Dominic Valvona’s New Music Reviews Roundup





A bumper roundup this month from me of eclectic tastes from across the sphere, including albums, singles, cassettes and EPs from Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Andrew Heath, Picturebox, Bokanté And Metropole Orkest, Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Perhaps and Stringmodulator.

In brief, ‘lower-case’ minimalist composer Andrew Heath delivers another almost recondite album of in-situ recordings for the Disco Gecko label, with his fifth album Evenfall. In the same orbit, albeit far more mysterious, haunted and experimental, the Kammerflimmer Kollektief conjure up seven cerebral mood environment themed extemporized performances on, what could be, the longest entitled LP of 2018, There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us. Crossing over with the titans of proto-Krautrock, the freak-out that is the Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Jim Haney’s own Kosmische Afrobeat and jazz explorers Perhaps feature two of its members on their upcoming improvisation Hexagon. Haney also, through the boutique Kamikaze cassette tape platform, re-releases/re-introduces two of the legendary astral-travellers iconic albums to the world, In C and La Novia. Plus we have the latest recruit to join the Submarine Broadcasting Company hub, the German ten-string duo Stringmodulator; delivering their debut manifesto of noise for the label, all sounds emanating through just a bass and electric guitar.

Away from the electronic traverses and peregrinations there’s the new album of maverick Canterbury psych and new wave pop eccentricity from Picturebox; the Gare du Nord label supergroup long for ‘escape’ on their second album. And the cinematic transglobal partnership Bokanté And Metropole Orkest release a dramatic sweeping suite, What Heat.


Bokanté And Metropole Orkest – Conducted By Jules Buckley ‘What Heat’ (Real World Records) 28th September 2018

 

Unsurprisingly, considering the renowned cast of musical talent that has joined forces to create this sweeping cinemascope suite, the supergroup-within-a-supergroup behind this global union of outstanding collectives has risen to the challenge of producing a polygenesis epic. The providence is as rich as it is long, with the ‘Texan-bred’ New York instrumental jazz hybrid Snarky Puppy founder Michael League the instigator behind the continent-straddling intergenerational Bokanté, and the acclaimed English conductor, composer and musician Jules Buckley leading the multiple Grammy-winning cross-discipline and genre Metropole Orkest ensemble.

Within those two groups number a multitude of talented individuals and guests too numerous to name, though one of the most integral performers, a co-founder of Bokanté, is the Montreal-based Guadeloupean vocalist Malika Tirolien, who’s robust if diaphanous pitch and scale fluctuating coos and song can be found navigating and articulating the themes and distresses on every composition. An awe-inspiring voice of transglobal tones, expressions and dynamism, Tirolien’s meandering vocals are informed and graced by the Creole language – a most flowing of French-based languages that can sound especially percussive and funky, the dialect of her home being quite a specific form of it, though not too dissimilar to the Creole of Martinique and other former colonial French territories. It also lends its etymology to the ensemble that League and Tirolien started; Bokanté translates as ‘exchange’.

Musically transcending borders, the catalyst for this ambitious project – theoretically an acoustic one – is to not only share and celebrate cultures but draw attention to the increasingly hostile political tensions that threaten to cut off communities around the world. A reminder then of the benefits of our multicultural legacy, What Heat returns to the source, combing the Arabian and North African lands for inspiration.

A highly atmospheric and dramatic soundtrack with a stirring, accentuate company of strings adding a certain gravitas this sprawling panorama is cinematic in scope and mood. Broodily romantic, traversing a West African diorama, with guest Weedie Braimah on the djembe, the opening ‘All The Way Home’ fuses the true soul of that continent with flashes of jazz and urban modern R&B, tracing a connection all the way from New York to Ghana and Mali: Rustic sounding banjo and pedal steel guitar giving the impression that the group are merging the desert plains of Africa with American bluegrass and the Morricone imagined Wild West on the tribal soulful ‘Fanm (The Woman)’ and more enigmatic sounding ‘Chambre à Échos (Echo Chamber)’.

Elsewhere the evocation of Hispaniola, Brazil, Tunisia merges and crosses amorphously to an often lush but also tumultuous Buckley conducted Orchestra and quivered springy flute-y and skittering percussion. Plaintive, mournful and equally in anger at topics such as the migrant crisis, the album can’t help but sound like a rousing filmic adventure throughout: a most beautifully performed and sung one at that. Remarkably considering how densely packed the arrangements’ cast is, there is plenty of space to be found, even when a maelstrom turbulence is stirred up.

Swooning over vistas like a contemporary Gershwin who’s been listening to Beck, Trip-Hop, Afro-Futurist jazz, country and Malian blues, this, as it turns out, most congruous partnership successfully conjures up a wondrous hybrid drama that pushes each of the respective ensembles to the limits.






Perhaps ‘Hexagon’ (Riot Season Records) 12th October 2018

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. ‘In C’ & ‘La Novia’ (Kamikaze Tapes) Out Now

 

In what is a crossover of mutual appreciation and ‘head music’ hedonism, Jim Haney of the Kamikaze Tapes felicitator and astral-navigator of the Boston, Massachusetts cosmic-jazz-psych-Krautrock band Perhaps has been sucked-in to the acid-cosmology of the legendary Japanese ‘freak-out’, the Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.. The Acid Mothers’ only real constant presence, and its founder, Kawabata Makoto, alongside just one of the group’s many band members over the decades, Mitsuru Tabata, both feature on Perhaps’ latest traverse, Hexagon. Meanwhile the Acid Mothers have re-released two of their most fabled albums, In C and La Novia, through Haney’s ‘boutique’ tape platform: I believe for the first time on cassette.

