Reviews
Dominic Valvona

In this amorphous crisscross of genres and borders I take a look at the latest in the label Night Dreamers ‘direct-to-disc’ series, a dynamic live album of fresh performances from Istanbul’s legendary souk reggae/dub and Krautrock psych legends BaBa ZuLa; Analog Africa delve through the stranger corners of the “B-movie” Colombian label Disco Machuca on their upcoming La Locura de Machuca compilation; and Daniel O’Sullivan explores library music for his latest transformation, a series of instrumental albums in collaboration with KPM.

Two front vocalists step away from their bands to go solo, with Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn frontman Ian Clement returning to the fold after many travails with a personal songbook collection, See Me In Synchronicity, and Diamond Thug’s Chantel Van T going out on her own with a debut country blues imbued songbook, entitled Nicalochan.

There’s also a label special, with three recent and upcoming ambient and experimental imbued records from the North American hub Somewherecold Records: an ambitious cosmic suite of Kosmische analogue synth odysseys from Giacomelli, snapshots, threads and lingering traces of esoteric and ether materialised country and bluegrass guitar sketches from Droneroom, and an emotive suite of love-lost movements from Vision Eternel.

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers) Album/2nd October 2020

The latest release in Night Dreamer’s “direct-to-disc” series stars the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa: a three decade spanning Istanbul group originally birthed from the embers of the band ZeN.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills. That Can reference isn’t so surprising, as the BaBa have worked with the band’s late human metronome Jaki Liebezeit on numerous occasions: his two-way influence felt and inspiration noted on BaBa’s 2019 album Derin Derin. That same 2019 album, like so much of their output, was originally produced for a soundtrack, a documentary about falcons. And this latest “live” and direct special showcase includes a number of such tracks scored for film and stage; it also, like that falcon inspired work captures the materializations, mood, feelings of a menagerie of symbolic animal subjects.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the Istanbul mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums. Invited to the Artune Studio setting in Haarlem by the label, they were encouraged to freely take-off on a flight of Eastern fantasy; encouraged to also riff on and extend past glories too. “A musician’s dream” as the band’s electric, scuzzy defacto leader and founding member Osman Murat Ertel puts it, this, also challenging, method of recording and cutting a disc from start to finish on one session gives them that energetic impetus. It also showcases each of the band’s talents. On the elliptical rhythmic Can-like dervish ‘Sipa Dub’ (also known as “The Foal”), the group’s braying oud soloist and keyboardist Periklis Tsoukalas gets to shine and sing a kind of spiritual Sufi-imbued emotive intensity on a song about an Aegean coast donkey and its foal. Percussionist virtuoso Ümit Adakale is unleashed unaided on the drilling, rattling and hotfooted breakbeat ‘Nal’ (or “Horseshoes”).

Old favourites like the ‘Çöl Aslanlari’ (“desert lion”) composition, originally made for Antonie de Saint-Exupéry’s stage production of The Little Prince, go off on a long improvised peregrination of clopping psych-rock and shimmering cymbal washes, whilst the group’s earliest groove, ‘Tavus Havasi’ (which furnished the soundtrack to the Tabutta Rövasata film) assails close to the mooning of Guru Guru and a Turkish Bar dance.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times.

Further Reading…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’  here….

BaBa ZuLa ‘XX’  here…

Various ‘La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980’
(Analog Africa) Album/16th October 2020

Quite possibly the kookiest oddity so far in the Analog Africa catalogue, this distant outlandish relative to the label’s Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960 – 1985 compilation from 2012 is the sort of “B-movie” discovery you’d expect Finders Keepers to release. From the same international Colombian gateway of Barranquilla as that collection’s purview, La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980 features a similar spread of Afro-Colombian saunters, scuttles and scratchy percussive funk as that record, yet finds a twist: a kink.

For all the familiar traces of that folkloric electrified Cumbia, the Caribbean-African-Colombian hybrid Champeta Criolle, and Congolese rumba (to name just a few styles), the music that flourished from the Colombian underground is…well, different. Much of this is down to the genius and bizarre mind of the former tax-lawyer turn record company executive Rafael Machuca, who wowed and seduced by the Barranquilla music scene jacked in the day job to set-up and sit behind the control desk as the producer of his own label enterprise, Disco Machuca. This was the heady mid 70s, an age in which Colombia’s music scene was thriving with the sounds of imported nuggets and blasts from the African continent. Though native dance styles such as Bolero and Vallento still rocketed up the charts, the fervor was for a spread of Afro prefixed sounds that proved popular at the neighbourhood sound-system joints, known as “the picos”. The locals would in time add more traditional flavours, including the already mentioned versatile Cumbia, but also more modern influences such as psychedelic music and disco.

Machuca channeled that exciting dance mix with his unique label of specially put-together one-offs and more established mavericks; the often experimental and kitsch productions of which is described as the “B-movies of Colombian music” by the label’s stalwart recording engineer Eduardo Dávila. Some of that self-depreciative description is warranted for the label’s roster of artists and acts, but also for Machuca’s habit of just creating from scratch a studio band to front one-off singles and albums when he couldn’t find the right band to realize whatever vision he had leaping about in his head. Two of which, the mono skiffley itching and squiggly, Stylophone like buzz and gargled organ Samba Negra and the bongo rattling, carnival lolloping space age garage band El Grupo Folelórico, lasted only the time it took to enter the studio and press stop on the recording desk. Both of these outlets feature heavily on the compilation. Though the El Grupo Folelórico’s binary data zapping Afro bustle ‘Tamba’ qualifies as the closet of these tracks towards that B-movie status.

The label could accommodate such fancies with the money they made from more established and popular stars; such as Alejandro Durán (left off this more unconventional comp) and Aníbal Velásquez (who does feature with his slightly unhinged belly laughing and hurried Cumbia track ‘La Mazamorra del Diablo’). “Fringe artists” like La Bande Africana, King Somalie, Conjunto Barbaco and Aberladro Carbono were able to cut loose off the back of those hit-makers. The first of those names lends the collection a salacious boy/girl hush and sigh of Gainsbourg meets Bollywood in a Colombian coastal town, with their coquettish and playful ‘Te Clavola…Mano’. King Somalie meanwhile riffs on the “funky monkey” with a talky Afro-boogie and turns in a sexy fun conversational on ‘La Mongui’.

Personal favourite of mine is The Grupo Bela Roja, or to be more exact their both swooning and jaunty lead singer who channels a young Miriam Makeba on the beachside ‘Caracol’.

There’s much to discover from this sometimes-unhinged label, yet nothing so avant-garde or “loco” as to neglect an essential rhythm or hypnotic good groove. Samy Ben Redjeb’s decade-long-in-the-making project unearths some mesmerising rarities from the stretched-descriptive scenes of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Colombian music, throwing in some curveballs and raw 45s.

For those looking for a fresh perspective and for something strange, the La Locura de Machura compilation will fill that need. Ad for everyone else, this is just a great vibrant mad world of South American sounds that deserves space inside your noggin.

Further Reading…

Analog Africa Tenth Anniversary Special  here…

Various ‘Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia’  here…

Chantel Van T ‘Nicalochan’
Album/23rd October 2020

Stepping out on her own from the South African dreamy space-indie Diamond Thug, the country blues and folksy lilted voiced Chantel Van T makes a boldly intimate and vulnerable statement on the debut solo songbook Nicalochan. Via a Danish solstice and summers spent contemplating at the shoreline’s edge, the hushed and swooned songwriter/singer opens up in a considered, soothed and sometimes creeping fragile manner over gently sweeping Dylan-esque Western soundtracks, mountain songs, the knowing enchantment of Lee Hazelwood, and lush morning dew yearn of Catherine Howe.

With a maturity and depth beyond her years, the often sadly but constantly dreamy Cape Town artist seems to channel a country twang that evokes shades of Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Dobson, and on the prohibition era Appalachian Lomax ‘Bittersweet Absolute’ a touch of Josephine Foster. Chantel has a voice deep, diaphanous, ached, resigned, and drifting, yet at times almost fatalistic.

An introduction to Chantel as much a candid therapy and chance to let all those thoughts and philosophically poetic questions on what reciprocated love really means (and how far it can be taken), the growing pains of womanhood and childhood.

A suffused accompaniment (all recorded with the Danish producer Anders Christopherson and a small intimate ensemble of musicians) of wallowed brass, softened string caresses, gauzy tremolo twanged and acoustic rhythm guitar, and patted toms and splashes of cymbal provide a subtle stripped backing track. One that sometimes can’t help but meander into Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ on the leading, waning beauty travail single ‘Rumble And Crawl’, and a 50s yuletide mix of Rosemary Clooney and bobby-sox Spector on the album’s early punt at a seasonal number, ‘Christmas’.

Full of pining, searching affairs of the heart Nicalochan is a most hazy and beautifully executed testament of timeless country blues imbued vulnerability from an artist going it alone: A great debut of understated wisdom and inquisitive questioning songwriting, which I can see making many of the end-of-year lists, including my own.

A Somewherecold Records Special:

Vision Eternel ‘For Farwell Of Nostalgia’ Out Now
Giacomelli ‘Cosmic Order’ 9th October 2020
Droneroom ‘Blood On Blood’ 16th October 2020

All three released via Somewherecold Records.

From the highly prolific online magazine/shop-front and facilitator of various underground electronic and experimental artists, a trio of recent refined and concept-bound releases has drifted onto the Monolith Cocktail’s radar: Just three from an exhaustive roster that’s updated weekly. Extensively a soundboard and platform for composers and mavericks alike from both sides of the North American border, Somewherecold Records offer up the intimate and ambitious, depth and the translucent, peregrinations and wanderings with their most recent spread of albums.

The first of these is the grand Kosmische analogue spanning opus from Silicon Valley composer Steve Giacomelli; a triple CD expansive series of cosmic ordered suites that traverse the astral plane, new age transcendence, various thermos, gases and topographic ebbs and flows. Giacomelli’s fourth such album of cosmic ambient minimalism for the label, this celestial and evolutionary mined impressive ARP Odyssey (portable) synth birthed work of thirty-six scales into deep space, refractions of light play, pulse and gravitas uses a number of techniques to accomplish an overall sound of forgotten Sky Record maestros, Tangerine Dream, early Cluster, Tomat and Vangelis. This synthesised vision – that can sometimes err towards the ominous forebode and mystery of Kubrick – synthesis of the abstract, deep space, the inner mind, nature and the heavenly is accomplished with an apparently limited pallet and the use of counterpoint sequences, the generative and a method, favoured by Frank Zappa, called “xenochrony” – that is the extracting of a solo or other part from its original context and placing it into a completely different song/composition.

