NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona
Roll Call: The Black Angels, Anna Coogan, Cotton Wolf, Happyness, King Ayisoba, Lake, Alex Stolze, Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods, Vassals, Andrew Wasylyk.
A mega edition of the regular tickling our fancy reviews roundup this month, before the Easter Break and the Monolith Cocktail’s week long sabbatical to Palermo, we take you on a whirlwind trip through some of the “choice” most recent and upcoming releases. Pleasantries aside. Let’s crack on…
King Ayisoba ‘1000 Can Die’
Glitterbeat Records, 31st March 2017
Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.
From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.
Though Ayisoba advocates the “power of tradition” and the primal thrust of instrumentation is one passed down from generation to generation, 1000 Can Die features an eclectic and electric fusion of musical styles. The homegrown Ghanaian “hiplife” – a mix of rap, electronic beats and traditional rhythms – rubs up against ragga, dancehall and dub; a grandee doyen of which, the inimitable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, appears postulating a herb-hazed wisdom on the album’s rustically plucked and enraged title track.
In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.
Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least.
The Black Angels ‘Death Song’
Partisan Records, 21st April 2017
If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic melodrama, Death Song, must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!
An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip. It begins with one of the Angels heaviest productions yet; a dark arts pulsing bestial diatribe on the controlling influence of money, entitled Currency. From there we’re guided across choppy seas between brighter less cymbal crashing hypnotics and swaying macabre, through the metaphorical “killing fields” of the huntress (I’d Kill For Her); the enslaved intoxicant spell casting of enchantresses (Half Believing); and the upside down: the final Floyd and Amon Duul II-esque Orpheus-is-comfortably-numb-in-the-underworld opus, Life Song.
Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory.
Anna Coogan ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’
28th April 2017
Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.
Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produce a wave (whether the gravitational kind, as serenaded and alluded to on the brilliant opening title track or, the metaphorical high seas kind, as referenced throughout) fixated lamenting and balletic travail.
Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical. The operatic, learnt at the prestigious Mozarteum University of Salzburg, elements are transduced through a background of rifling through her father’s record collection of protest troubadours, and busking on the streets of Seattle, to leave only traces that appear naturally.
Occasionally rocking, most of the music has a cinematic more expansive touch, with three of the songs on this album originally composed to accompany the Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov 1929 camp alien invasion/Russian revolution analogy Aelita, Queen Of Mars (the title track) and the French director Jean Epstein’s 1928 interruption of Poe’s classic, The Fall Of The House Of Usher (If You Were The Sun, A Wedding Vow).
Almost uninterrupted with each track flowing or bleeding over into the next, the album moves seamlessly between its musical and thematic influences. I could probably do without the romantic twinkled space helmet vocal synth pop Meteor, but overall this is an impressive performance, Coogan’s quivering wah wah and tremolo articulations matched equally by that heavenly, soaring voice.
Lake ‘Forever Or Never’
Tapete Records, April 7th 2017
Meant as anything but disingenuous, it’s surprising what the experimental pop group Lake get away with on their latest and eighth album, Forever Or Never. Remodeling an array of 70s/80s influences with a 21st century spin, they can turn some of the stalest MOR vaporous blue-eyed soul synth ballads and soft rock melodramas into something melodically enchanting but very poignant; analogies channeling the political and social maelstroms of our times, as most of the music coming out of the USA does in 2017.
Celebrating a recent tenth anniversary with perhaps the most exhaustive of performances, playing every song from their ninety-track back catalogue in an Herculean ten-hour set, Lake continue to submerge themselves in the Pacific Ocean Blue waters of nostalgia.
Finely attuned, lean and devoid of the superfluous, Forever Or Never is a mostly gentle, wistful breeze through yacht rock, Belle & Sebastian daydreaming romanticism, shoegaze and pop. Shared male/female vocals duties offer a constant variety that bears traces of Blonde Redhead, Harry Nilsson and The Pastels. And joining the betrothed founders Ashley Eriksson and Elijah Moore, and long-term band members Andrew Dorsett and Mark “Markly” Morrison before she passed away, the artist/musician Geneviève Castrée (for whom this album is dedicated) lent lush coos and backing vocals to the tumultuous Gone Against The Wind and bright, easy-going finale, Magazine.
Sometimes it’s like hearing Fleetwood Mac if they’d formed during the C86 phenomenon, and at other times, a strange transmutation of Captain & Tennille, and a vague stab at a post Sunflower Beach Boys jamming with Hall & Oates. Disarming and emotionally sophisticated throughout, with subtle, warm but diligent songwriting, Forever Or Never is a melody rich harmonious meditation on inner turmoil, forgiveness and mourning, that can’t help but also comment on the recent political landscape.