Both sharing similar musical tastes and penchant for experimental improvisation, it seems an obvious choice for Haney to absorb their experience and free-form escapism on Perhaps’ sixth long player; an album that features one long extended flight of woozy fantastical psychedelic-Afrobeat-jazz-Kosmische jamming, cut into a moiety over two sides of vinyl. ‘The Number Of The Priest’, parts one and two, pit Tony Allen’s repetitive Afrobeat drum beat an Idris Ackamoor breaks bread with Xhol Caravan style peregrination against a constant tide and enveloping of zapping, rippling, squelched, high velocity takeoffs and oscillations. All of which threaten to fold or tear the melodic celestial fabric.

On the shore of an Afro-Futurist style Topographic Ocean, journeying across alpha waves and signing squiggles across the Milky Way, part one of this cosmic soundtrack opens with a more earthy rustic country blues harmonization. Members of the extensive guest list ape a despondent Crosby, Stills & Nash or Mike Nesmith style chorus: “Oh the water runs high on the river at midnight/I sit on the shore to grieve and to cry/The woman I love she left me this morning, with no one to kiss me goodnight.” They soon leave these weeping shores, beckoning in the acid Afrobeat and deconstructive forces that try to dismantle it.

The second part continues the same vibe but with more strangled, scratchy and tangled guitar, synth polygons and six-sided mayhem! Despite the stellar meteorite shower of debris and harsher effects that threaten to destroy it, there’s a great Afro-jazz melody and beat at the heart of this trip. A trip that at its most hallucinatory-chaotic and noisiest bears all the hallmarks of the Acid Mothers.







Speaking of which. Two of the loose freak-out ensemble’s prolific back catalogue titles are gathered together on tape, re-released or re-introduced to the universe twenty years on from their original release dates. For those unaware of this Japanese institution that sprouted out of the kool-aid soup in the early 1990s, the Acid Mothers haven’t just taken a liberal sip from the Krautrock chalice but bathed in it as the natural disciples to that epochs cosmic explorers and innovators. They do such a good job of it that you could easily mistake them for golden era Amon Düül I and II, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, Popol Vuh or Birth Control. In the mode of a transient, transcendental Les Rallizes Dénudes they absorb and produce a psychedelic phantasm of both meditative mysticism and freeform thrashing acid rock. Constantly evaluating and evolving, even forming alliances with their influences, just one example being Acid Gurus Temple (later changed to Acid Mothers Guru Guru) with madcap drumming progenitor and bandleader of Guru Guru Mani Neumeier, only the founding arch druid of this enterprise, Kawabata Makoto remains at the helm after twenty-five years of spewing out proto-Krautrock explorations.

Originally released in 1998 as a transmogrification riff on Terry Riley’s masterpiece of minimalism, ‘In C’, the Acid Mothers push the perimeters of that exalted composer’s loose concept towards the dreamy and haunted. Consisting of fragments and modules in C (though even this basic premise isn’t written in stone, with other notes and scales allowed if the situation and environment call for it), the actual rudimental arrangement can be shortened, extended, played within various structures and at a variety of tempos. An open-ended performance the Acid Mothers use a similar chiming, ringing vibraphonic introduction but transformed so it takes on the ascendant visage of an astral spiritual pilgrimage. That is until they throw in the overlapping rotating drum barrage. Sort of split, though thin quieter dissipation passages link each section together, into three parts (the third I think is a separate track entirely), the dizzy Wurlitzer motion calms into a mystical Tibetan meets Afghan occult of ghostly visitations (the ghost train to Lhasa!) section before communing with the reverberating spirits of early Can and Yeti and Wolf City period Amon Düül II.

From the dawn of the new millennium La Novia builds another one of those haunted mystical freak-outs, on this occasion channeling the atavistic folk music of the southern European Occitanian tradition. Historically spanning a third of southern France, parts of Catalonia, Monaco and Italy, this region, once know under the Roman Empire’s yolk as Aquitania, is still imbued with its legacy and cultural connections. Here, the Acid Mothers troupe take one of the Occitanian’s lamentable folk ditties and transform it into mantra like liturgy, half Axlerod, half Tibetan. Monk like hums and strange annunciations overlap with female apparitions to set up a spooky atmosphere. Guitars and drums eventually seep into the tapestry of amplified Popol Vuh, Phallus Dei Amon Düül II and the Ash Ra Tempel, but then fade into a medieval spell. A second track strikes up when the first melts away; this last peregrination drifting in a dreamy state on an Eastern pillow before fleshing out another fuzzy psychedelic, otherworldly jam.

Both albums prove invaluable to the evolution of psych and Krautrock, the Acid Mothers possibly one of the most experimental and best groups to emerge in the aftermath of the original scene. They’ve arguably become one of the most highly influential groups of their own era. Many, if not all, inroads into this freakzone over the last three or more decades lead back to those crazy Japanese. Long may they continue to oscillate towards the stars in their Technicolor U.F.O. If you want to own any of their extensive, haphazard and often impossibly hard to track back catalogue, this double-bill cassette would be a great start.






Kammerflimmer Kollektief  ‘There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us’ (Bureau B) 23rd September 2018

Fathoming serialism soundtracks from, as the group put it, ‘who the fuck knows’ for over twenty years, across ten albums, the Kammerflimmer Kollektief once more peer into the ether to extract another avant-garde-ambient-industrial-kosmische-jazz vision on what could be the year’s longest entitled album.

Going through a manner of changes during that time, the Kollektief’s constant presence and founder Thomas Webber is bookended on the new album by the deft, probing, double-bass player Johannes Frisch and atmospherically eerie harmonium vessel Heike Aumüller – though Webber, on whining and waning guitar sculpting duties, and his companions use a host of instruments throughout their conceptual-minded performances.

Countering various moods with a number of real locations, each extemporized track is framed as a ‘Action’; each example of which counterbalances the ‘immersive’ with the ‘haunted’, the ‘lucid’ with the ‘impassioned’ and the recondite with the concrete. A reification of ideas and psycho-geography that informs each destination, all seven action titles offer vague clues and prompts to the group’s inspirations; many of which hold a literary reference – the radio signal melee, ‘Action 2: Discharged, Quauhnáhuac’ referencing the double volcanic snuggled small Mexican town made famous by the acclaimed writer Malcolm Lowry in his critically venerated Under The Volcano novel as the diorama for a day (of the dead) in the life of its fateful alcoholic British consul protagonist, Geoffrey Firmin.

