund’, has an air of the Aphex Twin (again) about it. Circling bowl rings, kinetic twists and percussive itches are woven into a mild tempo EDM pulse as Müller’s trembled and attentive cello saws and plucks are turned into repeating, recontextualized beats or motifs. On ‘Oval’ the adroit, experimental cellist seems to revive some of her stirring, pining gravitas from the Solo Collective project she shares with both Nonostar founder Stolze and, another labelmate, Sebastian Reynolds. There’s also a hint, I think, of fellow cellist and experimental artist Simon McCorry too on this deeply felt mournful piece.  

Multi-textured with a constant movement and undulated beat that builds and builds yet never settles for the predictable euphoric, anthem moment, there’s a lot of clever, purposeful work at play. I haven’t even mentioned the layers of satellite and moon-bending refractions, nor the cosmic flares, the droplets of notes, cooed waveforms, fizzes and experimental recondite sound sources that have been meticulously thought-out. Again, just like the Heeded EP, the debut album is another cerebral rework of electronic body music, techno, EDM and the classical; a complete dancefloor-ready and mindful journey. 

Simon McCorry ‘Scenes From The Sixth Floor’
(Shimmery Moods)

Turning the worries and mental strains of ill health into something creatively rewarding, the highly prolific cellist sound sculptor and composer Simon McCorry is thankfully back on the experimental electronic scene after a stay in hospital last Christmas. After a period of healing, recuperation, McCorry assembles a sort of soundtrack to that worrying, anxious period.

Following a loose ‘mental thread’ (as he puts it) Scenes From The Sixth Floor is an evocative and ruminating work of both studied ambient peregrinations and post-club techno comedowns; beginning with the cult kosmische drop through Tarkovsky’s glass portal, ‘Falling Through The Mirror Backwards’. Part illusion, part Moebius scores Hitchcock’s Spellbound, it’s the sound of our composer freefalling through a gauzy blanket, unable to latch onto the sides or gain traction as he spirals in sedated state to earth. Yet this there’s also no panic, rather a hallucinatory feel.

The next track, ‘Fragmentation’, is the first of two pieces developed from previous commissions/projects. Originally, albeit loosely, based on a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party dance piece, the landscape on this piece is less Lewis Carroll surrealism and more an evolving soundtrack that absorbs Bleiche Brunnen period Asmus Tietchens, Bernard Szajner sci-fi, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Sven Vath.  From the primal liquid blobs to the supernatural and futuristic, McCorry creates a whole atmospheric world before building steadily towards a patter beat of early 90s set techno (R&S/Harthouse).

Another developed idea, ‘The Sea Of Stories’ takes its cue from Philip Ridley’s feted Moon Fleece book – an intense and thrilling exploration of memory and identity. One of the only tracks with which you can hear a mostly untreated, transformed as it is, cello, McCorry’s instrument of virtuoso choice aches and arches movingly whilst a constant arpeggiator waterfall cascades onto shimmered, light catching waves. Be careful, if you close your eyes you could just find yourself carried away on the tide.

Up above now to the skies and the stirring and soaring ‘The Secret Life Of Clouds’. A beautiful if almost little mysterious, unsure passage, I picked up Schulze, Frosse and even a touch of Air Liquide on this natural phenomenon. But it’s Roedelius’ fairground piped style of playfulness and new classical analogue electronica that’s felt on the arpeggiator-bounced ‘Surfacing’; although this mood changes with another of those post-club undulations, pitter-pattering way at the end.    

Tubular marimba and small thrusts of Kriedler and Pyrolator make up the mid-temp techno styled ‘Earth Best’, and the angrier entitled ‘Day Of Wrath’ has a certain European yearn and another echo of Roedelius’ whistled Bavarian fairground vibes. The cello, which remains pretty much hidden throughout the album, now starts to materialize, producing a weepy bowed melody and sense of purpose.  Constantly enriching the ambient genre and beyond McCorry has bounced back with a reflective and developed soundtrack of perfectly crafted and moving compositions, some of which contain a certain mystery, dreamy-realism that remains to be deciphered. Proving the cello still has some way to go as an imaginative and explorative tool, the gifted player finds new tones, textures and spells of magic to further that instrument’s sound, use and reach. It’s good to have him back is all I can say. And this album further cements an already impressive reputation as a true innovator and master of the form.  