Alex Stolze ‘Mankind Animal’
Nonostar Records, 31st March 2017
Transforming the traditionally entrenched sound and indeed reputation of the violin, German composer/producer Alex Stolze attempts to reanimate the instrument, “preserving” it, as he states, “for future generations, without being a conservative classicist.”
No stranger to reinvention, recently performing radical deconstructions of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge with the Armida Quartet, at Berlin’s Radial System venue, Stolze has gained a certain exploratory reputation for his work with the electronica acts Bodi Bull and Unmap (amongst others).
Concentrating the mind, finding a certain solace, the Berlin urbane stalwart has relocated to the German/Polish borders for a more pastoral life of contemplation; spending time on rebuilding an old ruin in the countryside but focusing on the vision for his solo work. Nothing short of guiding humanity towards a less destructive, more empathetic spirituality, Stolze attempts to bridge classicism and contemporary amorphous electronic music on his debut solo record, Mankind Animal.
Less Roedelius neo-classical, or for that matter Tony Conrad Dream Syndicate, and more John Cale inspired viola distortions and that titan of the German avant-garde Stockhausen and his electronic processing of orchestral instrumentation, the five-track Mankind Animal suite is surprisingly fluid and melodic. Conceptual and avant-garde in influence certainly, but far from a grueling or challenging experience.
A chamber ensemble mix of electro-acoustics, ambient traverses and, at times, kinetic beat undulating soul, this pan-Europa soundtrack often evokes transmogrified traces of traditional scores and folkloric music from central and eastern Europe: The articulate plucks, quivers, wanes and yearnings that emanate from Stolze’s five-string custom-made violin often sounding a link back towards the past, and ghosts of an old continent. Tradition is very prominent, but an intricate bed of low synth, contained sophisticated beats and mechanics bring it into the present.
Over the top of this score, Stolze’s succinct campfire lyrics of profound prose make allusive references to the here and now though again these concerns are often age-old: from, “where to start if you want to change the system”, on the lyrical resigned meander through the universal condition The Crown, to the more personable inner sage advice of “don’t try to be someone else/otherwise who would be you”, on the opening Don’t Try To Be.
From the cinematic Eraser to the softened timpani minor-overture Stringent, Stolze and his ensemble produce a considered postmodernist suite, both experimental in merging the classical with the contemporary, and yet a pleasurable, even soulful and thoughtfully poised listening experience.
Joji Hirota & The London Taiko Drummers ‘Japanese Taiko’
ARC Music, 28th April 2017
One of Taiko drumming form’s most prestigious of stars of the last forty years, Joji Hirota cements his sizable reputation with this latest collection, simply named Japanese Taiko. Literally, as is the case with most of these direct from Japanese translations, the ancient style of Taiko itself means “big, fat drums”, (which you can’t really argue with) and on this album features a number of these drum shapes and sizes, from the smallest, a “uchiwa tom”, to the behemoth sized “oh daiko” (again, literally a “big drum” that measures 140cms in diameter).
Inspired by the volcano piqued hot springs landscape of his native Hokkaido – Japan’s most northerly of main islands – Hirota, who started training at the age of eleven, merges majestic traditions with a unique modern approach: He was after all among the first of the Taiko practitioners to bring the style to the West, and has more recently lent his music to the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s latest martyrdom, Silence. Together with his four male and eight female strong London ensemble the maestro thunderously rolls through Taiko’s folkloric, Noh theatre, Kabuki, Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremony origins with agility and at times entrancing aplomb.
Building up pattering rumble evocations of the Spring Breeze or, stroking the drum skins to an atavistic Japanese flute accompaniment in ritual to a Harvest god (Kokiriko), this dynamic, though often monotonous, chorus of drummers is surprisingly melodic. A barrage yes, but the drumming wall of sound is often elevated by poetic vocals – usually in chorus, though there is a strange mix of call and response staccato rapping on Akita – and subtle mood and tonal changes; from wood clapping to finger bells and cymbal swells.
To experience live is something else: a synchronized art form of music and theater. But this showcase of tradition and experimentation, with half the compositions written by the man himself, is a great introduction to the form.
Cotton Wolf ‘Life In Analogue’
Bubblewrap Collective, 28th April 2017
As technology’s ever-domineering progress takes over and algorithms creep into the creative process it’s a relief to see and hear that the Kraftwerkian dream of complete immersion between humans and machines, with all music created by a computerized brainiac, is still a long way off. And though by its very democratized nature and access electronic music is obviously wholly reliant on tech, which is getting ever cheaper and easier to use, there are many artists who wish to (and excuse my trite cliché) put the soul back into the machine. The Cotton Wolf Welsh duo of “super producer” Llion Robertson and classically trained composer Seb Goldfinch are among those, “living in the analogue”, who leave an indelible human mark on electronic music.