Elsewhere in the purview of feelings and environments, the trio articulate a lucid state in the San Diego coastal Imperial Beach; a location of Surf lore that has appeared in a myriad of fictional titles, but equally notable for its strong US Navy presence. Though eventually clicking into a twisted esoteric Western ritual, this opening action is anything but a moody soundtrack to this surfing paradise, travelling as it does through an inverted test tube into a menacing landscape of controlled wailed guitar, harmonium drones and sawing, scraping strings; breaking out into a final jazzy, skipping outro. Keeping Stateside and in the Californian outlier, ‘Action 5’ features the small Marin County town of Bolinas: the mood ‘resplendent’. Though the improvised soundscape drifts between the ominous and weird, the harmonium is the only instrument that is easy to identify amongst the wooden creaks and stretches (a set of oars perhaps?), rotors and hums.

Back on European shores we have invocations of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau inspired French park and commune, Ermenonville (planned in 1752 by Rousseau patron and friend, René Louis de Girardin; the philosopher’s tomb famously sits on an artificial island in the middle of a lake in the gardens); the foot-of-the-Carpathian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, part of Western Ukraine (changing hands between various empires, including the Holy Roman and Soviet, over the ages); and the Saxony-Anhalt town, resting on the east side of the Elbe River, of Jerichow (not incidentally translated etymology style from the Biblical Jericho). Closer still to home, the album’s most serene moment is a Roedelius/Möbius/Eno/Rother Harmonia style drift into the port of Hamburg. ‘Action 3’ is anything but as ‘thoughtless’ as the mood prefix suggests; instead it sounds like a gentle but deep sailing meditation into the veils of some mysterious salvation.

Impossible to escape the German lineage of Krautrock, post-industrial and Kosmische, the Kollektief often evoke the folkloric mysticism atmospheres of Dance Of The Lemmings and older Amon Düül II albums, Faust, Einstürzende Neubauten. But they also stir up the most experimental of European jazz, esoteric Americanna, avant-garde and Godspeed You! Black Emperor influences too. Yet they conjure ghostly apparitional manifestations both imaginatively disturbing and dreamy, and entirely their own. TAAWWHNAWNCTCU is a topography of not only real historical, literary places but also feelings, emotions; a deep suffusion of enigmatic intelligence.




Andrew Heath ‘Evenfall’ (Disco Gecko) 21st September 2018

 

Once more resonating with the piano explorations of open-ended collaborative partner on a series of projects over the years, Hans-Joachim Roedelius – most famously on the Meeting The Magus album, and more recently with the live improvised recording Triptych In Blue, which also features fellow avant-garde composer/artist Christopher Chaplin – Andrew Heath’s latest album for Disco Gecko (his fifth) continues to emanate the most deft and ambient of musical articulations from a chosen environment. As with his last album Soundings, the self-styled composer of ‘lower-case’ minimalism evokes enigmatic, mysterious and occasionally mournful passages of evolving, passing time through the use of found and created sound manipulation and in-situ (a concatenate theme that connects to Heath’s site specific video art) field recordings.

The ‘in-situ’ of this soft imbued tribute to the Evenfall hour of light that beckons the start of the evening is a remote woodland glade in the English Cotswolds. It’s a place where nocturnal nature meets the machinations of human activity, the friction buzz and fizzled zap of a manmade electric fence and distant humming drones of an unidentified engine offer a constant synthesized undulation for light rain and stirrings in the undergrowth.

Articulating the seclusion, though never far away from the presence of the outside world, and passing of time in his chosen Avalon, Heath’s signature phrased piano note caresses, couplets and subtly-placed chords are this time accompanied and expanded upon to not only feature his own underwater bendy guitar and Morse-code tapping tape manipulations but also the searing soprano saxophone of the award-winning (Young Musician Of The Year 2018) Lydia Kenny and poignantly stark narrated poetry of the prize-winning Romanian poet, writer and journalist Maria Stadnicka. You could say it was a Gloucestershire effort, if not certainly informed by the county, as all the cast on this recording are based there or have an affinity with it, and of course it is home to the location from which the field recordings are taken from.

Kenny for her part, offers a suffused longing with occasionally piercing notes traverse to Heath’s piano and burnished, rubbing metallic drones on ‘The Still Of Evenfall’, and Stadnicka reads, in an almost automated, somehow not quite human mimicry of A.I. fashion, her intimate elegiac and startling erudite poem Breathing on the floating, misty ambient ‘The Garden Reveals Itself’: A poetic revelation metaphor that chimes with Heath’s unhurried compositions, the final line of Stadnicka’s poem lending itself to the title, describing artfully through the action of ‘breathing’ the memories, sense and sensations that come to those awaiting the inevitable; ruminating on the hours left:

‘He believes in time,

and in mistakes –

the heroic stare of heavy hours,

equally empty for all.’

With what sounds like all the time in the world, unpressured and untethered Heath creates the minimalist musical equivalent of slow food – though every effort is made at a serialism non-musical exploration, rhythms and patterns emerge to put this album in the neo-classical and melodious ambient camps. Adding at a slow pace a number of instruments and techniques Heath expands his nuanced experiments on Evenfall to shift, however minor, the focus and atmosphere on each new album. Heath stakes his claim as a natural scion of the ambient progenitors, especially his sometime foil, Roedelius: A compliment that don’t come any better.