REZO ‘Sew Change’
30th September 2022

Shy of just eighteen months the Irish duo of REZO follow up last year’s debut album Travalog with another relaxed, gentle-of-touch songbook, Sew Change. The seeds of this particular brand of disarming but deeply moving craft were sown from a distance, with both partners in this project recording their parts in separate locations on that debut. Nothing quite concentrates the mind as an epidemic and its confinement, and so the introspection flowed on that record, which despite the distance geld perfectly: in keeping with both musician’s Ireland and Med environments, the music effortlessly blended a touch of the Balearics with more soft-peddled Americana and singer-songwriter material.

As a sort of bridge back to Travalog, the spoken-word return down memory lane family themed ‘You Are What You Wear’ repurposes the sleepy, laidback rolled and Damon Alban-esque with a lick of Baxter Dury ‘Life During Lockdown’ backing. Only this time there’s an additional soulful female cooed chorus and the subject is Colm O’Connell’s family-run knitwear factory in the city centre of Dublin. Within that idyllic-natured return to a more carefree childhood, the whole gamut of life, death and remembrance is narrated both fondly and poignantly.

Concentrating on what’s most important, attempting to right some wrongs and holding one’s hands up to past mistakes, Colm and his foil Rory McDaid ease through some highly sensitive subjects to a musical accompaniment of Americana (once more), synthesized shading and gentle spacey takeoff sparkles, enervated bobbing dance music, piano-led balladry and wistful acoustics. However, within that scope they evoke a Muscle Shoals spiritual Rolling Stones, and a little Billy Preston, on the gospel organ sustained (with a cheeky hint of ‘Let It Be’ I might add) ‘I’m Not Enough’.      

Talking of the sensitive, and careful not to cancel themselves in the process, the duo filter their concerns on the increasingly problematic and volatile theme of cancel culture on the Med-twanged, gauzy ‘Erays’. Like passing through gargled spacy waters and a dry-ice machine they make sure to carefully word their take; misspelling “Erase” as a nod to rays of sunshine and hope in this struggle over censorship. They also seem to tackle teenage suicide and mental health issues on the iconic Dublin Nine Arches set drama ‘Boy On A Bridge’, and explore the grief of dementia by marrying solo McCartney to the Eels on the synth undulating ‘Sometimes’.

Already included on July’s monthly playlist, ‘Your Truth’ still stands out as one of the album’s best offerings. On a song about the cost of “freeing your mind”, or the indulgences of going too far, that Americana feel is taken in a novel direction with softly padded congas, a smooth bass and veil of psychedelic-indie ala later MGMT – I’m also positive I can also hear a touch of TV On The Radio.

In its entirety Sew Change is a completely realised album of reminisces, reflections and softly hushed reconciliations, set to a gentle wash of the spiritual, Irish snug and saloon bar piano, a lilted Dylan-esque lyrical cadence (see the nativity-evoked ‘Hiding In Plain View’) and hazy suffusion of synth. The duo expand the palette without upsetting the formula to produce a complimentary follow-up every bit as slowly captivating.  

John Howard ‘From The Far Side Of A Far Miss’
(Kool Kat)  9th September 2022

Following in the slipstream of his third and final volume of memoirs (In The Eyeline Of Furtherance) the singer-songwriter John Howard, with the wind in his sails, is back with yet another album. But instead of the usual songbook formula this is a continuous one-track work of disarming, gentle brilliance that runs to over thirty-five minutes.

You could say it was a return to Howard’s long form songwriting experiments of 2016 and the Across The Door Sill album, or perhaps even a reaction to (one of his heroes of the form) Bob Dylan and his Boomer odyssey ‘Across The Rubicon’, which more or less charts an entire epoch. Howard is a bit younger than Dylan of course, but both artists seem to be making some of their best work at this stage in their lives: uncompromising and unburdened by expectation or the need to suck up to fashions, labels, even the public they share an envious position. That Dylan mini-opus only lasted a mere seven-minutes in comparison, whilst Howard’s grand effort runs and runs, covering as it does a lifetime as a proxy soundtrack to his series of autobiographies.

Far more melodious than his hero’s reflections, this scrapbook photo album reminisce features Howard’s signature balladry-troubadour and stage musical verve of poetically candid prose, sung both wistfully and with a certain yearn.

Love is all though as Howard sets scene after scene, analogy after analogy; reconciling his past to a watery-mirrored piano-led score that’s constantly moving, picking up suffused strings, Dylan’s harmonica, a bucolic burnished harpsichord, a planetarium mood piece starry synth and light dabbing’s of congas and shaker. In what could be a reference to his own semi-cover version album Cut The Wire, there’s a hint of the Incredible String Band and also Roy Harper about this extended performance; especially Howard’s version of the former’s ‘In The Morning’. Later on it’s a lilt of The Beach Boys, bobbing on the “ripples of forever” line. Yet it’s unmistakably a John Howard sound, a lovingly executed piece of songwriting that more than holds its own across thirty-five minutes plus of ebbing drama.