A three-hour journey through the imaginings of Giacomelli’s inner and outer star-guided mind, compositions vary between the beautiful cathedral-in-the-sky heralded ‘Cosmic Fanfare’ and the Klaus Schulze-rescores-Zardoz forebode and deep space hum of ‘The Best Laid Plans’; from the 8-bit orchestral manoeuvres of ‘SMPTE Of The Universe’ to the heavenly choral-blowing space fantasy ‘Diplodicus Green’, and the tubular generator, dash communicating ‘Remembrance Petition’.

No matter where he guides us, Giacomelli fashions a most diaphanous and mysterious epic. The Cosmic Order is a grand project, nothing short of immersive and starry.

The second of this trio of albums and EPs from the label takes us into the Kosmische-cowboy experimental soundscaping world of the Louisville-based artist Blake Edward Conley. Trading, moseying and meandering under the Droneroom alter ego, Conley pulls together a number of tracks and ideas from compilations for this transformative and transduced album of layered resonating guitar soundtracks and pauses.

A “two-lane blacktop” drive across the imagined travails of an alternative strung-out country and bluegrass accompanied America of gas station stops, mechanical breakdowns, and side road excursions, Blood On Blood gathers those “stray tracks”, threads and “snapshots” to meander through an evocative if distant landscape. Whether inspired by or in their finished state sailing close to, a number of these drowsed post-country instrumentals are dedicated to Conley’s fellow compatriots, and both explorative and old testament liturgy guitar imbued artists: The Tennessee psalm fanning Joseph Allred and folk artist Cole Morse to name just two.

Some of these sonic-thoughts-out-loud ruminations and traverses are more country than others. A certain cowboy swoon can be plucked from the lingering traces of ghostly country blues and bowing vibrato of ‘Truckstop Déjà vu’, and there’s an air of a Lynchian vision of Ry Coder on the galvanized steel gate stick rattled and didgeridoo like drone mysterious ‘And On The Last Day The Land Did Sing Me’. A removed form of Americana, with the tremolo wanes and quivers and spirit all there but veiled by the Baroque, Latin, cosmic and supernatural, ‘Let The Bluegrass Hold My Head’ is anything but. However, the dreamily acid ‘The Coyote Adrift In The Unfamiliar’ evokes a more Kosmische and Krautrock influence; sounding like an esoteric ripple in the fabric by Ash Ra Temple. In fact there’s a lot of spacey spectral leanings, an otherness, even alien, from beyond the ether: There’s even a supernatural enough transmission from that void in the shape of ‘Ghosts For Sale’.

Another impressive if unassuming album for the label that does something different, out there with its source, Droneroom’s Blood On Blood is an incredibly strange album of guitar experimentation that warrants discovery: A cult album in the making.

Back towards the ambient spectrum, the final release in the special is a most emotively drawn and purposeful EP of intimate mood music by the Montréal-based Vision Eternel. Coining the phrase “melogaze” to describe his lush “emo” brand of majestic and caressed swirling feelings, heartbreaks and loves, the band’s founder Alexander Julien soundtracks a love lost affair with a most swaddled suite of ambient music, shoegazing, and semi-classical longings.

Over a quartet of channeled “movements” (rain, absence, intimacy and nostalgia), Julien charts this affair-of-the-heart with a both cinematic and melodious touch. The EP though is a greater conceptual work that even arrives accompanied by a short story and plenty of poetic, stirring baggage. Lingering reminisces pour from this composer’s light yet deep vaporuos yearnings.

On the cover itself, Julien is painted as some kind of Left Banke thinker meets Graham Greene Third Man and shoe-string Marlowe; a riff on 50s and older covers of that vogue. And so nostalgia is certainly evoked on this almost timeless EP of abstracted emotionally pulled memories made tangible. It’s actually a most lovely, touching trembled and graceful encapsulation of the themes; beautifully put together. It’s also entirely different and like all three of these releases pushes experimental, ambient music in different directions, yet never loses sight of taking the listener on those same sonic journeys into the cosmic, imaginary, and intimate.

Somewherecold Records is proving a catalyst and platform for some of the most interesting and ambitious of under-the-radar artists. Expect to see plenty more or their releases on the Monolith Cocktail in the future.

Ian Clement ‘See Me In Synchronicity’
(Cobraside Records) Album/October 2nd 2020

All the better for it, full of sagacious yearning, frontman of the Ghent stoner/alt-rock band Wallace Vanborn, Ian Clement makes a welcoming return to the musical fold with his second solo album See Me In Synchronicity. After many travails and a series of breakdowns, Clement opens up with a songbook collection of musings on troubled romances, escaping, intimacy and more mystical, metaphysical queries on the altered states of consciousness: a subject that stems from the earnest singer/songwriters interest in mysticism and the spiritual, and its place in an increasingly secularized, atheistic Western culture.

Further, as Clement himself illuminates, “mysticism and madness touch each other, even in ordinary life. The daydreamers whose hope lies in love and fantasy or in loneliness or madness, is something that everyone can relate to.” And there is, at least, some of that title’s “synchronicity”; as also reflected on the album cover’s dream state alpine juxtaposed with cityscape and beret fitted beachcomber meandering below a seductive muse collage artwork.

Though far from mystical sounding or esoteric, this is a solid songbook with just enough edge to set it apart from the well-worn tropes and sounds found in most alt-rock of a similar persuasion. For Clement traverses not only hard rock but also country (verging on Americana), indie, post-Britpop and, even, new wave (chugging away tot the dashboard emotional pulling pop motor pop of The Cars on the “consciousness” imbued ‘Turtle & Crow’). And so you can expect to hear a subtle pallet of influences and sounds prompting this brooding but often mature and wise album.

Vocally Clement evokes a touch of Jeff Buckley (via Blackbud’s Joe Taylor) and Mark Lanegan, whilst the mix of blazing rock guitar shadings and hooks leans towards Bends period Radiohead, post-punk and early noughties Bowie. However, the most surprising humbling and yet bittersweet romantic song, ‘Bliss’, strays into the Floydian. There’s also a dappled gospel-tinged organ that keeps popping up throughout the album; a kind of low-key Muscle Shoals vibe.

Making sure this all gels, and offering some of that edge, is the luminary German producer Renė Tinner, who knows a thing or two about pushing the envelope and finding that important synchronicity between the commercial and experimental having worked with such polar opposites as Can and George Harrison. This culminates in a production and sound with depth, soul and a few surprises. Clement unloads his pains and intimate resolutions on a most sophisticated, hard-fought and lyrical work: A brave work at that.

Daniel O’Sullivan ‘Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands’
(VHF Records/KPM) Album/23rd October 2020

The latest in a long run of explorative transformations for Daniel O’Sullivan, of both Grumbling Fur and This Is Not This Heat fame, sees the London-based musical polyglot traversing the “library music” oeuvre.

Although often the preserve for lovers of cult mavericks and the kitsch, library music is infinite in scope and varies considerably in quality. Often, because of its very nature dismissed as either a pale imitator of the sound and music it’s trying to ape, or void of true artistry and depth: produced in many cases as a background soundtrack and cheap off-the-shelf filler. Of course this is all bullshit, the label itself now so diverse and overused as to include some truly gifted composers alongside one-offs and obscure unknown peddlers of lo fi and unassuming skits. Essentially though, it is seen as music that fits specific criteria or commission, as O’Sullivan puts it, music made “more for functionality than sonic self-portraiture”.

It also includes, in more recent years, an increasing number of artists-in-the-know appropriating library music’s guilty pleasures and forgotten acolytes: Not so much as pastiche but rather in the mode of homage and mining ever more obscure sounds. And so a very much “knowing” O’Sullivan in collaboration with those purveyors of such rediscovered treasures, KPM, invests a lot of time and effort in producing an 18-track suite of sophisticated redolent library music gestures, sweeps, memories and fleeting incipient soundtracks on the first of a trio of such albums. The challenge however is in creating a fully-realised composition with a start, middle and sort of conclusion in short form: every track on the album being more or less under the 3-minute mark.

Delving into the cosmology of the elaborately psychedelic entitled Electric Māyā: Dream Flotsam And Astral Hinterlands you’ll find a full body of atmospheres, inner spaces, emotions, sciences and supernatural elements articulated by a diverse pallet of sounds and instrumentation. O’Sullivan caters for every occasion, from beatific meditation Eastern transcendence (‘Adoring Solitude’) to emerging from a mysterious mist-clearing landscape (‘Butterscotch Broth’) and Tomat evoked celestial cathedrals-in-the-sky (‘Eagle Ears’). And that’s all within the first five tracks: the mystical, the ambient unveiling of inspired scenery and the cosmos. Elsewhere there’s deft evocations of the sort of tender Italian pianist-driven soundtracks of the 70s favoured by Greg Foat (‘Flashbulb Memory’), a bird’s eye view from above wispy, translucent clouds (‘Feathered Earth’), a kooky burbled and steam-post-punk merger of Kraftwerk, Bernard Estardy and Jon Hassell (‘Gray’s March’) and haunted monastic dream muses (‘Sybil’).

From the sublime to the strange, ethereal to the earthy, most bases are covered on this expansive album of the vapourous and gazing. Most of which is beautifully produced and entrancing. Mixing semi-classical with ambient music, avant-garde and electronica, O’Sullivan has created an inspiring sonic journey through library music’s most lunar and traversing, stirring highlights without reverting to that pastiche and lazy homage. It is nothing short of a great piece of instrumental work, the soundtrack to a most wondrous ambitious movie.

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

PLAYLIST/Dominic Valvona





Welcome friends to another one of Dominic Valvona’s eclectic/generational spanning playlists; the Monolith Cocktail’s imaginary radio show. In practice this amounts to Dominic picking whatever he sees fit, including tributes to fallen idols and tracks from recent reissues, even newish releases. Joining him in on this journey, volume XLVIII, are Stained Glass, Jackson Heights, Irish Coffee, Suburban Lawns, William Shatner with Canned Heat, Pekka Pohjola, Mosses, Chiha, Renegade Soundwave, King Cesar, Foetus and 25 other eclectic, cross-border, cross-generational tunes.