Picturebox ‘Escapes’ (Gare du Nord) 21st September 2018

 

As if the cottage-industry polyglot Ian Button hadn’t led or collaborated enough already, more or less appearing as he does as the omnipresent instigator of the lion’s share of releases on his own diy-fashioned Kent-Paris international connected label Gare du Nord, he’s back once more stoking the fires of another unassuming supergroup: Picturebox. Two years on from the Canterbury soft bulletin psych and curious pop-imbued band’s last album, Button has somehow not only found the time and the patience to recall songwriter Robert Halcrow, Ben Lockwood and Alex Williams but also corralled fellow label stalwart Jack Hayter (a multi-tasker in his own right, he’s let loose on the violin on the Slim Chance-esque rustic canal path ‘The Vicar’s Dog’) and one-man band Matthew Dutra (not letting anyone else get a look in, Dutra not only co-wrote the concertinaed train journey inspired ‘GNER’ but also plays the guitar, piano and harmonica on it). In many ways a crossover project, Picturebox shares members with Buton’s other label love-in, and growing super-supergroup, Papernut Cambridge.

Quintessentially English, channeling many of the Kentish and bordering counties cannon of lo-fi mavericks and psychedelic eccentrics, from Kevin Ayers to Syd Barrett, though equally comfortable evoking new wave, Britpop and indie, the Picturebox set out to produce ‘pop music with an edge.’ And so just when you think the grinding fuzz and warping that introduces the album’s opening track, ‘Stumble’, indicates we might be in for an abrasive psych trudge they break out into a jangly pop mash-up of The Lemonheads, Stiff Fingers and Robyn Hitchcock. Elsewhere they evoke a melancholic Boo Radleys on the wistful daydream ‘Secret Escapes’, Denim on the Casio bossa-shimmer pre-set kooky ‘Nice Boys’ Mobile Disco’ and The Kinks on the downer minor bass chord pinged and submerged ‘Sirens’.

Those familiar to the label and its signature themes will recognize the idiosyncratic whimsy, sometimes surreal resignation, that often disarms or brings a comical veil to the sadder tropes of loneliness, unrequited love, and political climate, or as this album’s title makes apparent, the idea of and need to escape. Frustrations and the feelings of powerlessness, whether it’s in a job or relationship transcribe into quirks and metaphors: For example, the trapped in uninspiring low paid work after leaving school, encapsulated in the conformity of a ‘Uniform’.

Escaping by train, cab and airplane, Picturebox seem to have failed in getting away if the album’s final vignette swansong is anything to go by. That finale, ‘Troyte’, is a fleeting elegiac woozy Church organ service; a pastoral English past encapsulated and recalled in a short venerable passage; a reminder of the past, nostalgia and parochialism, which might be a comment on Brexit. The mood and outcome of which the group really hopes to break free and escape from. Pop music with an edge indeed, Escapes is another brilliant curious songbook of melodic eccentricity from the Gare du Nord stable.






Stringmodulator ‘Manifesto – Noises Made By Guitar And Bass’ (Submarine Broadcasting Company) 10th September 2018

 

Pretty much summing up the methodology of the German duo, the Stringmodulator moniker and title of their latest album is self-explanatory: Basically take your guitar and bass strings and…well, modulate them. Modulate them that is, through an effects-pedal switchboard of phaser, fuzz, reverb, cosmic flange and delay; ten strings looping, overlapping and pulsing to create a sound greater than the sum parts of Jan Quednau’s bass and Fabian Chmielewski’s electric guitar.

Entirely channeling through these two instruments, composed spontaneously and recorded on a two-track device without overdubs, the duo’s manifesto-driven debut for the Submarine Broadcasting Company platform transduces elements of Krautrock, post-rock, electronica and jazz fusion into a warped soundtrack of curious, wild and motoring instrumentals.

After the swirling ambient mists and distant low airplane engine like hums have dissipated on the ‘Prologue’, repetitive notation nodes, loops, patterns and resonance form to produce a Techno rhythm and bounce on the rock music version of ‘Pocket Calculator’ meets Yellow Magic Orchestra ‘Thump & Shriek’. Ruminating over pining, often meditative, landscape, Chmielewski’s guitar phrases arch and arc like the communing astral postures of Manuel Göttsching; especially on the ballad-esque scenic cave with water pool feature curtain call ‘A Quiet Place’.

Providing a varied and echo-y bed for his musical partner, Quednau offers a driving, prowling rhythm with his bass, but can also create a vaporous presence. On the Mike Oldfield lurking in the crypt with John Carpenter spooky suspense ‘Horror Vacui’, that bass guitar lays down an ominous and looming Goblin-esque atmosphere, and manages to turn the Kosmische chugger ‘Growl’ into a twisted Native Indian tribal beat.

Careering between a possessed, strangulated Land Observations on the ghost-in-the-machine ‘Guitar Sabotage’ and a caustic reverberating The Normal on the sharp squiggly sculpted ‘White Noise’ the duo sure know how to fill enough space and make enough noise for just two instruments. Yet they can articulate and describe subtly and skillfully the emotions and themes of their attuned performances, especially on the aching distressed rebounded ‘Echo Chamber’.

Not unique by any stretch Stringmodulator are however quite different in their approach; many of their contemporaries choosing similar two-instrument collaborations, though it’s usually twinned with a drum kit, work in the rock and indie genres. More like an amped-up Eno & Fripp or loopcentric lapping Math Rock version of Ash Ra Temple colliding with Einstürzende Neubauten this ten-string project is influenced by a wide range of conceptual and experimental artists: even soundtrack composers. Arty, technical yet ballsy, they span many moods; energetic being one of their strongest. I’m recommending it though because it is so different and difficult to define. It confounds me to be honest. And I find that interesting.





Words: Dominic Valvona

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DOMINIC VALVONA’S ESSENTIAL REVIEWS ROUNDUP 





Reaching the sixtieth edition of my eclectic music revue – that’s roughly 500 albums over the last four years – I find an as ever eclectic mix of albums from around the globe; from South Africa to South Korea; from Brazil to Sweden and France.