But this is also a two-way conversation with Howard playing both sides of a long affair; the part of old lovers and new, friends, acquaintances and family, their words echoing now in the mists of the time that’s left. Dylan, that recurring idol, acts as a silent partner in one such discourse, as Howard sings about artistic integrity and his inspirations, a pantheon of uncompromising doyens. And in that same particular passage we also have Monroe and the Fab Four popping up; a Hard Days Night Beatles name-checked in what is both a celebrated yet fraught with delusion and remembrance chapter on this long winding road.

I particularly enjoyed the more salt-of-the-earth café scene diorama; Howard in voyeuristic mode describing a very unlikely cast, using both a kid who’s reading a Russian literary titan and a priest faraway in reflective thought (perhaps regret) as conduits for naming even more idols and favourites: “The kid who’s reading Tolstoy, listening to The Rolling Stones; I can hear old Jagger’s laughter floating from his phone.” Great lines by the way. The priest is “remembering Bowie’s Low”, which could of course be a reference to the same priest featured in the lyrics to ‘Five Years’ now contemplating a life that’s perhaps not all it seems.

Addressing, redressing whilst swanning through fantasies of a swish Ritz, 5th Avenue and Caesars Palace, imaging an alternative stratospheric career trajectory, headlining the Albert Hall, Howard takes us on a rolling, fluctuating journey through of his thoughts, dreams (realized and abandoned), regrets and hurt. By the end of this epic piece the final phrase, sung in a lasting glow, says it all: “It simply is what it always was”. Dylan couldn’t have put it much better.

An ambitious undertaking, From The Far Side Of A Far Miss is the work of an artist still willing to take chances and explore. Whilst his peers rely on the back catalogue, or drum out the same music they made over fifty plus years ago, Howard seems entirely comfortable in his own skin as a wiser yet still spritely young-at-heart artist composing music on his own terms. Fresh new introspections, concepts abound as he shows there’s still so much more to share and create.

Yara Asmar ‘Home Recordings 2018-2021’
(Hive Mind Records) 16th September 2022

The latest discovery on the Hive Mind radar emanates from Beirut, with the serialism and tonal atmospheres, ambient and minimal semi-classical melodies of Yara Asmar.

In a tumultuous climate, referenced in a sampled conversation piece on ‘Is An Okay Number’ and in the unsaid but moody reflections and vaporous drifts that push out into the unknown and untethered, the twenty-five year old multi-instrumentalist, video artist and puppeteer manages to often leave the earthly mess of a region in crisis and float out above the city.

From an airy viewing platform we can identify swirls, waves, gauzy veils and echoes of the concertinaed (courtesy of Asmar’s grandparents’ accordion), tubular metallic rings and tingles (that will be the metallophone), a serious but graceful piano, a music box, hinges and searing gleams and a beatified magical spell of Christian church liturgy. The latter source was recorded by Asmar from church hymnal services around the Lebanon; transduced into the hallowed yet otherworldly and mysterious, given a gentle waltz-like ghostly quality and only sense of a presence. A reference to country’s much troubled religious turmoil? The art of remembrance? Spiritualism? Or the familiar sounds of an upbringing? Whatever the reason it sounds both equally as ethereal, as it does supernatural: passages into other realms.

Tracks like ‘We Put Her In A Box And Never Spoke Of It Again’ are almost lunar in comparison to those hymns; lending a moon arc of Theremin-like UFO oscillations and cult library cosmic scores to this set of peregrinations and field-recordings. Yet for the most part this is a truly dreamy, translucent and amorphous album of delicate classicism, explorative percussion and ambient; an ebb and flow of reverberations and traces of moods, thoughts that literally floats above the clouds and out beyond the Lebanese borders. These home recordings recorded onto cassettes and a mobile phone capture something quite unique, in what are the most unique of times.   

Valentina Magaletti & Yves Chaudouët ‘Batterire Fragile’
(Un-Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi) 23rd September 2022

Is it performance art or just performance? Probably both as the lauded drummer extraordinaire Valentina Magaletti once more sits behind the artist Yves Chaudouët’s conceptualized porcelain drum kit.