Listen how you choose, but each playlist is curated in a special order.

As usual, for those without Spotify (or boycotting it, pissed with it, or whatever) you can find a smattering of videos from the set below the track list.



That full track list:::

Stained Glass  ‘Soap And Turkey’
Wanderlea  ‘A Terceira Forca’
Jackson Heights  ‘Maureen’
The Troll  ‘Satin City News’
Irish Coffee  ‘Hear Me’
Primevil  ‘Hey Lover’
Suburban Lawns  ‘Intellectual Rock’
Cold Blood  ‘Watch Your Step’
Darrow Fletcher  ‘What Is This’
Los Datsuns  ‘Ritmo y Movimiento’
William Shatner/Canned Heat  ‘Let’s Work Together’
Pekka Pohjola  ‘Armoton Idyli – Merciless Idyll’
Franco Battiato  ‘Beta’
Cavern Of Anti-Matter  ‘High Street Spasm’
Mosses  ‘Tall Bearded Iris Speckled’
Ashanti Afrika Jah  ‘Ntoboase’
Freedom  ‘Cry Baby Cry’
Tucker Zimmerman  ‘Left Hand of Moses’
Cass McCombs/Steve Gunn  ‘Sweet Lucy’
El Alamo  ‘I Cry’
Dana Gavanski  ‘Catch’
Doug Firebaugh  ‘Only A Dancer’s Dream’
Kikagaku Moyo  ‘Ouchi Time’
Chiha  ‘Healing’
Renegade Soundwave  ‘Probably A Robbery’
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band  ‘My Jamaican Dub’
The Natural Four  ‘This Is What’s Happening Now’
Lee Stone  ‘What Is Life’
Dan Penn  ‘If Love Was Money’
The Goats  ‘Do The Digs Dug (Todd Terry Remix)’
Dream Warriors  ‘Are We There Yet – Medley’
King Cesar  ‘Bloody Knuckles’
Foetus  ‘Calamity Crush’
Pigmaliao  ‘Banzo de Muri’
The Devil’s Anvil  ‘Besaha’
The Ousmane Kouyate Band  ‘Miriya’


Video Selections::::

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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


Premiere/Dominic Valvona




Junkboy ‘Salt Water’


(Fretsore Records) Download only single, released 14th August 2020. Taken from the upcoming digitally issued/reissued Sovereign Sky album, released on the 25th September 2020

Attracting a sort of cult status over the years since it’s initial release back in 2014, the Estuary soft psychedelic and pastoral beachcomber Hanscomb brothers’ unassuming Sovereign Sky album, it seems, was limited to only a select few despite its critical acclaim: especially by the Monolith Cocktail. A culmination of Mik and Rich Hanscomb‘s experiments with a number of styles, Sovereign Sky adopted a relaxed attitude to the pastoral, cooing frat-folk, surf music, psychedelia, Britpop and the hip sound of Tokyo’s Shibuya Kei district. That album gave fair voice and a wistfully charmed backing of tenderly picked acoustic guitars, stirring strings and hushed, almost whispered, vocals to both the pains and loves of maturity, the brothers mellowed tones and introspection offered a mature observation on the world around them: especially, at the time, their new found home of Brighton. It’s a place in which Marc Eric meets Cornelius, and epic45 make friends with Harpers Bizarre; a place where Hawthorne, California is transcribed to the English downs and seaside.

One such convert to that most peaceable of songbooks is Fretsore Records’ Ian Sephton, who signed the brothers back in 2019, releasing their South Coast topography imbued Trains Trees Topophilia album that same year. He suggested re-releasing the album on all digital platforms and on digipack CD; augmented with liner notes written by Parisian record collector, vinyl archivist and fellow believer, Quentin Orlean. The boys rightly jumped at that suggestion, as Mik explains: ‘We used this as an opportunity to go back to the tapes and improve the sound for digital release utilizing our home studio’s new outboard gear and tech acquired in the interim period. And the benefit of hindsight!’





Sovereign Sky channels the kind of music Mik and Rich have listened to since their youth. A Thames Estuary take on the lo-fidelity, budget -baroque of the first Cardinal LP and the vintage mellifluousness of The Lilys. There’s also a healthy dose of British Romanticism – an imaginary Albion in their heads somewhere between the socialist utopia of William Morris and Bob Stanley’s Gather In The Mushrooms compilations- while their hearts lie sun-kissed and blissed in Southern California like a pair of burnt out troubadours in deck shoes sourced with meticulous discernment from the Shibuya Kei district of Tokyo.

‘And yes’ confirms Rich, ‘we were enamoured with so many (often) home studio cooked and lost West Coast psych records – A Gift from Euphoria by Euphoria, Save for a Rainy Day by Jan & Dean, Another Day, Another Lifetime by The David, Initiation of a Mystic by Bob Ray, The Smoke’s self-titled album, Marc Eric’s A Midsummer’s Day Dream, and anything by Merrell Fankhauser….’

Presented here in an enhanced format that manages to transcend even the original vinyl’s beauty, Sovereign Sky is a Nugget that deserves to be a little less lost and a lot more loved.

 

Taken from that revitalised album we have the video accompanied teaser, reminder, and downloadable single, the relaxed soulful Love-esque rhythm guitar played lapping tidal reflection ‘Salt Water’. A concise, post-sike ode to the soul replenishing nature of sea side town existence, the brothers made field recordings at Hove Lagoon, East Sussex and wove them into a song built around a circular riff Rich devised after he woke up from a dream in which a version of ‘Yacht Dance’ by XTC produced by American Beauty era Jerry Garcia was on the radio twenty-four-seven. Sweet dream, man!

For the video, the boys sought to juxtapose the gaudy, grim reality of Brighton beach with the soothing calm waves of neighbouring Hove by means of a gently psychedelic, deep chilled Zen trip undertaken by an origami boat: Music and visuals in perfect harmony. Lap it up while you can.





Related posts from the Archives:

Junkboy ‘Sovereign Sky’ Review

Albums of 2019: Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’

Premiere ‘Waiting Room’

‘Fulfil b/w Streets Of Dobuita’ Review


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

 

Playlist/Dominic Valvona




Cool shit that the Monolith Cocktail founder and instigator Dominic Valvona has pulled together, the Social playlist is a themeless selection of eclectic tracks from across the globe and ages. Representing not only his tastes but the blogs, these regular playlists can be viewed as an imaginary radio show, a taste of Dominic’s DJ sets over 25 plus years. Placed in a way as to ape a listening journey, though feel free to listen to it as you wish, each playlist bridges a myriad of musical treasures to enjoy and also explore – and of course, to dance away the hours to.

The latest volume includes a few tributes to those we’ve lost; a sprinkle of rock deity Little Richard, Afrobeat and Afrojazz doyan Tony Allen, and electronic music progenitor Florian Schneider amongst the unusual usual mix of post-punk, transcendence, psychedelic, electronic, folk, acid country, dreams…blah blah blah. We could go on and on. Just listen and have a whale of a time, even in these most anxious of times.


https://open.spotify.com/user/dominicvalvona/playlist/0EtbufwUYoWJRBU8NffvO7

Tracks in full: 

Little Richard  ‘King Of Rock And Roll’
Rasputin’s Stash  ‘What’s On Your Mind’
Rodian G.A.  ‘Nu Tu Vei Fi’
Nat Turner Rebellion  ‘Laugh To Keep From Crying’
24 Carat Black  ‘Brown-Baggin”
Hieroglyphics  ‘All Things’
Faine Jade  ‘Ballad Of The Bad Guys’
Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies  ‘Nightmare Train’
Blonde On Blonde  ‘Circles’
Merrell Fankhauser & H.M.S Bounty  ‘Everybody’s Talkin”
Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso  ‘Cento Mani e Cento Occhi’
Peter Janes  ‘For The Sake Of Time’
Le Orme  ‘Summer Calling’
Jeff Simmons  ‘Appian Way’
Lula Cortes & Lailson  ‘Satwa’
Anandi Bhattacharya  ‘Jai Ganesh’
Yusef Lateef  ‘Ching Miau’
Tony Allen  ‘Cool Cats’
Oliver Nelson  ‘Anacrusis’
Embryo  ‘Code 7’
yuk.  ‘Kulam’
Autechre  ‘sinistrailAB air’
Jennifer Touch  ‘Chemistry’
Kraftwerk  ‘Pocket Calculator’
Lizzy Mercier Descloux  ‘Sports Spotnicks’
Jean-Luc Ponty  ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
Allan Wachs  ‘The Lord Will Provide’
Delaney & Bonnie  ‘Poor Elijah’
Will Boelts  ‘Boring’
Dunkelziffer  ‘(Do Watch You Can) Prof.’
Officer!  ‘Anagrams’
Little Richard  ‘Hound Dog’
Essential Logic  ‘Quality Crayon Wax O.K.’
Granicus  ‘Hollywood Star’
Tony Allen  ‘Nepa’
David Sancious  ‘further In The Forest Of Feelings’
Damara  ‘Mmamamkhabtha’
Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘Salilento’
Boogie Down Productions  ‘Remix For P Is Free’
Keith Hudson  ‘Man From Shooters Hill’
Julian Koster  ‘The Sea Of Tranquility’
Kraftwerk  ‘Endless Endless’


And for those without Spotify access, a smattering of video versions:































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

This week’s roll call includes the following picks: Gawd Status, Ghostwood Development Project, Adam Green, Irreversible Entanglements and Lunar Bird.

Gawd Status   ‘Admiral Byrd’
(Tru Thoughts)   Video/Happening Now





Taken from last year’s debut LP Firmamentum, the ether emanating Hip-Hop conspiracy hallucination ‘Admiral Byrd’ is the latest video to drop from the unholy Gawd Status union of leading UK rap architects King Kashmere and Joker Starr. Making our albums of 2019 features (picked by our resident know-all on the Hip-Hop essentials, Matt Oliver), the visionary psychedelic combo enter the sanctum of the tinfoil hat brigade to merge the real life exploits of the famed and heavily decorated American explorer, navel hero and aviator Admiral Richard E. Byrd with flat and hollow Earth rabbit hole lunacy. Byrd is notable amongst other things, for being the first to fly across Antarctica; a flight that may or may not of been sanctioned as a deep cover operation to find Nazis and UFOs in the uncharted frozen wastes. The mind boggles as a silver-suited adorned Gawd Status set out to unlock a truth.