Searching out the best or at least notable and interesting releases from the last month or so then, my latest circumnavigation includes the Brazilian composer/guitarist Rodrigo Tavares first album on the new Hive Mind Records label, the traversing amorphous road trip Congo, and the second soundtrack-like collaboration between Hampshire & Foat, the yearningly beautiful fairytale suite The Honey Bear. I also take a look at the ambitious debut album from the Oxford-based expansive indie pop and celestial electronic collective Flights Of Helios (Endings); the international debut release of Korean avant-garde, soundscape and minimalism rising star Park Jiha’s Communion; another numeral entitled free-jazz and Kosmische blowout from the USA trio Perhaps; the fourth album of matriarchal harmonious a cappella from the South African vocal group, the Afrika Mamas; a reissue of the obscure Swedish prog and heavy rockers Bättre Lyss’ 1975 private pressing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge; and the impressive ‘deluxe’ edition of the pop-revisionist chanson album À Ta Merci by French sensation Flora Fishbach.

Hampshire & Foat  ‘The Honey Bear’   Athens Of The North, 28th February 2018

 

As with all fairy tales, the roots of these often enchanting stories lie in real psychological trauma and truths – forewarning metaphors aimed at finding happy endings, yet alerting to the dangers of a myriad of human failings: ones we all share by the way. The congruous partnership of jazz pianist/composer Greg Foat and ex-Bees multi-instrumentalist Warren Hampshire – both natives of the Isle Of Wight, which they use as a base, retreat and inspiration for much of the music on this their second album, as a collaborative duo, together – are ambiguous about the narrative that underpins the charmingly weaved The Honey Bear album, but the references and themes are all signposted well enough to be deciphered.

Based on an imaginative fictional children’s book, each instrumental track attributed to one of its chapters, The Honey Bear could be read in a number of ways; alluding as it does to sagacious rumination, the passing of time and seasons, innocence and of course the travails of addiction, the search for the magic elixir of life. You can substitute ‘honey’ for as many different substances and desires as you want; the kooky candy stitched honey bear that merrily jaunts into a magical if ominous woods on the cover may be all sweet and light, but that innocence is tested in the beautifully yearning bucolic soundtrack.

Foat – riding high creatively off the back of a stunning run of well-thumbed sci-fi novel and library music imbued jazz albums with the Jazzman label – and his Island compatriot Hampshire – no less accomplished, the former Bees band member turned in an equally adroit, articulate performance on the duos last highly praised collaboration, Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand – in what seems like no time at all, embark on their second peaceable relenting journey for the Edinburgh label, Athens Of The North. Always developing and exploring with each release, the duo take a romantic diaphanous traverse through the pastoral; a fantastical world of Ralph McTell folksy storytelling, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (Peter And The Wolf especially), both cult Eastern European dreamscape and Wiccan fable inspired English cinema of the 70s, the Jewish traditional music of Central Europe, and Kosmische (the fluctuating analogue synth whirling that undulates beneath the field recorded buzz of The Hive). An interplay that works well, featuring the string composed arrangements of Foat and Hampshire’s borderless guitar narratives, an album that was envisioned on the Jurassic coastline of Ventnor – about as far east as you can go in the UK – and added to in Edinburgh, travels well across national demarcations, picking up a myriad of inspirations on its 500 mile journey.

 

Following, what might be either a solace or (honey) trap, our lolloping protagonist starts this wandering album with a comforting patchwork accompaniment of gentle plush strings and the fluttery charming song of the flute; meandering towards the warbled and trilling bird call of a Brothers Grimm forest diorama – a certain ache and sadness subtly coming through a beautifully played suite. During an expedition to locate the honeyed prize, the listener is dreamily introduced to characters, the weather and metaphorical objects of desire and reflection.

Expressionistic pucks articulate the clawing scratch of Crow’s Feet – perhaps another analogy to ageing, for obvious reasons -, whilst the cliff or beach head environment – featuring real field recording sounds of seagulls, surf and of course a fly – of the wandering meditative beachcomber and his only companion in this isolated paradise, The Fly And I, feature the most subtle, minimal of acoustic guitar. Almost melancholic and heartbreaking in comparison, the stirring Winter Bound majestically sweeps in storm clouds, as the mood turns sentimentally mournful. Yet without doubt it is the album’s most painfully beautiful track. It doesn’t last long, this sadness, as the mood is lightened with the folksy down-the-rabbit-hole enchantment of Honey Dreams, and the entrancing evergreen Polynesian/South Seas floating The Elderflower. By the time we reach the closing Honey For A Penny, it feels like the clouds and sorrow have dissipated; the burden lifted, as we reach a sort of slow joyful release; played out to a fluttering ascendant flute and tranquil troubadour rhythm guitar.

Plush, often sumptuous, Hampshire & Foat continue to create beautifully articulated narratives and imaginary soundtracks for as yet unmade films. This children’s fairytale is certainly sweet and lilting, yet wise: analogy laden, waiting to be unpicked and interpreted. For Foat it proves a welcome escape from the jazz scene; a showcase for his arrangement skills – with the piano lid firmly shut on this project. For Hampshire, it is another gentle encapsulation of his wandering guitar compositions; unbridled free to roam where the mind takes him across cultures and time.

And to think, without the generosity of others via a crowd funder initiative this album might have never seen the light of day. Those who pledged have been well rewarded with a most gorgeous, yearning and evocative soundtrack.






Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’   Hive Mind Records, Available now digital release/Vinyl version 15th March 2018

Far too early of course to define a burgeoning label with only two releases on its roster, but the new amorphous traversing post-rock and jazz travelogue from Brazilian guitarist/composer Rodrigo Tavares shares a similar meditative and spiritual yearn with Hive Mind Records inaugural Maalem Mahmoud Gania communion Colours Of Night.