If you follow either of these artists then you’ll know that this is the second installment of recordings to be taken from the original project back in 2017. Conceived by the painter turn multimedia artist Chaudouët as an exploration in texture and friction, wood, metal and rubber were all added to the porcelain kit; the effects of which, in the hands of such an accomplished musician traverse the concrete, avant-garde, art rock, breakbeat, the classical and freeform and dark jazz.

It’s been a couple of years since I last featured the highly prolific composer/producer and percussionist Magaletti, featuring her ‘tropical concrete’ communal with Marlene Riberio, Due Matte. In this space Magaletti continuously rattles, rolls, skids, skiffles, dusts and lays spidery tactile rhythms and strokes down as mooning, wailed and frayed bowed primal supernatural atmospherics stir.

We could be in Southeast Asia, Tibet or West Africa, even the Caribbean with passages that sound like steel drums bouncing away. We could also be in a subterranean chamber as resonating echoes of this tinny, metallic and deadened kit ricochet of the walls. Reductionist theatre, ceramic jazz, a paranormal drumming séance, the mood isn’t always easy to gauge. But as experimental as it is Magaletti is constantly rhythmic throughout; switching yet always hitting a beat, and even in some parts something that resembles a groove. An exercise on concept but also percussive, drumming performance, this collaboration straddles both the art and musical camps to bring us something quite different yet always engaging, interesting and virtuoso.  

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.

A Look At What’s Out There/Albums and EP reviews/Dominic Valvona

Jaguwar ‘Gold’
(Tapete Records)  22nd October 2021

Literally bursting back on the ‘scene’ with a driven psychedelic and rocking cyclone of future on-message pop, the Berlin and Dresden spanning Jaguwar trio finally release their new album after a three-year period of “intense” touring (well, up until Covid put travelling on hold).

In a constant reverberated state, Oyémi, Lemmy and Chris pummel and whip up a both halcyon and brooding maelstrom; raging against the machine, monuments and constraints of the now, whilst clearing a path for a giddy borderless utopian future. There’s “strength in individuality” they cry as another mini-epic of drilled drums, acid kinetics, echoed cybernetic growled bass and speed shift effects blast away.

Less noisy in part, but no less ambitious and sprawling sound wise, with constant crescendos and climaxes, Jaguwar conjure up a lush, dreamy but also moodier musical soundscape. At the heart of each flurry of sonic activity lies a more commercial friendly pop melody: think Mew or MGMT. The rounded softened anger of ‘Monuments’ has an air of Tears For Fears; the skipping prog-rock edged title-track ‘Gold’ a hint of Bloc Party and Muse; and the big drum sound opener ‘Battles’ an echo of the Secret Machines.

Gold is an intense maelstrom, bursting to explode; a warbled duel vocal yearning and rile for a brighter, inclusive future.

Boom. Diwan Featuring Nduduzo Makhathini  ‘Minarets EP’
5th November 2021

Lushly conceived across three countries (UAE, Kuwait and South Africa), if not at times caught in descriptive choppy maelstroms, the Arabian-African collaboration between Boom. Diwan and Nduduzo Makhathini is imbued with the spirit and soul of both partner’s heritage.  From the Abu Dhabi-based musician and ‘applied-ethnomusicologist’ Ghazi Al-Mulaifi led Boom. Diwan ensemble the rhythm and song of Kuwait’s pearl divers and Islamic poetry, and from the Blue Note showcased South African pianist Makhathini the spiritual sounds of the Zulu heartlands and a blend of the semi-classical and jazz.

Named, as are the EP’s tracks, with titles that act as much as metaphors for forgiveness and the tumult of the times “Minaret” in the Arabic language is a beam of light, a lighthouse even, but in the Islamic world is usually meant as the tower attached to a mosque, from where the daily calls to prayer are sung. Here its venerable position is part of a fluid, often melodious swept-up landscape in which Arabia meets Southern Africa.

Flowing across the peacefully lulled lyricism, hand-clapped and gently splashing or tumbled drums and almost transcendent guitar accents (which on the more chaotic but no less hymnal ‘Blood In The Wind’ plaint grows increasing distorted and wild), Makhathini’s piano flows freely like gently trickled and more disturbed waters. In that range you can hear echoes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Mingus, McCoy Tyner and John Hicks (in particular Pharaoh Sanders ‘Africa’).  

Diving for ‘The Pearl’ both musical spheres come together in an almost romantic performance: vulnerable but warm. Melodic spiritual Arabian sung harmonies with spells of free jazz, the cinematic and classical feel the air as the dramatic Gulf waters swell from the blessed to the choppy – the piano starts to emulate a touch of the Jaws theme by the end of this pearl dive. It’s a beautiful transportive piece of music, moving, exotic but instantly emotive.