Matt Oliver had this to say about them and their debut LP, Firmamentum, back in 2019:

‘When the Big Bang wiped everything out first time around, Gawd Status saw it as an opportunity, in which Kashmere’s Strange U spaceship nosedives into the jungle, moondust dementia still sputtering from its exhaust, and Joker Starr swaps the battle arena for the cannibalistic, kill or be killed lawlessness of the Firmamentum outback. The Gawd Status is a complicated one, seriously heavy at a skinflint eight tracks long (even in the current age of artists finally getting album length right, 28 minutes is a bit of a choker), fiercely standing up for itself in articulation of black rage and examination of conspiracy theories, and reveling in The Iguana Man’s thick doomsday fog. The event completed by some utterly bumping soul sisterhood from Fae Simon, its arrival at Tru Thoughts is a slight surprise. Nonetheless it’s a work of art that burns bright like a brilliant, tumultuous dream.’


Ghostwood Development Project Feat. Kool Keith   ‘Gulley’
(Nepotismo Records)  Single/6th March





Lazer guided, Lee Brunskjill hooks up with one-man cult Hip-Hop progenitor Kool Keith on his new electrified cosmic project the Ghostwood Development Project.

Dr. Octagon throws out a heavy-reference potted cosmology over a dialed calculating electrical field on the project’s inaugural single, ‘Gully’. Originally conceived after the pair met at Mike Patton & The Melvins curated chapter of All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare, all the way back in 2008, an initial spark was ignited over a mutual love of Sci-Fi movies, music and horror movie soundtracks.

This whole project has been a long time in the making, Lee was instrumental in putting together Leeds based Punk outfit Autopsy Boys and after they disbanded he went into social isolation to reevaluate his music and what it meant to him.

Lee rebuilt everything he’d known about music and self taught himself to mix, master and scratch and even built his own syths, which you can hear throughout this track.

By the time Lee had got his newfound skills on point he’d created ‘Gulley’ and found himself in need of a vocal and knew there and then that only Kool Keith would work. Having swapped numbers Lee contacted him, played him the track to which he said “This shit is hot!”. Lee remembers: “Within two days Kool Keith recorded his part and sent back his vocals. With that I set about mixing and mastering my first solo release. I wanted to announce my new project with something special but never imagined it would turn out this good.”

The Ghostwood Development Project moniker is a Twin Peaks reference as Lee explains:

“A few people have asked where I got the name from. It was a plan originally spearheaded by Benjamin Horne to build a country club on the location of Ghostwood National Forest. An intriguing subplot in Twin Peaks. Had this plot continued, I believe it would have revealed the imminent destruction of the town and elaborated on the evil spirits as well as the backstory of Bob, and his Lucifer-like nature. It also plays along nicely with the Twin Peaks‘ narrative of “evil in the woods.” The idea is to present my own personal experiences from an alternate timeline within the Twin Peaks universe where the project did happen and chaos was unleashed. My imagery, music, art, narrative and videos come from the area known as Ghostwood. “Stop Ghostwood” is a recurring theme throughout the saga. Naturally I adopted the term ‘Vote Ghostwood’ insinuating hell on earth has arrived.”


Irreversible Entanglements   ‘No Más’
(International Anthem/Don Giovanni)  Teaser/20th March 2020





The third of my recommendations this week is a tumbling and bowed untethered work of conscious jazz from the free-welding Irreversible Entanglements. Taken from the quintet’s upcoming album Who Sent You?, ‘No Más’ is a sublime rolling gauzy horns wafting teaser for what sounds like a beatified tapestry of poetic actions and contemplations.

Join Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes now on this political remonstration.


Lunar Bird   ‘A Walk’
Single/6th March 2020



Transforming vulnerability into something positively and celebratory spellbinding and golden, the psychedelic gauzy pop band Lunar Bird turn on the translucent diaphanous charm for their brand new single, ‘A Walk’. Valuing instead of diminishing fragility and all it entails, the Italian formed, but in recent years Wales-based, band wash away all the travails with a most radiant dreamy pop mirage that evokes ethereal and lush moments from Beach House, Stereolab, Diva Dompe and Deerhunter.

A reference to Joan Miró’s famous abstract bronze sculpture of the same name, Lunar Bird is a cosmic fantasy duo spearheaded by Roberta Musillami and Francis George, that on this particular gorgeous recording expanded to also include Eliseo DiMalto on bass guitar and Andrea Rizzo on drums.

A Walk precedes the band’s debut album, released sometime in the Spring.


Adam Green  ‘All Hell Breaks Loose (Misfits Cover)’
(30th Century)  Track/Available Now





A lot of homages going on in one place here, as the former Moldy Peach turn left banke troubadour Adam Green pays his respects to the Misfits’ towering influential instigator Glenn Danzig with a cover of the band’s Western gallop homage to Scott Walker and John Franz, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. Green corrals the talents of producer Loren Humphrey (who also played drums), James Richardson of MGMT (guitar, bass, piano, brass arrangement, brass), and Jesse Kotansky (string arrangement, strings) on this heightened dramatic sweep through the imaginative mind of Danzig, who as it happens is apparently releasing a new album next month of Elvis covers.

In short, this is a congruous cover version that wouldn’t look out of place on Green last nostalgic songbook Engine Of Paradise; an album that channeled Lee Hazlewood, Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Ian McCulloch, Jim Sullivan and Father John Misty to produce romantic and candid swooners, Midnight Cowboy like cocktail ruminations on love in the context of a society in the grip of an ever intrusive and alienating social media, and folksy ditties imbibed with strolls in the Greenwich Village.


Support the Monolith Cocktail:

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

Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: Aziza Brahim taken by Ana Valiño






This week’s recommendations and reviews (for the most part) share a musical hunger for the polygenesis; combining and merging a cornucopia of international sounds and cultures to spread a message of universal suffrage. A case in point, the ever-evolving North-of-England assemblage of migrants and refugees, Rafiki Jazz feature voices and musicians from all over the globe: from Arabia to India. Their fourth and upcoming captivating album, Saraba Sufiyana, is featured in this roundup. Channeling a mystical Maghreb, the French trio of Karkara goes heavy and transcendent on their new acid-doom-rock epic, Crystal Gazer. The Belgium outfit Compro Oro manages to circumnavigate a myriad of international destinations without leaving the suburbs of their native home on the new dance jazz LP Suburban Exotica, and UK producer Dan Harper, under the Invisible System title, once more transforms the traditional and courtly music of Mali, on the new album Dance To The Full Moon. Closer to European shores, Xylouris White, the Hellenic framed project of Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris, release a fourth installment of their Cretan soundscapes, The Sisypheans.

Leading the charge this week though is the encapsulating soulful Aziza Brahim with her upcoming new album, Sahari. Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, the beguiled vocalist now lives in a state of exile in Spain. Her latest album continues to draw attention to not only that plight but also that of all refugees on an album that tries some a little bit different musically.

Something a little different, and away from this general thread of global initiatives, Belgium composer Alex Stordiau releases his inaugural album of Kosmische imbued neo-classical visions, Poking Your Imagination, for Pure Spark Records.

Preview/Feature




Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/ 15th November 2019


Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people mounted a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed. Exiled in effect, her travails have extended to Cuba, where she was educated as a teenager, and Barcelona, where she now resides and makes music.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental.

Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy. Songs such as the loose and free ‘Hada Jil’ lay a two-step dance beat underneath a desert song drift. Later on there are dub-y rim-shot echoes and undulating waves of atmospheric tonal synthesizer underpinning that blues-y startling timbre. However, the most surprising fusions to be found on Sahari are the Compass Point reggae-gait ‘Las Huellas’ and the Arabian soul channeling Fado ‘Lmanfra’. There’s even room for a piano on the balladry ‘Ardel el Hub’; a song that plaintively conveys the “impossibility of returning home”, a sentiment the activist Brahim is only too familiar with – denied entry or the right of return, effectively in exile.

The sound of the Sahrawi is never far off, despite the technological upgrade. That most traditional of handed-down instruments, the “tabal drum”, can be heard guiding the rhythm throughout; rattling away and tapping out a beat that changes from the threadbare to the clattering. Brahim’s vocals are as ever effortlessly enriching, captivating and trilling. I dare say even veracious.

Articulating a broader message of global suffrage, Brahim once more encapsulates the sorrows of the exiled and stateless on a sumptuous album, The wanderer and Saharan siren invites new dynamics without changing the intrinsic character and message of her craft, yet ventures beyond those roots to embrace bold new sounds. A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists.






Reviews

Compro Oro ‘Suburban Exotica’
(Sdban Ultra) Album/ 18th October 2019





Illuminating Belgium suburbia with a cornucopia of entrancing and limbering sounds and rhythms from across the world, Compro Oro transport the listener to imaginative vistas on their latest album of jazz imbued exotics. Making waves as part of a loose jazzy Benelux scene, the troupe have even managed to rope in the help of Ry Cooder’s accomplished scion, the multi-instrumentalist talent Joachim Cooder, who adds an “effects-laden” mbira and percussion to a trio of imaginative tracks.

Like their comrades on that scene, Black Flower, the Compro sail into various melting-pot rich harbors, soaking up the atmosphere and embracing what they found, weaving the multilingual sounds into a vibrant soundtrack of tropical new wave pop, dance music, alt rock ‘n’ roll, Turkish-psych and Ethno-jazz fantasy. Cal Tjader, Mulatu Astatke and Marc Ribot are all cited as inspirations, their indelible mark suffused throughout this LP. Add to that trio a strange interpretation of Herbie Hancock (on the Somalia ease-up ‘Mogadishu’; imagine the Dur-Dur Band floating on a kooky jazz cloud above the tumultuous city), Soulwax (on the palm tree Latin dance funk ‘Miami New Wave’) and a rewired Modern Jazz Quartet (that will be the often twinkly and trickling use of vibraphone, but also the marimba too). The curtain call thriller ‘Kruidvat’ even evokes the darker stirrings of later period Can, and the wafting ambiguous snuffles of Jon Hassell.

For the most part dreamy and under a gauze-y veil, Suburban Exotica sashays and drifts across a musical landscape of Arabia, Anatolia, Eastern Africa, The Caribbean and Hispaniola without setting foot outside of their Belgium front door. The more you listen the more you discover and get out of this brilliant dance album of borderless jazz. What a treat to the ears and feet.





Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music) Album/ 25th October 2019





An apt hand in transforming the traditional sounds of Mali, the British producer Dan Harper’s experiment in this field stretches back two decades; set in motion by the rudimental laptop-produced Acid Mali project he created whilst working as a Capacity Builder for a local Malian environmental NGO. So taken was Harper with the country, he ended up not only meeting his future wife there but setting up home and a studio in the capital, Bamako. His wife, Hawa, would introduce Dan to childhood friend and renowned guitarist Bandjougou, who in turn would bring in tow the dusty soulful rich vocalist Sambou koyaté to sing for him. Both artists appear on this new album alongside the griot siren Astou Niamé Diabaté, who as it turns out sang at Dan and Hawa’s wedding.

Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System, once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon took shape at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. Experiencing firsthand (literally on Dan’s own doorstep) the terrorist attacks that followed in the wake of a, finally curtailed, Islamist insurrection and the ongoing war between Mali’s government in the West and the Tuaregs of the North and Eastern desert borders, fighting to set-up an autonomous region, known as the Azawad. Though a certain stability has returned in part to Mali, attacks still occur sporadically; the effects of which permeate throughout the work of the country’s artists, the majority offering a conciliatory tone with the emphasis on unity and understanding. With that in mind, Dan’s album is rich with passionate expressive longing and intensity; the varied juxtapositions of the griot tradition and less rural, more urban vocals combine to deliver some startling performances.

The gently resonate accents and fanned waft of the Malian guitarist’s Kalifa Koné and Sidi Touré accentuate the brilliant vocal parts; a gathering of powerful griot acolytes, singers and even a rapper (Mali rap star Penzy) that includes the already mentioned trio of Bandjougou, Koyaté and Diabaté spiral between the sweetened and intense, the hymnal and physical. Dan boosts and filters those strong performances with a production of techno, modern R&B, dub and futuristic post-punk that sonically weaves in echoes of Massive Attack, Daniel Lanois, King Ayisoba and Dennis Bovell.

Nothing can ever truly improve upon the roots and soul of the traditional courtly music of Mali, its desert blues and Bamako rock of course, but you can push it into exciting directions. Dan’s rewired buzz and pulse does just that, giving a kick and lending an attuned production to the Mali soundscape.



Alex Stordiau ‘Poking Your Imagination’
(Pure Spark) Album/ 30th September 2019





Enticing former label mates from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records to his burgeoning venture Pure Spark, Tokyo electronic wizkid Ippu Mitsui welcomes the Brussels based composer Alex Stordiau to the ranks. Featuring alongside House Of Tapes Yuuya Kuno, Stordiau also previously appeared on the Mid Lothian Bearsuit roster – mentioned on this very blog for his standout Vangelis-style voyager waltz into the cosmos ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, from the label’s The Invisible And Divided Sea compilation.

Like a missing neoclassical Kosmische suite from the Sky Records vault, Stordiau’s inaugural album for Mitsui’s imprint is a serene, though often dramatically stirring, exercise in sculpting retro-electronic soundtracks.

With a classical background, studying at various Belgium conservators, Stordiau combines elements of cascading, romantically accentuated piano and suffused strings with synthesized and computer programmed sine waves, glassy tubular glistened percussion and vaporous sweeps.

The Belgium visionary often works with Bristol musician Lee Williams, who plays, among other things, both electric guitar and bass, and sometimes drums. It sounds as if Williams is present once more, on hand with warm ponderous bass and the odd bit of wilder kooky lead guitar.

Track titles on Poking Your Imagination only go so far in describing each composition’s route on an album of undulating mood pieces. The opening descriptive ‘In The Tepid Shine’ is pure escapist air-bending; crafting vague echoes of Jean Michel Jarre with Roedelius’ more beautifully spherical elevations. Most of these tracks waver over the course of duration; changing or pausing between parts, starting off like the Blade Runner neon skyline lighted ‘Tree Healing’ with a darker, theatrical classical grandeur but suddenly joined by drums and a touch of Vangelis sci-fi. Elsewhere you’re bound to identify the space peril looming shadow of Tangerine Dream and the more popcorn kookiness of Cluster amongst the Baroque cathedral and gravity arcing visions.

A panoramic, mostly cosmic soundtrack of classical Kosmische and humanized electronica, Poking Your Imagination is an assiduous suite of the mysterious, scientific and dreamy.





The Mining Co. ‘Frontier’
Album/ 25th October 2019





Not that you can detect it from his lilted peaceable, if hearty, Americana burr, or the Western-alluded nom de plume that he goes under, but singer/songwriter Michael Gallagher was born in Ireland. Obvious now you’ve read his actual name I know, but just sound wise, it is difficult to hear that Irish bent. In a similar vein to such luminaries as Simon Bonney, the County Donegal troubadour subtly channels a timeless vision of the lyrical, pioneering old West (and South for that matter) on his new LP, Frontier.

Via a Nashville, Texas and New Mexico panorama, Gallagher tailors personal anxieties of disconnection, dislocation and growing pains with familiar old tropes on a songbook of “hangdog” country fare. A romantic album at that, with shades of a pining Josh T. Pearson, The Thrills, Lee Hazlewood, Tom Petty and the Eels, Frontier showcases the artist’s most tender swoons and yearnings. This is a soundtrack of purposeful blues, skiffles and mellow gospel, all softly laced with a subtle echo of Mariachi horns and tremolo twang.

Various memories of a childhood back in Ireland (the night Elvis died sounding a special resonance on the lilted lap-steel rich ‘The Promised Line’) and phobias (a rational fear in my book of flying inspiring the country-prayer ‘Empty Row’) are transported to wistfully articulate American musical settings; a landscape and sound it seems Gallagher belongs.

The third such album from his The Mining Co. alter ego, Frontier is full of romantic intent and stirring candid cathartic heartache; a shuffling songbook handled with care and tenderness that will unfurl its charms over time.




Xylouris White ‘The Sisypheans’
(Drag City) Album/ 8th November 2019





Less a Greek tragedy, more a kind of acceptance of one’s fate (or, play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it), the Hellenic inspired collaboration project of Giorgos Xylouris and Jim White take their lead on the purgatory fate of boulder carrier Sisyphean from Albert Camus: to a point.

The absurdist doyen once wrote a famous tract on that Greek fella’s predicament: Punished by Zeus to roll a large boulder up a mountainside in Hades, each time he reached the top the boulder would roll right back down to the start. And so the process began all over again: An endless, thankless trudge and metaphor for all the all too real daily grind of life outside the mythological imagination. Or so you’d think. Camus however saw it not has a pointless waste of effort and slow punishing meaningless task but as a challenge: noble even. That Sisypheans’ repeated burden should be seen as an achievement, that the struggle should be enough to “fill a man’s heart”. Sisyphean has accepted his it and so should you, or, words and sentiment to that effect.

Of course, even deeper contentions can be found in Camus’ essay; how our tragic figure confined to a limited limbo landscape created in his mind a whole universe from it. Xylouris and White themselves pondered how he might experiment with carrying that burdensome rock; alternating hands, carrying behind his back and so on. Essentially though, this is about experiencing, seeing and discovering anew each day with a concentrated mind the things you take for granted: especially your surroundings. The duo initially turn to the atavistic in conveying these ideas and sentiments; using the suffused blown stirrings of the Greek flute (Aulos) and vibrato resonating spindly fanning tones of the laouto (a long-necked fretted scion of the lute family). In addition to these two lead instruments, the scene is set with shrouded misty and soulfully yearned voices, Giorgos’ son Nick on cello and on the serialism waning moodscape second track a ‘Goat Hair Bowed’ instrument. And so a sweeping, mournful at times, traverse that takes in dancing Grecian figures, wedding celebrations, bewailed lament and travels to the furthest reaches of the Greek borders: sailing at one point into the tumultuous mysterious vision of the much-disputed and fought over ‘Black Sea’.

However, the both taught and freeform, skittish experimental percussion and breaks of Dirty Three drummer White adds another dimension to the rootsy and earthy feel. Always tactile and congruous, White lifts or underpins certain tracks with avant-garde taps, clutters, rim rattles and jazzy frills and crescendos. A touch of progressive jazz, even Krautrock, that sends this project into more contemporary climes.

Between the chthonian and ethereal, the philosophical and viscerally dreamy, The Sisypheans minor epic is an extraordinary musical peregrination worth exploring: Music for the cerebral and the senses.




Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic) Album/ October 2019





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

With representatives from nearly every continent, many of which have escaped from their homelands to find sanctuary in the UK, Rafiki Jazz is an ever-evolving ensemble of migrants and refugees alike coming together to produce sweeping divine borderless music.

Their latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The following floaty and ethereal well-of-sorrows ‘Azadi’ even features a Celtic and folksy air (one that is repeated later on). This is in part due of course to the guest performances of both the English fiddle extraordinaire and songwriter Nancy Kerr and traditional Gaelic singer Kaitlin Ross. A third vocal addition, Juan Gabriel, can be heard lending a guttural throated underbelly to an already eclectic chorus of singers.

Buoyant tablas and spindled kora sit in perfect harmony with Arabian oud, tropical steel drums, the Brazilian berimbau and the varied voices of Sufi, Hebrew, Hindu, Egyptian-Coptic and Islamic, without ever feeling crowded or strained.

Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other culture as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Twenty years in and still improving on that global remit, Rafiki Jazz delivers a magical and rich fourth LP. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing.



Karkara ‘Crystal Gazer’
(Stolen Body Records) Album/ 25th October 2019





There’s a hell of a lot wind blowing throughout the mystical and spiritually Toulouse trio of Karkara’s Crystal Gazer epic. North African wind that is; the exotic charms and mystery of the Maghreb on a swirling breeze, flows through and introduces each incantation heavy communal transcendence.

The mirage-shimmery title-track vignette even features a sirocco echo of ghostly enervated Tuareg desert guitars, whilst the electrified speed freak ‘Zarathoustra’ doesn’t just allude to Nietzsche’s infamous Thus Spoke but astrally heads back to the founding father of that mystical Persian faith via an eastern Link Wray and Gothic soup of Krautrock jazz and acid rock.

The counter flow breathes of another desert also permeate this LP, the sound of a veiled didgeridoo constantly present in building atmosphere and mysticism. Loud and physical, though not without some sensitivity, the trio chant, howl and pray their way through a vortex of flange and fuzz as they soar over a fantastical landscape that takes in the southern constellation star of “proxima centauri” and the gates of the Tunisian Medina, ‘Jedid’.