The spiritual here is represented in Congo’s genesis; the catalyst for Tavares soundtrack inspired by, in part, a visit to the controversial ‘spiritual healer’ John of God – a medium, psychic surgeon of dubious repute -, who lives in the remote central Brazilian town of Abadiânia. The meditative, in this case, runs throughout the suggestive instrumental passages and vignettes that ponderously drift, cascade and ebb across a real and imagined borderless global soundtrack.

Tavares is joined on this ambiguous journey by a host of complementary musicians on accentuate sliding double-bass, brushed and sauntering drums, splashing, softly trickled percussion, octave ascending light Fender Rhodes, the subtlest of Ayers vibraphone notes, pining saxophone and a harmonic twanging, jazzy dreamy guitar.

Suffused throughout are lingering traces of ACT label jazz, minimalism, Tortoise post-rock, Brazilian legends Joâo Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Tom Jobim, and removed by quite a few degrees, a hint of the free-form untethered to any easy classification, evolving guitar experimentation of the Sun City Girls – as it happens a show in a remote former gay bar in Brazil by the same band was one of the stopovers on Tavares ‘transformative road trip’; the fruits of which and experience laying down the creative foundations for Congo.

Amorphous as I said before, though there’s no mistaking that South American influence, you could just as easily be anywhere along the Atlantic coastline splashing in the surf on the opening dreamy Rosa Rio, and be transported to Moorish Spain on the romantically mysterious sketch, Cidade Sol II. Still, there’s plenty of that Latin American vibe to be heard on these waterfall and mountain peregrinations; especially on the progressive movement A Raposa E O Corvo and the sauntering De Roda.

Truly transglobal, Tavares helps take Brazilian music – like his fellow compatriot Sentidor – into often trance-y, unburdened and unlabored directions. With few rough edges, this congruous soundtrack makes for a ruminating, thoughtful smooth journey.






Park Jiha  ‘Communion’   tak:til/Glitterbeat Records, 2nd March 2018

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the German-based label or repute.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW.

Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Each of these instruments represents a different voice: each one expressing certain sensitivity or a sharpened pique. Along with the equally expressive accompaniment of Kim Oki’s trilling, wildly intense tenor saxophone and yearned bass clarinet, John Bell’s gentle resonating vibraphone, and Kang Tekhyun’s tubular trickling and rattling atmospheric percussion, Jiha’s untethered compositions also articulate the solemn of a holy retreat – the monastery in Leuven, Belgium to be exact; a space used by Jiha’s band to rehearse -, the flow and cascading beauty of water, reverberations from the moon, and the passing of time itself – measured out on the fluctuating rapid movement of a seconds hand and the slower candor tick of an hour hand on the springs, cogs and coil microseism, Accumulation Of Time.

 

Quite tender in the beginning, each track builds a poetic minimalistic and avant-garde jazz interplay between all the numerous traditional instrumentation. It must be said that the tenor sax takes a leading role in piercing the serene and often majestically plucked performances of Jiha, pleading and occasionally pained, even squealing as it does in aching ‘communion’. Sometimes hypnotic, sometimes at a fever pitch of discordant beauty, a balance is cleverly struck between intensity and the attentive. At its most quiet and abstract, you can hear the most delicate of controlled breathing, blowing across the reed. At its most liberated, set free, those same breathes become harsh and attacking.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique.






Afrika Mamas  ‘Iphupho’   ARC Music, 23rd February 2018

 

Released in the year of what appears to be pique matriarchal fight back in the West, the gorgeous sounding 6-piece a cappella group Afrika Mamas remind us of the travails and hard won freedoms of women from outside the European and North American bubbles. In a year in which we rightly celebrate the achievements of the Women’s suffrage movement in attaining the ‘vote’, the indigenous women of South Africa would have to wait an age longer to not only get that same vote but to also overthrow the entire Apartheid system that had, until the 1990s, kept them segregated by race. Though Nelson Mandela rightly stands as the bastion of reconciliation and unity, the right leader at the right time as history would have it, it is the strong prevailing character and struggles of the country’s matriarch that deserves recognition now; celebrated and cherished on the Mamas’ fourth album together, Iphupho.

Mandela’s legacy can’t help but cast an omnipresent shadow over everything in South Africa; especially as his party have failed in many ways to build on his foundations, with talk of high-level corruption and a ruling government that over the past year has fought to remove the controversial President, Jacob Zuma – who as this goes live has since resigned and stepped down, replaced by the ANC candidate and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in the face of mounting opposition and an untenable position caused in part by his connections to the wealthy, Indian-born Gupta family. From the most beautiful soprano to the contralto bass, the all-female close-harmony group pays an almost effortlessly soulful paean to ‘Madiba’; Sister Zungu’s penned tribute, which borders on the gospel, touchingly thanks the late leader for bringing, amongst other things, free education to children in primary schools and for getting free school uniforms and food for those children from the most deprived families.

 

Iphupho meaning ‘the dream song’ is itself a reference to the Mamas’ own struggles and ambitions in bringing the Zulu heritage to a wider audience. Made-up of single mothers from Durban striving to make their way in a male-dominated industry, the ladies hope to emulate the success and reach of the four times Grammy award winners, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Vocal wise they are sensational; perfectly pitched, pure and soothing.

The stories, anecdotes and themes of their songs highlight the daily lives and practicalities of survival in a climate of injustice and poverty; exasperated by the hindrance of the menfolk. Despite being tired in some cases of men – Ulwabishi (which means ‘rubbish’), penned by the group’s Sindisiwe Khumalo, makes a languidly cutting disapproval of those men who don’t support their families; instead hanging around, causing a nuisance and not looking for work, yet demanding their food on the table when they dictate – the group recorded this latest album at the famous Sibongiseni Shabalala co-founded United Rhythm Studio with top world music producer and maskandi tradition guitarist Maghinga Radebe. The lyrically named Shabalala is of course the son of Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder and former musical director Joseph – a group he himself joined. That influence can be felt suffused throughout Iphupho with the ‘a cappella’ style they’ve adopted, the ‘isicathamiya,’ a predominantly male vocal Zulu tradition. Those traditions, rolling back and forth from the lead call and backing chorus response are evoked on the lush veld-rolling lament to the plight of the KwaZulu dwellers of Natal on Lapha KwaZulu, and soothing lullaby heartache of ‘my mum is ill’, uMama Uyagula.