For some reason the next suite (the already mentioned ‘Blood In The Wind’) reminded me of Robert Wyatt: albeit moved to the Middle East. With far more in the turbulent tank, this traverse promises upheaval, even if it is executed most tenderly.

Featuring those handclap rhythms and a tonal serial piano that dances, the proverb-like ‘Raise Your Words’ (“not your rage”) finds more relaxed, calmer seas.

Despite neither of the two collaborators meeting – forming as they did a trusting partnership over candid Zoom calls – Minarets is an incredibly intuitive and nuanced balance of musical styles; a work of great traversing beauty and yearning. I really look forward to these two coming together again in the future.

Also See…

Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds’ Choice Albums of 2020. Here

Noah ‘Étoile EP’
(Flaur)  22nd October 2021

In wisped apparitional and soothed vocal form the Japanese artist Noah evokes a dreamy spell of hushed yearns and beyond-these-realms tidings on her new French-esque EP, Étoile. Translated that title means, “star”, though it’s also the leading ballet dancer in a company, an opera and 1989 movie – in which, the main protagonist is possessed by the dead spirit of a former ballerina. There’s certainly a kind of haunted if diaphanous suffusion of voices and vocals, and more than a fleeting élan of France. The opening floral ‘Rosa Alba’ (the EP’s second single) evokes a late 70s, perhaps early 80s, French movie soundtrack that enraptures romance and mystique into one realist-fantasy. Slowed, steamed trip-hop beats, glistening caresses of angelic harp, tinkles of piano and strings, and patted breaths create an electric glide in blue.

Despite (which no artist can avoid) the pandemic and the driver s behind this EP’s trio of tracks (a rebellion against tradition/authority, and an awareness of deep emotions like anger and sadness) it all sounds so gauzy and beautiful. Often it sounds like we’re hearing just the faintest traces and reverberations of a song. Even when those electronic beats and synthesized drum kit sounds are brought in they are softened, or, motion wise, bobbing along nicely within these translucent structures.

Both the emotional “ah’d” ‘Perdu Au Paradis’ and magical ‘Moonchild’ (the first single) move towards sophisticated shuttered House and minimal Basic Channel beats and clipped baubles of light. Beautifully embodying a smoke-like vapour, Noah weaves emotive vibes from the ether.

Dear Laika ‘Pluperfect Mind’
(UK: Memorials Of Distinction/ROW/US: NNA Tapes) 29th October 2021

Atmospherically sounding like an out-of-body experience of the blurred and gauzy, Dear Laika’s debut album for the label is actually a both dreamy and dramatic celebration and outpouring of emotional-driven articulations born out of finding one’s true self. As a certain death knell toll of bowl and bell-like inner piano workings strike, Isabelle Thorn is set free from one life so she can transition into another.

Despite the anxieties and stressful processes (both medically and emotionally), the years spent in a certain solitude waiting for hormone treatments, the Pluperfect Mind album is filled with a slow-release of elation. “Inhabiting a body that now feels right” the extraordinary choral-voiced experimental artist makes the abstract sound tactile and diaphanous; creating a beautiful, if at times moody and darker, effective soundtrack of venerable, semi-classical relief and hurt.

Although in her notes Thorn declares she has a love/hate relationship with classical music – perhaps because its allurement reaches back to a pre-transitional past -, she casts a magical spell over the piano mechanisms, boundary pushed influences of Reich and Cage, the music of such luminaries as Messian, Finzi and Ravel, and the stirring holy choruses of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is all pulled together and given an almost ethereal and cosmic synthesized treatment of deeply felt purred bass, vapours and various entrancing ambient filters.

That incredible voice, which reads French poetry in the intricate, rattled and chimed ballet ‘Lilac Moon, Reflected Sun’, seems timeless yet also very much of the moment. It can sound under a myriad of reverberated, vaporised and cyber effects like FKA Twigs, Kate Bush, Bat For Lashes and on the scrunch-clap, storm raised ‘Guinefort’s Grave’ like a merger of Bjork and Beverly Craven. At its most haunting, accompanied by that holy choral chorus, like the ‘Requiem’ from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Almost a mirage in places, airy and with a lofty gravitas, Thorn attentively fades in and out of the music, and even time itself – walking off the contemporary set into a Medieval tapestry on the ‘Phlebotomy’ track.