Allusions to seers, mystics and Gothic romantics abound, whilst the musical inspirations fluctuate between heavy space rock (Hawkwind) and Krautrock (Xhol Caravan, Embryo), post-punk (Killing Joke) and baggy (Stone Roses on a bum ride), and spooked, sleazy rock’ n ’roll (Alan Vega).

Transcended Tangier trips, Karkara aren’t exactly the first group to occupy this space, but they do it with volume and dreamy élan.




Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




Invested with the powers of the Zion cosmological, the afflatus Norwich-based troubadour of psychedelic folk and gospel liturgy John Johanna turned Judaic augurs into a sublime songbook of post-punk, dub, indie, and Krautrock on his most recent, and well-received, LP Seven Metal Mountains. Using the mountain allegories and metaphors, as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch as inspiration, Johanna crafted a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical work of art.

The latest single/video to be released from that fine album, ‘Prodigal Son’, arrives just before Johanna’s next performance, supporting alongside the Ursa Major Moving Group ensemble, Faith & Industry labelmates Champagne Dub at the Folklore in Hackney.

The most swimmingly wavy and translucent undulated soulful psych-synth – with just the most vague tinges of South America and Africa – cooing track from that album, ‘Prodigal Son’ is, as the title makes clear, inspired by the atavistic parable. If you need a quick recap on that old adage, it goes something like this:

A father has two sons. The younger son asks the father for his inheritance, and the father grants his son’s request. However, the younger son is prodigal (i.e., wasteful and extravagant) and squanders his fortune, eventually becoming destitute. The younger son is forced to return home empty-handed and intends to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son’s surprise, he is not scorned by his father but is welcomed back with celebration and fanfare. Envious, the older son refuses to participate in the festivities. The father tells the older son “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found”

The neo-colourful stop-motion paper cuts sequenced video that accompanies it was created by Studio Kissu, a London based French creative studio. They explain the motivation, themes and methodology thus:

“I wanted to make something joyful and colourful to illustrate love between beloved in a family, and I played with abstraction as the idea of leaving and find yourself somewhere else. I used words to illustrate the strong feelings of missing home while geometry comes to draw the sadness, illustrating human being facing their limit and finding strength in love”.

John Johanna says “ I am overjoyed with Studio Kissu’s video for ‘Prodigal Son’. It far exceeds the bounds of my own visual imagination but I couldn’t have hoped for a more sympathetic treatment of the song! It’s a haunting, strange and delightful exploration of the meanings in the lyric”.




REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo: (of BaBa ZuLa) 
Emir Sıvacı






Freely traversing borders once more, Dominic Valvona’s regular roundup of discoveries and interesting finds this month circumnavigates Japan, Israel, Turkey, Poland before returning to the more chilled pastoral Estuary greenery of the Sussex and Essex landscapes. There’s a double-helping of upcoming releases from Glitterbeat Records stable with the return of the Turkish dub cosmology legends Baba ZuLa – their first studio LP in five years, Derin Derin – and a new album of post-punk limbering from the Gdansk band, Trupa Trupa. In a similar vane to the ZuLa, Israeli troupe Taichmania also fuse a cosmology of sounds, and use both the an electrified dynamism of the “oud” and “saz” to fuzz and amp up a merger of Middle Eastern traditions with jazz and prog. Their debut LP, Seventh Heaven is given the once-over. The trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage to the music of the Hopi people on the beautifully evocative LP Öngtupqa. Inspired by more Eastern mysticism the Seattle coupling of Society Of The Silver Cross release their debut long-suite, 1 Verse, and an amazing freefall-in-motion jazz exploration from Philip Gropper’s Philm, entitled Consequences.

There’s horror of a diaphanous apparitional kind with the latest solo album of invocations and ether siren sighed sonnets from Jodie Lowther, and the first album in five years from Junkboy, the marvelous scenic Trains, Trees, Topophilia, and, finally, the inaugural release from Ippu Mitsui’s brand new electronic music label, Pure Spark Records, the House Of Tapes two-track Embers Dreams.


BaBa ZuLa ‘Derin Derin’
(Glitterbeat Records) 27th September 2019



Stalwarts of Turkish cosmology dub, the Istanbul Ege Bamyasi acolytes BaBa ZuLa return to the fray with their first studio LP in five years. And what a time to make that return, as Turkey, or rather its increasingly apoplectic quasi-Sultan-in-waiting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continues a policy of conformism that endangers any form of oppositional descent, and threatens artists and critics alike with severe censorship. The once famous secular moderate bridge between Europe and Asia is growing hostile to the West as the administration errs towards a hardline form of Islam, and moves closer towards Putin’s Russia.

Maintaining a constant rebellious streak throughout their twenty-three year career, whatever the ruling regime, the recent turmoil propels the ZuLa to reconvene; raising their heads above the barricades in a creative act of defiance: Music for dangerous times.

Still led, in part, by the switched-on electric ‘saz’ maestro Osman Murat Ertel, the group weaves together another expansive soundtrack of vivid souk dub and sashaying rambunctious post-punk on Derin Derin. Inspired by a number of things, not just the current political climate, the album is imbued by BaBa ZuLa’s long-running collaborations with the late Jaki Liebezeit: who was himself in turn influenced by a myriad of Anatolian rhythms – which you can hear permeating throughout both the Can legacy and his own many collaborative projects over the decades. The Can metronome and drumming doyen sat in with the group on a number of occasions, and the resonance, at least, of those sessions can in part be felt on this newest album. Especially on the Krautrock pulse of the solo fuzzed saz-snarling ‘Kizil Gözlüm’, which runs through a gamut of Germanic sounds, from Can to Blixa Bargeld and 80s Berlin post-punk. There’s even an air of Michael Karoli’s signature cosmic flares and reverberating wanes, as played on an amped-up oud (or saz), on the Sublime Porte reimagined vision of King Tubby, ‘Port Pass’. In retrospect, the band considers Jaki as an unassuming mentor.

Another thread to this album is the group’s ancestral connection, with musical ties that stretch back generations: Ertel paying a special homage to his artistic forbearers, enthused by traditions but also the country’s psychedelic furors in the 60s and 70s. From the 150 year-old photographic plate process used to produce the album cover, to the inclusion of a song penned by Ertel, his wife and young son, ‘U Are The Swing’, there’s a deep sense of family and inheritance; BaBa ZuLa as custodians of the faith.

A third strand, the instrumental portions of this Oriental cosmic album grew out of a soundtrack commission; the group asked to record music for a documentary about falcons, created a suitably exotic echo of serene flight and soaring majesty, as they accentuated the bird-of-prey plunging and floating over evocative commendable heights. These do act as mini-branches, vignettes and interludes between the longer songs.

The rest of the album oscillates and saunters between camel ride momentum Arabian Desert blues (thanks in part to the inclusion of an electrified oud), futurist Bosphorus reggae (via On-U-Sound and the Warp label) and even alternative rock. In the process they find an echo-y balance between the haunting and abrasive, and the elasticated and intense. A mystical union of the entrancing, sweeping and often chaotic, BaBa ZuLa ‘s hybrid of Turkish and Middle Eastern exotica straddles time and geography to once more create a fearless rump of defiance, yet also inspiring some hope.








Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records) 13th September 2019



The second Glitterbeat release to feature in my roundup up this month, the counterbalanced Polish band Trupa Trupa couldn’t be further apart, sound wise, from the more languid looseness dub of their label mates Baba ZuLa.

Freshly signing over to the German-based label, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

In a perpetual tug-of-war for dominion with its Prussian, then German neighbors Gdansk strategic and commercial position as Poland’s most important post has seen the famous city become a sort of geopolitical bargaining chip over the centuries because of its gateway to the Baltic. After one such episode in a “convoluted” legacy, the city and much of its surrounding atelier of villages were turned into the Free City state of Danzig after WWI; a part compromise result of the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Famous son-of-Gdansk, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is credited as a major influence on the group and this album, and though not strictly born within the city limits, the infamous madman of cinema, Klaus Kinski – in one of his most wild-eyed legendary roles as the obsessive loon opera impresario, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald – is also mentioned in the PR spill: the “great effort of pathetic failure” and “strain sublimating into nothing” of that barely veiled characterization proving fruitful suffrage and inner turmoil for the group.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of that environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

Though taut, industrial with ominous machinations, there’s a surprising melodious quality to the turmoil and free fall of Trupa Trupa’s proto-Gothic rumblings. In amongst the slogging, chain dragging of the Killing Joke, PiL, Bauhaus and Gang Of Four are echoes of a wandering angelic House Of Love, Echo And The Bunnymen, early Stone Roses, Pavement and flange-fanned Siouxsie And The Banshees. Strangely, however, the dreamy haunted title-track evokes Thom Yorke in a dystopian Bertolt Brecht theatre, and the stripped-to-bare-bones acoustic ‘Angle’ even sounds like a odd, if charming, folksy harmonics pinged missive from Can’s Unlimited archives: Incidentally, Can’s walrus mustache maverick, Holger Czukay, was born in Gdansk, or rather Danzig as it was known at the time.

The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019.








Taichmania ‘Seventh Heaven’
21st June 2019



The second group in this roundup to fuse the “saz” and “oud” within a cross-border traverse of Arabia and Turkey, Israeli troupe Taichmania take a similar line to BaBa ZuLa in freely merging musical cultures.

Well-traveled founding member, and the man whose name appears so prominently in the band moniker, Yaniv Taichman has a rich and varied pedigree having studied jazz at the Rimon College Of Music, Turkish music with Professor Mutlu Torun in Istanbul, and Indian music with Pt. Shivanath Mishra in Varanasi. His band mates, Sharon Petrover on drums, Yoni Meltzer on keys and electronics, and Lois Ozeri on bass, are no less musically worldly in that respect.

Stalwarts on the Israel scene in various forms, together under the Taichmania umbrella the quartet limber across a panoramic landscape of Sufi funk, souk-rock, prog and jazz on their debut suite, Seventh Heaven. A veritable elasticated fantasy of both intense hypnotic rhythms and desert peregrinations, this heavenly bound odyssey entwines the traditional sounds and scents of the Arabian Orient with zappy cosmic electronic undulations of synth atmospherics.