Enjoying a real momentum musically and culturally over the last decade, with South African artists as diverse as Die Antwoord, Dope Saint Jude, Spoek Mathambo, and scenes like the Shangaan Electro craze, a small but interesting touch of the contemporary makes its way into the Mamas more traditional rootsy vocal music with the guest appearance of leading South African beatboxer Siyanda Pasgenik Makhathini. He adds a down tempo sort of trip-hop meets R&B percussive rhythm to the Mamas’ graceful if ominously low harmony Ispoki – a song penned by group member Sibongile Nkosi about her father’s belief in the ‘bad spirits’ that make a nuisance of themselves outside his home at night. The only other accompaniment (the only actual instrumentation) is the jangle of percussion and a smattering of hand drums on Ulwabishi from Ayernder Ngcobo. Other than that it’s all down the clear lush, tongue-clicking and strong bass vocals of the ladies.

Highly impressive, articulated beautifully and at times spiritually soaring, the Afrika Mamas thoroughly deserve a place on the global stage. They bring a much-needed perspective, strong and defiant yet achingly blissful and majestic.






Flora Fishbach   ‘À Ta Merci’   Blue Wrasse, Available Now

The French music press we’re told have fallen hook, line and synth for the alluring contralto voice of Flora Fishbach, who’s 80s revisionist pop twist on chanson oozes with such sophistication that its difficult not to embrace. Fishbach picked up the album révélation award at the Le Prix des Indés for best independent debut LP, winning high praise and plaudits galore ever since. Looking to make a similar impact across the Channel, the ‘bohemian darling’ has just released a deluxe edition of her electro pop requiem À Ta Merci. That decision is more or less echoed in the album’s title, which translates as, “at your mercy”.

Featuring the original running order and a bonus septet of gorgeous live recordings, this aloofly chic, yet theatrical, and especially when performing, animated, album recasts Françoise Hardy as a disco pop and electro swooned crooner. Effortlessly channeling the vaporous dreamy pining of Kazu Makino on the moon dust sprinkled fantasy title-track and ambient textured, synthesizer bas bubbling yearned lament Un beau langage, and a Gallic Alison Goldfrapp on the opening ice-y cool malady Ma voie lactée, Fishbach adds a French nuance and sensibility to the synthesized pop ascetic: a signature you could say that despite the revivalist backing of electronic drum pads, post punk sass, Moroder arpeggiator, Rococo harpsichord and hi-energy is unmistakably contemporary and French.

À Ta Merci is a warm album despite the clandestine thriller backing of songs such as the haunted, bell tolled theatre Feu; the soundtrack skipping and modulating through Clavinet boogie, Madonna (the earlier queen of MTV era), Chateau opulent disco, Air and even the fathers of French synth pop, Space.

The bonus material is by contrast, and for obvious reasons stripped of its cleaner production, more intimate with a harder edge. The title-track, recorded at the famous and fateful Bataclan in 2017, maintains a full backing but sounds purposeful; Fishbach sounding emotionally raspy and poised on a version of the original that features an almost venerable pause. Live Le Meilleur de la fête becomes a post-punk Bowie tangoing with Talking Heads. The venerability on these live performances is at the forefront, emotionally starker and raw.

In an industry burdened by a zillion synth-pap artists it will really take some effort from an individual voice to break through. With the momentum already building in France and with the recent runaway success of music press darling Christine And The Queens (who I personally find utterly dull) I’m sure the UK will embrace this sophisticated chanteuse. She’s certainly impressed me enough – what’s not impressive about referencing the philosophical aloof quandary that is Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I am another”) on a tropical slinking crystalline pop song, Un Autre Que Moi (“Another Me”) – to recommend her as one to watch in 2018.






Flights Of Helios  ‘Endings’  Available now

 

Full on expansive; up amongst the mythological heavens that have inspired the Oxford collectives Titan harbinger of the sun band name and lyricism, Flights Of Helios go deep and spatial on their debut album, Endings.

A credible Everything Everything. A space pop indie band with metaphysical intentions dreaming big, Flights Of Helios bring together a quintet of musicians, producers and composers with backgrounds in a wealth of genres: Seb Reynolds (no stranger to this site) on sonic layering and production duties, Phil Hanaway-Oakley on bass and vocals, Chris Beard on lead vocals, James Maund on guitar texturing and James Currie on drums.

Featuring both previous singles and new material, Endings flights of panoramic fantasy are certainly ambitious; an epic undertaking from a collective who’ve previously honed their balance of space rock, drones, indie and post-rock on a number of celestial transcendental remixes and projects. Far more interesting when touching on the venerable, alluding to spiritual, heavenly or otherworldly elements than when more grounded, the Helios sun worshippers sound like Kasabian on the motorik shuffled cyclonic Factory – a lyrical response we’re told to the Spanish auteur Alejandro Iñãrritu’s convoluted film Biutiful – and an esoteric Klaxons on the haunted, brooding implosion to the enchantress folkloric demons Succubus – who take, so the legend dictates, on the form of an alluring seductress to reel in their male prey. Both of these tracks, previous singles, have more of an urgency and thump about them, whereas the rest of the album’s quartet of, often vulnerable, opuses are allowed the time and subtlety to expand.