References, connections are made to the Judaic and atavistic myths of the ‘primordial she-devil’ Lilith, who’s symbolism has been transformed to mean all manner of things to all manner of people, religions. In this instance a bewitching Lilith graces the title of a celebration. Another reference title name checks the home made famous in the lead up to Goya’s exile. The “deaf man’s villa’, or “Quinta del Sordo”, was the place where this famous Spaniard painted his haunting and sometimes grotesque character ‘black paintings’ (Saturn Devouring His Son, that kind of thing). Here we are led into a sort of Moorish Spain atmosphere of translucent mysteries. And the already mentioned ‘Guinefort’s Grave’ is song about the legend of St Guinefort: ‘the only saint who is also a dog’.

Processing the memories and the reminders of a less happy life whilst striking out after inhabiting the body she should have, Thorn, under her Dear Liaka moniker, eludes a fragile, vulnerable state yet somehow produces a very confident album. With depth and feeling, she reconnects with a highly intoxicating and mature work of incredible beauty and realisation. Expect to see this album in my choice list at the end of this year.    

Charlotte Greve, Wood River, Cantus Domus ‘Sediments We Move’
(New Amsterdam Records)  15th October 2021

The second release this week to feature a highly atmospheric, often dramatic, choral accompaniment; a heaving and diaphanous swell of voices in this case, provided by the Berlin choir Cantus Domus. Controlling these venerable voices is fellow Berliner and award-winning composer-singer-saxophonist Charlotte Greve, who magic’s up a stunning musically amorphous requiem on her new mini-opus.  

Once more with the Brooklyn (where the artist now resides) band Wind River backing her, the ever-experimental Greve builds an impressive (almost seamless) album of suites in her image: that’s open, vulnerable and free-spirited creatively. With an emphasis on inter-generational family dialogues and connections too, Greve’s brother Julius has contributed lyrics, which in the mouths of the Cantus Domus choir are filled with the gravitas of an operatic production and given a technically brilliant workout. 

The saxophone part of Greve’s accolade-rich CV would reasonably suggest that her music of choice could be jazz. And yes there are hints of it woven and contouring and drifting across some of these seven untethered tracks (a bit of lighter cosmic Donny McCaslin perhaps), but it’s only a small part of the overall sound dynamics. For at times there’s a mix of prog-rock, Zappa, the Floydian, These New Puritans, post-punk and even 80s Yes! All together it makes for a lunar-bounding, often free-falling and barreling religious and avant-garde piece of theatre.

Captivating at every turn, dreamy and floated, Sediments We Move is a gorgeous filmic and evocative album of timeless emotional pulls and élan, with an ear for the experimental.

Lisa Butel & Brent Cross ‘A Low Lament For Love And Loss/The Feeling Of Walking’ (Somewherecold Records) 5th November 2021

This month selection of choice music (as you may have noticed) is particularly heavy on voice/vocal experimentation; none so more then the double offerings from the Vancouver-based collaboration of sound artists, Lisa Butel and Brent Cross.

Another product of stress-relief and vehicle for abstract anxieties, feelings and terms of bereavement felt through the creation of music, during the harrowing and restrictive pandemic this sonic and empirical voiced partnership created a moiety of albums. As release valves for pent-up feelings of loss and isolation, these two album suites are full of blended and manipulated minimal synthesised sounds, piano accompaniments from a family heirloom, and a gauzy flow of uttered, elegiac, aria and tonal vocals.

A Low Lament For Love And Loss takes a one-hour improvised session and breaks it down into seven parts of varied elegy and ethereal sung mystique and diaphanous outpours. To a flutter, ripples and fuzzy synth undulations and drones, Butel’s voice yearns syllables and sounds. Often they sound otherworldly, or as in the case of the slowed, stripped Red Mecca era Cabaret Voltaire, buzzing and crisp Middle Eastern tinged ‘Intro To Lament’, like a mysterious call to prayer from atop of a minaret.

Wafted, drifted, translucent yet deeply felt that voice and accompaniment is entrancing but often tragic; dealing as it does from the loss of Cross’s mother, whose Heintzman piano can be heard throughout, fluctuating between sentimental tinkles, singular patted notes and melodious dreamy passages.

The Feeling Of Walking is in a very similar vein, though the process is a little different, using the voices as a sort of comfort and meditation. Opening beautiful gesture ‘I’m Giving Out The Love’ is like a mix of ambient generated dreaminess and slowcore; ‘Super Skies’ an almost monastic kind of poetry. There’s even a kind of Japanese dulcimer-like feel to the ghostly, delicate ‘The Beautiful Women’

Two congruous releases of pent-up emotions delivered in the form of an experiment between voice, piano and a palette of purposeful oscillations and manipulations, Cross and Butel’s lockdown albums act as a personal process but above all sound fully immersive and cathartic: A communal, connective experience. 