Broadcast samples from Middle East radio linger through a kind of spicy exotic brooding mix of Natasha Atlas and the Transglobal Underground on the opening ‘Arabesk’, whilst other such exotic intensity as the contorting spiraling title-track, and post-punk bendy ‘Saba’ are whole journeys, sagas, in their own right; moving between progressive-jazz fusion and futuristic Arabian vapours.

Taking classic leanings to the heavens and beyond, Taichmania knottily skip, scuffle, spindle, echo, quiver and solo through their magical influences to produce a live-feel Oriental soundtrack: heavy on the Prog!





Junkboy ‘Trains, Trees, Topophilia’
(Fretsore Records) 2nd August 2019



Regular readers will (hopefully) be aware that we premiered the Hanscomb brothers’ vibrato-mirage-y ‘Waiting Room’ single last month. This Baroque-pop fashioned nugget, bathed in a halcyon shimmer, proved an idyllic introduction to a pastoral album of geographical traversing instrumentals.

As its album title suggests, public transport(ive) and a strong sense of place have inspired the brothers first album since the much acclaimed 2014 album, Sovereign Sky: Both relocating years ago from Southend-On-Sea to the south coast ideals of Brighton, Junkboy siblings Mik and Rich compose a twelve-track suite to the back-and-forth journeys they made between the two counties of Essex and East Sussex. The “Topophilia” of that title, a term wrongly as it transpires attributed to John Betjeman, can be roughly translated as a love for certain aspects of a place that often gets mixed with a sense of cultural identity.

Passing through a myriad of versions of this landscape, influences include the troubled World War artists of England who depicted the torn-up apocalyptic aftermaths of Europe and the results of bomb raids across the English topography (becoming the doyens of the English modernist movement in the process), to the passing glimpses of the versant downs, beaches and “splendor towns” from a train window, and (friend and Junkboy photographer) Christopher Harrup’s Thames Estuary photo album. The first of these inspirations offers both a colour palette and a semi-abstract empirical vision of that countryside; messrs Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and John Piper, a triumvirate of influential painters, providing a suitable rich canvas: Just one of the guests on this charming LP (and no stranger to this blog) Oliver Cherer even helps pen a Nash homage, ‘A Chance Encounter’ plays with the light musically on a magical pop melody of slow jazzy brass, relaxed drums and flute-y forlorn.

Disarmingly chilled yet full of wistful rumination, Junkboy’s Brighton-Seaford-Southend traverse wonders what it would sound like if Brian Wilson was born and bred on the English Rivera instead of Hawthorne, California; the beachcomber vibes of Pet Sounds permeating throughout this quint lush English affair. You can safely add vague notions of Britpop era Octopus, a touch of the Super Furry Animals more folksy psych instrumentals, some early Beta Band, echoes of 90s Chicago post-rock, and on the dreamboat bluegrass lilted-and-silted ‘Sweetheart Of The Estuary’ more than a nod to Roger McGuinn and pals.

Trains, Trees, Topophilia is a peaceable musical landscape littered with the ghostly reverb of railways station interchanges, mew-dewed laced green hillsides, tidal ebbs and flows and Cluniac Abbeys – the millennia-old, Benedictine scion religious brethren, brought over in droves after William The Conqueror’s invasion of England, make a historical connection between both the album’s Essex and East Sussex locations; the orders’ priory in the Prittlewell of the same song title, originally set up by Cluniac monks from Lewes, just outside Brighton.

Pastoral musical care for the soul, Junkboy’s instrumental album is a beautifully conveyed canvas of the imagined and idyllic; a subtle ode to the Southeast cartography and painters, poets, writers that captured it so perfectly. This is an album that will grow on you over time, revealing its sophistication and nuanced layers slowly but surely: a lovely hour to wile away your time.






Jodie Lowther ‘The Cat Collects’
26th July 2019



One apparitional half of the surrealist Quimper duo, vaporous siren Jodie Lowther has been known to, on occasion, float solo. Her latest haunted diaphanous malady, The Cat Collects, is (as ever) a magical suite of dream realism and supernatural theater.

Between the characters of ethereal seraph and alluring cat lover, Jodie warbles, coos and entrances with a voice so fragile and gauze-y as to be almost an evanescent whisper: Jodie transmitting her vocals from the spirit side of the ether like a aria woozy Mina Crandon.

Drifting in a seeping cantabile sigh throughout this witchery spell of spooky misty songs and graveyard crypt sonnets is a subtle backing of feint melodies and stripped electronica – think Ultravox marooned on the Forbidden Planet or, an early Mute Records vision of 70s British horror soundtracks (Amicus, Hammer, British Lion). From invocations of Vampire lovers to black magic nuptials, The Cat Collects stirs up the right balance of scares and esoteric enchantment on an album of mysterious, creeping beauty and hazy Gothic soundtracks.





Society Of The Silver Cross ‘1 Verse’
28th June 2019



Over the last few months, and featured in previous editions of my roundups, the Seattle coupling of Joe Reinke and Karyn Gold-Reinke, under the auspicious appellation of the Society Of The Silver Cross, have presented us with a trio of evocative-enough Eastern death cult imbued video-singles. Making good on those mystical visions, the duo have released an album that both continues the Velvet Underground say “Om” Indian Gothic drone psychedelia of those tracks but also widens the musical palette to take in shoegaze, new wave and 90s alt-rock.

Still inspired by their spiritual travels to India, and adopting the invocation drone of the “shahi baaja” (Indian autoharp) and induced bowing of the “dilruba”, the Silver Cross explore the “transformative and renewing powers of death” as they flick through a bewitching songbook of Orientalism, Byzantium incense-scented opulence and bellowing sea shanty Edgar Poe scribed Gothic coastlines.

Leaving aside that run of singles (‘When You’re Gone’, ‘Kali Om’ and ‘The Mighty Factory Of Death’) the book of spells adorned 1 Verse piles on the melodrama of opiate arcane rites and woozy harmonium pumped esoteric atmospherics; opening with the repeated echo-y chanting ritual ‘Diamond Eyes’. In a similar mystical vain, distant tolled bells and the reverberations of a choral Popol Vuh creep into the holy processional lamented ‘Funeral Of Sorrows’. Yet, amongst the death marches and promises of spiritual release, rejuvenation and the inevitable there’s more radiant escapism in the form of spindled Baroque-psych (‘Dissolve And Merge’), alt-pop (‘Because’ imagines The Cars and Why? in holy communion) and even a bastardized Travelling Wilburys (‘Can’t Bury Me Again’).

Kneeling at the altar of a many-faced god/goddess the Silver Cross play freely with all those many influences; indulging in the Eastern arts but expanding horizons and even absorbing past Seattle imbued projects.

If you’ve only thus far heard the singles then much of the second half of this album will be a surprise. Dreamy mantra and morbid curiosity coalesce to produce a mesmerizing, hypnotic ritual; opening the door to further experimentation and proving a worthy new incarnation for Joe and Karyn to channel.





Tenakhongva, Stroutsos And Nelson ‘Öngtupqa: Sacred Music Of The Hopi Tribe’
(ARC Music) 26th July 2019



Breathing (literally) life back into the ancestral evocative paeans and spiritual communions of the Hopi people, the trio of radio show host ethnomusicologist Matthew Nelson, Hopi musician Clark Tenakhongva and world-renowned flutist Gary Stroutsos come together on sacred ground to invoke a magical homage.

First a little background. The Hopi, unlike many of their fellow communities of Native Indian tribes in the Americas, lived in more permanent villages, across swathes of South East Utah, North East Arizona, North West Mexico and South West Colorado. These dwellings, some very complex in their construction, gave birth to the Colonist appellation, the Pueblo People, but also because they were considered a more civilized, polite community; their concept of life based on a reverence for all things.

At the heart of this stirring earthy but often-transcendent project is the atavistic instrument that set it all in motion: the 1500-year-old Hopi long clay flute. Unearthed in the last century by the archeologist Earl Halstead Morris, who was leading a Carnegie Institute Expedition to the Prayer Rock district in North East Arizona in the 1930s, these hollow, reedless flutes were part of a thousand artifact haul of discoveries. Relatively remaining a mystery for decades to come, it wasn’t until further research in the 1960s that these flutes from the now renamed “Broken Flute Cave” could be confidently dated to around 620- 670 AD. What remains remarkable is that this sacred instrument was thought lost by the Hopi descendants themselves; disappearing hundred of years ago, until flute specialist Stroutsos with project instigator Nelson played a replica version in front of Hopi custodian Tenakhongva, who promptly invited him to play it in front of his entire family and then, at a later date, at a venerated spot near where the original clay flutes were found.

Part of the wider Canyon Music Festival in 2017, at the Mary Colter built Desert View Watchtower, the trio’s performance, with Nelson keeping rhythm on clay pot drums (keeping it all historically accurate, stretched-skin drums being out of time and step with the 7th century flutes), Strouthos improvising on flute and Tenakhongva singing whilst handling the percussive rasps, rattles and gourd, was filmed and recorded. An “approximation” of how the Hopi’s holy music would have sounded almost 1500 years ago, the Öngtupqa (the name given by the Hopi people to the canyon in which our trio played) nine-track suite remains untouched, unmodified or edited two years on.

Setting the atmosphere of both earthy soul connectedness and flighty astral mystery, the obviously talented and well-honed players perfectly capture the dream-like ritual and awe-inspiring panorama that surrounds them. If you were expecting the synonymous rain dance and powwow holler chants of much Native Indian music, think on. Öngtupqa is more entrancing, ambient in places, with the vocals, or chanting, graceful and often melodious but deep. Lifting out of the canyon to dizzying cloud-ruminating heights, you’ll still constantly reminded of the vast American outdoors and desert landscape: A rattlesnake shakes his distracting tail here, a panpipe flight of a condor or thunderbird over there on the mountainside.

An intimate tribute to the Hopi cycle of life (as Tenakhongva explains it, “…we were born within the Grand Canyon and when we are done, we return back to this place to rejuvenate life of a new beginning…”), the stories and music of that scared site are offered and opened-up to a global audience; a message of the communal, of preservation, being at the very heart of this vivid undertaking. The ancestors will be proud, as the two millennia old blessings and spiritualism of the Hopi is brought back to life.