The opening twelve-minute Donalogue, a transmogrified version of the traditional a cappella Irish folk ballad, builds and builds. This oscillating cosmological hymn to spurned love introduces us not only to each of the collective’s individual components and the building blocks of the Helios sound, but also the angelic choral quality of Beard’s lofty vocals. Swooning, often fragile, and at times not even decipherable – uttering vowels and mouthed shapes instead of words – Beard stretches his range, helped by Hanaway-Oakley who also provides support.

Remodeling another key influence, alongside atavistic Celtic inspirations, they turn the Bleeding Heat Narrative’s Cartographer track into a hallowed ethereal eulogy. Lingering in a plaintive beauty of angel-kissed whispery synth, reverberated vocals and slow drums, this trance-y swansong sounds like I See You era XX, the Arcade Fire and A Dancing Beggar in a holy communion.

Lolloping in a constant swill of stormy tides and paranormal Gothic metaphors, one of the album’s most striking tracks, Funeral, pitches esoteric Americana and progressive electronica on the high seas. Bashing against the rocks in a barrage of swells, what starts out as Depeche Mode and Radiohead slowly builds like an improvised trip into energetic psych garage.

Evolving within the perimeters of each track, Funeral encapsulates the organic transformations that propel the group forward into such epic grand spaces, creating cerebral sensibility escapist music for a pop and indie audience. Rather than ‘endings’, Flights Of Helios have produced the sonic building blocks for a glowing future under this their most panoramic collective umbrella.






Bättre Lyss  ‘Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge’   Sommer, February 22nd 2018

 

From a label I’ve previously had no experience with, another rarity from the 70s Swedish heavy and progressive rock vaults to drool over with the first ever reissue of the obscure Bättre Lyss group’s private pressing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge.

Notable for featuring guitarist Anders Nordh of LIFE fame (check out their highly impressive self-titled album from the early 70s) as an outlier member of the Bättre Lyss core trio of Rolf Hammarlund (vocals, bass), Christer Palmquist (vox, acoustic guitar, piano) and Rolf Johansson (drummer and songwriter), the group adopted a whole myriad of rock music influences on this rare find: the soft kind, the glam kind, the progressive kind and the American West Coast psychedelic heavy kind.

Formed during 1973-1974 by mutual friends Hammarlund and Palmquist, the duos first furors together were written in English. Johansson joined just after they switched to singing in the native tongue, and in time to record the group’s debut album, released a year later in ’75. Bolstered, as you will hear, by a number of talented extended pals on guitar, saxophone, flute and organ the group attempt in their own inimitable way to do justice to soft rock power balladry and epic rock outs. Sounding at any one time like 1st era Bee Gees cutting up rough with Spirit on the energetic opener Göta Lejon, or a Scandinavian Bread on the following heart-yielding Emma, or indeed King Crimson on the slightly menacing, slinking saxophone keen Vapnet, they seem to change the nuance and adapt their sound to each song. And so at times it sounds more like a collection of recordings than complete album. The only constant in fact is the often enervated, softly sweet vocals, which do, it must be said, occasionally soar and utter anguish.

Though I can’t fault the musicianship, and there are more than enough convincing, if sentimental, songs to grab you on this album, they can’t help but bare an uncanny resemblance to Blonde On Blonde, Savoy Brown, Forest, Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, even Boston, throughout. There’s a total of four guitarist too, each one displaying telltale signs of riffage and refrains, bends and pleading lines from the era.

Lilting and flowing between troubadour piano and full-on progressive jamming, this more than competent Swedish slab of rock is well worth reviving. It also offers another look at the, probably largely unnoticed, developments in the Swedish head music scene; picking up what is essentially a rare marriage between the heavy stuff and a more commercial melodic sensibility.






Perhaps  ‘V’   Cassette version available now via Important Records, Vinyl also available now, via Riot Sunset

I can’t be expected to keep tabs on every exciting, mad or Kool-aid chalice glugging band from a scene that is over-subscribed with a landfill sites worth of promising, but quickly disappearing into obscurity, releases. Of course it doesn’t help that the psychedelic-Krautrock-Kosmische-whatever genre is also filled with the most unimaginative and cover-band like pastiches of groups that originally did it so much better. Yet once in a while, finding its way into my inbox, there is a rare find. For ‘head music’ aficionados then, a three-piece of Teutonic, free-jazz, cosmic explorers from Boston, Massachusetts known as Perhaps – an open-ended moniker, without a question mark in sight, that alludes to possibility.

Scant information is provided, only that their origins go back as far as the year of their debut album, Volume One, in 2012, and that the line-up comprises of ‘ringleader’ and bassist Jim Haney, drummer Don Taylor and guitarist Sean McDermott. Unsurprisingly picking up on a few inspired vibes during their collaborations and tours with the rambunctious Acid Mothers Temple and one-time shaman poet Can member Damo Suzuki, Perhaps go all out free-spirited psychedelic and Kosmische on their fifth numeral entitled album V.

The sole track of this album performance, Mood-Stabilizer is a thirty-seven minute continuous ebbing and flowing contortion jam of floating louche saxophone, fret scratching and tangled guitar, and stop/start drums that hints at the Acid Mothers (of course), Brainticket, Guru Guru, Embryo, Agitation Free and in one particular segment, a Mogadon drugged Amon Duul II.

From topographic submerged guitar pangs to tubular fuzzy vortexes and squalls, the trio travel via the primordial soup to gaze into deep space. Moving like a liquid and gaseous entity throughout a combined atmosphere of wafting, languid jazz and more dissonance fuzz frazzling waves of spiraling noise, it’s surprising to hear them meander, almost sexily, into slow jam Funkadelic territory in the first third of this meta space exploration. Whilst at their most heavy they slip into PiL.

Honing their own signature interpretation of the music that so inspires them, Perhaps’ oscillating heavy, Ash Ra commune trip shows a real depth and intelligence; a group sucked in the portal, taking their time to build a space-rock, free-jazz blowout of a journey. Enjoy hitching a transcendental ride into the deepest trenches of contemporary ‘head music’: no ticket required.





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