Hellenica ‘Blood Meridian: An Imagined Soundtrack’
(Somewherecold Records)  15th November 2021

You can’t read everything. And so now wishing I had read the evangelised Cormac McCarthy’s supernatural anti-Western Blood Meridian tome, I’m left feeling out-of-the-loop with Jim Demos (aka Hellenica since 2009) imaginative soundtrack for that acclaimed novel. Like one of those “what could have been” fandom generated homages, Jim’s cinematic score graces the movie yet to be made of that violent story – think Peckinpah totally uncensored and off the leash.

I admit I’ve had to do my research – yeah it’s a book friends have championed in the past, but never made my reading list. But in brief, Blood Meridian is at least tenuously based on the all too real horrifying exploits of the Glanton gang of miscreants; led by the early Mexican-Texas settler, ranger and mercenary John Joel Glanton. Scalp-hunters for hire, accustomed to blood bath massacres of not just the indigenous people but also anyone that crossed their path, this notorious skulk ran riot in the old West. Told from the perspective of a volunteer (I say volunteer, it was this or the rope) known only as “the kid”, the reader’s immersed in a old Western story of hurt and pain, and introduced to the gang’s leader “The Judge”; a sort of daemonic magnetism of a character, half gory guru, half Kurtz, who every character in the book meets and leaves the presence of in some state of semi-spiritual conversion and menace.

Jim loosely makes references to various chapters, scenes from the story; the most obvious being the opener ‘The Blood Of Toadvine’, which refers to the character of the same name, an acquaintance of “the kid”, member of the gang and the link in the chain of events that lands our protagonist towards almost esoteric barbarity. Here it’s scored with a yearning Western vibrato twanged arrangement that takes us across a supernatural-desert landscape. Hints of a voiceless Crime & The City Solution, the Bad Seeds, Alex Puddu and a very removed Roy Budd merge into that setting.

A re-imagined Morricone rubs shoulders with John Carpenter, Mandy soundtrack Jóhana Jóhannson, Wovenhand and Belbury Poly on this intrepid gothic, often eerie album of bloodletting. Yet amongst the Western tremolo and rattles, the mirages and warbles, there’s a suffused current of 80s sci-fi, adventure, and a dream-realism spell of Gallo thriller/horror. There’s even a touch of early Mute Records synthesized drums, and an air of new romanticism Visage on the deep groaning, skeleton bones traced ‘Parallax And False Guidance’. And the “169” frequency broadcasting, soft cantered ‘Westward Again’ sounds like a meeting between Kavinsky and Moroder.

Despite the material at its core, this soundtrack is peppered with sounds of celeste like chimes, soft walking melodies and dreamy halftime progressive jazz drums.

If they do ever get past all the issues and actually get this book on the screen, Jim’s got the soundtrack ready to go. Western scores have rarely sounded so different and mysterious; tragic and esoteric.

Spacelab ‘Dead Dimension’
(Hream Recordings) 12th November 2021

Growth and death manifest themselves in the celestial vortex and expanses of an imagined universe on the new Spacelab album. The strains of coping with a pandemic that is far from over, the anger, resentment, paranoia and hopelessness of it all is channeled into a soundtrack made in real-time: a spontaneous process that captures the exact state of mind and resulting mood music there and then.

Always in a spiral or cyclonic loop; always travelling at a certain velocity through space, Dead Dimensions captures the dying reverberations of a dead star, or, sets the dials towards hyper-drive, thrusting through tunneled and warped light passages of kosmische, ambient and sci-fi music on its way to a rendezvous with otherworldly escapism.

In amongst the pulses, continuous reversal effects, speed-shifts and oscillations the sound of plucked ambiguous instruments, even melodies, can be heard: but only in snatches. At times choral voices can be made out, leading to distant cathedral symphonic music and a mere resonance of Kluster and Tangerine Dream.

Spacelab’s emotional states lead to skying across neutron-calculated clouds, probing paranormal activity aboard a space freighter, and journey’s inside a roulette table spinning transport hub. Satellites, fleeting snippets of memories and debris fly by on this hurtle through a universe of mystery, lament, curiosity and gravitas, as Spacelab concentrates grief, rage and despair into a sonic cosmology.      

See Also…

Spacelab ‘Kaleidomission

Almeeva ‘To All My Friends EP’
(Baciami Disques)  29th October 2021

A touching, inclusive gesture from the electronic composer Gregory Hoepffner, who welcomes one and all to experience the ecstasy and euphoria under the roof of his Almeeva dance music club. Amongst a special set of N-R-G, Euro-dance music, techno and electronic body movement, the multi-instrumentalist producer lives in the moment for once.