House Of Tapes ‘Embers Dreams’
(Pure Spark Records) 7th August 2019



The Japanese electronic music wiz kid Ippu Mitsui has graced these roundups on a number of occasions over the years, and featured on numerous Monolith Cocktail playlists. Releasing a varied kaleidoscope of futuristic Tokyo electro-glides-in-blue and kinetic techno on a spread of labels, Mitsui originally came to my attention through his releases for the Edinburgh-based Bearsuit Records. Still recording ad hoc, Mitsui has now just launched his very own imprint, Pure Spark Records. Another one of Bearsuit’s extensive roster of mavericks, the inaugural release on that venture is from the experimental composer Yuuya Kuno, who under a variety of alter egos has prolifically knocked out a mix of the weird and sublime electronica.

Back recording under the House Of Tapes moniker in this instance (known as Swamp Sounds when passing sonic oddities through Bearsuit), Kuno’s two-track showcase, Embers Dreams, is a lucid, air-y and sophisticated affair. The “Embers” of that title is an inviting exotic amble through a moist-vegetated oasis of itchy, scratchy, woody and echo-y deep electro percussion, whilst the accompanying ‘Melted Ice’ offers a glass-y trance-y, robotics-in-motion slice of downtempo chiming soundtrack. A great subtle and deep piece of electronic manna and flow with which to launch Mitsui’s brand new label, House Of Tapes kickstarter is a serious piece of classy techno: an augur, a good omen I hope of what’s to come.





Philipp Gropper’s Philm ‘Consequences’
(Why Play Jazz)



A balletic jazz freefall in motion, the latest tumultuous suite from the acclaimed “David Bowie of jazz”, tenor saxophonist/composer/bandleader Philipp Gropper (and his Philm troupe), is a highly experimental reification of contortions and sporadic, spasmodic chaos: albeit a controlled, kept-in-check, vision of an avant-garde one.

The multifaceted title of this orderly breakdown in heightened tensions and liberating angst can be read in many ways: The “consequences”, for example, of our political divisive times can be heard and read loudly crashing throughout this six track album of disjointed intensity; the fallout from all sides of the societal divide causing enough anxiety, suffering and despondency to fuel Gropper for the next decade or more. In fact the whole course of “neo-liberalism” itself is on trail (or at least its knock-on effects of intervention), however abstract that might be.

Space expletory wondrous track titles aside, the filthy lucre spiral of dependency and spluttering wild ’32 Cents’, and funneling discordant interchange ‘Thinking From The Future (Are You Privilaged?)’ are both the most obvious proponents of that socially “woke” commentary – though whose privilege needs to be checked exactly in this exchange is open to debate.

The concerns of “interpersonal” and “interrelationships” within this charged political landscape are also a major focus for the Berlin-based jazz man; adding to a uncertain free flow of both centrifugal spinning discourse and more haunted, sometimes diaphanous, twinkling.

Escaping the atmosphere, orbiting the cosmology of deep space, Gropper’s most serene dance of glistened, starry majesty and mystery is the astral soundtrack to ‘Saturn’. Both the enormity and expansive uncertainty of this planetary titan is expressed evocatively enough by Gropper’s otherworldly Theremin aria like reedy breaths on the tenor sax, as his companions bounce and skip around the planet’s rings. Saturn holds a strong fascination for all of us, but it can’t have escaped Gropper’s notice that jazz music’s most celestial star, and progenitor of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra, claimed to have ascended to Earth from his Saturn home.

The musicianship is, as you expect, first rate, with Gropper’s sax totally untethered, squawking, fluting, brilling and even trembling, whilst his band of Elias Stemeseder (on piano and synth), Robert Landfermann (on double-bass) and Oliver Steidle (on drums) react decisively with limbering, elasticated reflexes. Together hey create an iridescent breakdown and reconstruction of digital calculus, science-fiction and the cerebral; merging contemporary European jazz with elements of Coltrane, Coleman, Billy Cobham, Stockhausen, The Soft Machine and the electronic and hip-hop genres. Futurism and avant-garde classicism collide in an oscillating and tumbling fusion of complex ideas: Consequences is a musical language on the verge of collapse. How it all stays together is anyone’s guess. This is a most impressive adventure in jazz.





REVIEWS ROUNDUP
Words: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Toxic Chicken - Monolith Cocktail



Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. Each month we end him a deluge of new releases on his virtual desk to see what sticks.

Toxic Chicken ‘Uncomfortable Music’
21st July 2019


I don’t apologise for writing another review of Toxic Chicken, as this is his 3rd LP in as many months, and this like the other two is a work of pure maverick pop genius: and not just because there is a four second track called ‘Brian From The Bordellos’ on it!

This LP has everything that I love about the magic and joy of music. It has humour and a madness that at times reminds me of the great Syd Barrett and the wonderful White Noise Electrical Storm LP. It is eccentric pushed to the extreme. Songs with the subject matter of eating politicians and love songs for cats and for Mother Nature and what is bad about England, but that track only being under two minutes long does not quite manage to list everything.

Uncomfortable Music is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding listening experience, and at times, the subject matter does live up to its title. But this album is a pay-what-you-want to download, so is well worth a listen. Another great album from a great artist: And I mean artist. And the track ‘Little Snail’ is the best dance track I have heard all year.





Snapped Ankles ‘Stunning Luxury’
1st March 2019



The whirring and exciting sounds of post punk circa 2019 coming at you like a extravagant wholemeal piece of chiffon scarred alternative disco meat; the sound of Devo fucking the brains and beats out of the B52s whilst the horny ghost of Mark E Smith watches on making cutting asides whilst stomping on the hopes and dreams of the not yet born love child of David Byrne and Lena Lovich.

This LP is one big extravagance of dark dance and post punk joy, the sort of album to soundtrack your wildest night out ever: sordid clubs, cheap drinks, hanging out with girls and boys who really should know better, the best musical electro porn one could ever hope to gorge oneself on.

Stunning Luxury is dirty, it is funky, it is experimental, it is blistering rock ‘n’ roll. A luxury indeed. One that should be enjoyed by all.





Anton Barbeau ‘Berliner Grotesk’
(Beehive Records / Pink Hedgehog Records) 19th July 2019



There is a dark playful melancholy I love about this LP, not the weeping into your hanky kind, or, the “oh I feel so sorry for myself kind”, but the, “I am middle aged and looking back at my life through the good and bad the happy and bad” kind. There is hope in the future kind, the kind of melancholy that Martin Newell thrives at writing. Even the cover of the Beatles ‘Love Me Do’ is enriched with a sadness the original misses; this version overcomes the familiarity by transforming it into a slightly electro reggae beauty.

But not all is sadness and tears there is also fine pop of the power variety: the sort Jellyfish so excelled at releasing. The Bowie Mott and the Fabs influences of course shine bright bringing a lovely old time Englishness that is so often ignored in modern music of today. This LP is a finely crafted pop album, with enough quirks and twists to make it a very enjoyable listen.





Simon Waldram ‘Into The Blue’
27th July 2019



Simon Waldram made one of my favourite LPs from 2016, the wonderful self released Insolation, an LP that dipped and swayed, taking in JAMC one minute and the next, beautiful swathes of psych folk. This, his new album, Into The Blue, takes off where that album left off, but is a slightly more subdued affair: Songs of darkness, love, depression and hope merge into a quite beautiful collection.

In these days when the acoustic guitar has taken over the electric, sales wise, there is certainly a market for LPs of softly strummed melancholia, and Simon does it far better than most; bringing to mind at times, the beautiful slowcore shimmer of Low (especially on ‘Breaking Waves’), at other times, recalling the magic of the Go Betweens and The Smiths.

The highlight for me though is the beautiful psych folk instrumental ‘Sea Turtles’: a few moments of total bliss.

Into The Blue is a fine LP and with the right backing and a bit of luck could well fight its way to the top of the overcrowded melancholic brigade, and could find favor on many late night radio shows. An album of real beauty and sadness and hope.





Moody Mae ‘Throwing Rocks at John E. Road’
2nd July 2019



Indie pop from Sweden is on the whole a wonderful thing indeed, and this EP/mini LP from Moody Mae keeps within that wonderful remit. Beatles like ‘Martha My Dear’ piano, lovingly could not give a toss female vocals, ba ba bas and lofi psychedelia join forces to force music lovers to nod their heads and grin like grinning idiots. And to think that this was recorded in 2005 and has taken 14 years to see the light of day. I think it may be time for Moody Mae to reform and record a full length waxing. For when a band has the gift of pure pop wonderment it is a shame not to share that wonderment with the less fortunate. A treasure of a release.




Radio Europa ‘Community Is Revolution’
(Wormhole) 19th July 2019



It seems like a weekly event that Wormhole Records release a new underground LP of chilled out darkness. This weeks release is by Radio Europa and is an LP of chilled out darkness with the odd offering of a glimpse of light appearing through the cracks of the drawn heavy curtains called life: The beam of light showing the particles of dust exploding and hovering around the thoughts of insolvent tomorrows and the broken promises of yesterday.

Gentle soft spoken vocals lilt into the wave of dark synth and drum beats that blanket you in the warmth of the cold that whispers sweet nothings whilst grinding a worn down stiletto heel into your vacant soul.

Community Is Revolution is an album to soundtrack these uncertain times; an album to close your eyes and let the music sweep over you and take you to the dark recess of your mind where devils and angels juggle with the happy/sad of your life.





bigflower ‘Night And Day’
13th July 2019


Another week another fine free to download single from bigflower. An explosion of post punk guitars do battle with horns and a bass riff so mighty it would make Jean Jacques Burnel want to call it a day and to take up flower arranging. When oh when are this mighty band going to be picked up by some label. For this is far to a fine a track to slip under the radar yet again. Blogs, djs of the alternative variety should be ramming this down people’s throats instead of some acoustic guitar charlatan whining on about how twee their girlfriend’s vagina is [like they have saw their girlfriend’s vagina! They saw an egg box and let their imagination take hold]

Bigflower are one of the most exciting underground bands around at the moment and we at the Monolith Cocktail will keep ranting on about their majestic take on modern life until the less with-it blogs catch on. Blogs, djs, record labels for God sake get your fingers out.





Why Sun ‘Frugte’
14th June 2019



Softly strummed guitars and deeply crooned vocals kick start this beautiful five track EP of softly strummed guitars and deeply crooned vocals; songs that bring the joys of Galaxie 500 and the Wild Swans oozing into my mind, and lovers of those bands and the many bands of that ilk should enjoy this. So give it a listen especially if you are hung-over or on the verge of doing fuck all.