With a mixed CV that includes stints as a producer and collaborator, and compositions that span TV, film and commercial projects, a slight jaded Hoepffner has now been revitalized and “redeemed” after a move to Sweden and creative exchange with the producer of critical and commercial heft Christoffer Berg (Depeche Mode, The Knife, Robyn, Fever Ray) – Those creative sparks must fly continuously as both producers now share a studio together.

Hoepffner’s relatively new Almeeva guise and EP suggests, at least, a happy medium of club land dance music and a free-flow of expanded ideas: even the cerebral. For amongst the house music style piano refrains, swimmingly sun filtered melodies, Euro-trance and beats there’s snatches of sagacious freedom from the trans icon Beverly Glenn-Copeland (the jazz-poet-singer-songwriter who went public in 2002, identifying as a trans-man). In a tribute to the now late Andrew Weatherall, Hoepffner leads the listener through a myriad of sonic rooms; from trebly gnarled Killing Joke post-punk to indie-dance, baggy and the Chemical Brothers. Basically a crossover of styles that’s very much in keeping with the late eclectic artist: the spirit of Weatherall is strong on this one.

As if to mix things up, slowcore siren Diane Pellotieri (of Pencey Sloe fame) sings like a mirage-filtered apparition on the cyclonic swirled dance track ‘Slowly Fading’. This dreamy voiced haze of Balearic and love blanketed Euro-dance music reminded me a little of the Boston synth group Violet Nox. Another surprise is the short lived ‘interlude’ of cathedral rays and airy veils ‘Church Of Ecstasy’ – a kind of ambient cosmic release of Vangelis meets Sven Vath. 

If as the Almeeva style Hoepffner says, he’s trying to avoid fitting labels, then I’d say the To All My Friends EP is a success. He doesn’t just side step them as to run freely across a whole array of electronic genres, never settling in any of them for long: always on the move.

Stereo Total ‘Chanson Hystérique 1995 – 2005’
(Tapete Records)  5th November 2021

And so we bid adieu, a fond farewell to the original idiosyncratic bilingual Franco-German duo, who couldn’t have foreseen when setting out this sprawling celebratory box set that it would actually be the last release to feature the maverick magic of Françoise Von Heve (nee Françoise Cactus) who passed away back in February of this year. That now leaves Friedrich Von Finsterwalde, aka Brazil Göring, without his foil.  

Alas Chanson Hystérique is now a epitaph and tribute to an astonishing polygenesis mind; one that could effortlessly run through tiki lounge chanson, booted knockabout glam rock, ye-ye, Jacques Detronc, transmogrified spurts of Transvision Vamp, Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, circus tremolo fandangos across Casio keyboards and The Fall on just one album: namely the duo’s ‘95 debut Oh Ah!

It was a relationship that in the end spanned four decades. But it’s the first decade of recordings, with a number of compilation rarities and some of their theatre work that makes up this seven X CD chronicle. It begins with the already mentioned rambunctious debut and finishes with 2005’s Do The Bambi.

Like the accompanying sketchbook of artwork that comes with this collection, anything goes: as long as its fun. Usually with a Eurotrash of lo fi keyboards, punk-pop low rent drum kit and guitar, the duo serenaded, danced Honolulu style to country music, and performed hijinks versions of both famous and the most underground covers: from KC And The Sunshine’s Euro fun ‘Get Down Tonight’ to an ESG like romp at Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’ and a version of that famous French pop masterpiece, as made legendary by Vanessa Paradis,  ‘Joe La Taxi’.   

With much continental élan, pep and humour, plus lashings of irony, Stereo Total switched between French and German (and English too) languages and musical styles; somehow always maintaining their own unique signature. A signature that could be summed up as German new wave meets French gauloises wafted aloofness post-punk. All of which is softened with a Gallic mischief and 60s café culture meets bubblegum pop coolness.

Unless you’re a fan, or familiar with the Monokini, Juke-Box Alarm, My Melody, Musique Automatique, Do The Bambi and Carte Postale albums you’re in for a rare surprising treat. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ll recognize the music, which has adorned many TV ads over the years. From the salacious to cute; Mondo to empowering, Stereo Total were a marvel; a unique musical force for good. No one but Sparks comes close. And influence wise their sound has been amplified to all corners of the globe.

This box set could just be the most fun and escapist package of the year. And for that it’s worth owning. 

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.

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