Their debut album is an often sophisticated, downtempo, merger of small, organic Leaf Label like synthetic drums and tight percussion and subtle atmospheric waves and suffused strings – part of the symphonic quality and melody the duo wish to emphasis. With guest vocals from the attentive soulful Alys Williams, on the gauzy veiled Lliwiau, and calm fluttering siren Lois Rogers, on the softened Massive Attack-esque Future Never, Cotton Wolf omit for a sense of performance and humility.
“Unapologetically” Welsh, Williams for example sings in the dialect, the duo is rightly proud of their heritage. And they are in some ways in the middle of a golden resurgence, with countless fellow Welsh electronic artists, from The Conformist to R. Seiliog and Gwenno Saunders to name just three, gaining critical attention and flying the flag. But, apart from the language, there isn’t a common identity in the music itself. There is no such thing as a “Wales sound” in the genre. Life In Analogue is if anything a global soundtrack, with traces as diverse as Kosmische, EDM, Bonobo and even mellowed South American electronica all under one roof.
More than a little classy, electronica with a human touch, Cotton Wolf weave the symphonic articulately into an album with depth but also commercial appeal.
Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods ‘ST’
Bearsuit Records, 24th March 2017
A split offering from the Edinburgh label of idiosyncratic experimental sonics and more lo fi indie pop fare, Bearsuit Records bring us an incongruous curious pairing of, mainly, electronic music mavericks.
From further up the Scottish east coast, Dundee artist/musician Douglas Wallace, under the strange Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods appellation, has fashioned an imaginary Hondo City futuristic soundscape that bares little relation to the track titles. With a backing of trebly crisp electronic percussion, tetchy cymbals, clean crystalized synths and trans mutated guitar wails, Wallace’s science fiction travails make ephemeral references to Murcof, Bowie’s Heroes peregrinations, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the sort of 80s vapour ice-misty synth soundtrack fare you’d find on the video-nasty, Shogun Assassin. Reverent at times, primordial at others (check the lost world of Song For Broken Singers), ole Uncle Pop’s contribution is a subtle, meditative counterpoint to his album companion’s ennui flitting Casio car-crash bombardment.
Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, experimental electronic music artist and founder of Sleep Jam Records, Yuuya Kuno flirts with a number of aliases including House of Tapes but for this label and in this capacity goes under the Swamp Sounds moniker. Chopped-up into a loopy soundclash of Casio pre-set schlock and drama, Kuno’s 80s meltdown collage is both ridiculous and yet full of interesting surprises. Tracks such as Skull Disco feed Daft Punk through a dial-up connection and grinder, and Houndstooth sends Atari Teenage Riot to a laser quest showdown.
Run of the mill for Bearsuit, who constantly release such curiosities, but for us the listener these experiments prove intriguing; bringing to our attention some unique artists, working on the peripherals of sonic reinvention and cut-up mania.
Andrew Wasylyk ‘Themes From Buildings And Spaces’
Tape Club Records, 28th April 2017
The second artist in my roundup to hail from the fair city port of Dundee, musician/composer Andrew Mitchell (nee Wasylyk) pays a moving sort of homage to his home on Themes From Buildings And Spaces. With the onus on the psychogeography of the architecture in Scotland’s fourth-largest city, its history as the capital of Jute production features heavily as a recurring theme; the ghosts and lingering traces of Tayside mills and the people who worked the oppressive Industrial Revolution machinery within them making their presence known on the reflective Lower Dens Work.
Memories both haunting and meditative are made concrete, prompted by the iconic images of the late, “father of Scottish modern photography”, Joseph MacKenzie and a mix of architectural markers – only ever seen in Scotland – from across time: stoic granite beauty to hard-to-love Brutalism. The very evolution of Dundee, over eight instrumental evocations, is lent both a melancholic and romantic soundtrack of lapping piano tides, gentle swooning colliery jazz brass, synthesized choral voices and peaceable textures. Sounding unique, even pastoral at times, these suites conjure up a Caledonian Air, yet at other times errs towards the ether, conjuring up those old ghosts and spirits.
Andrew sheds a new light in many ways on Dundee with the most reflective of timeless scores.
Happyness ‘Write In’
Moshi Moshi, 7th April 2017
Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their new album, Write In.
Having previously covered and absorbed tootsie roll Beach Boys idyllics and the Athens, Georgia college radio rock of the obscure Club Gaga on last year’s Tunnel Vision On Your Part EP – the title-track of which appears alongside the drowsy-sighed pop spankler Anna, Lisa Calls on this, the group’s second LP –, and often drawn favorable comparisons to Wilco and Pavement, Happyness find themselves liltingly tuning into a more eclectic array of influences for their most melodious, engaging songbook collection yet.
The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again (Man As Ostrich) sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.
Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”.
Vassals ‘Halogen Days EP’
Post Fun, 7th April 2017
You have Audio Antihero’s indefatigable Jamie Halliday to thank for dropping this EP from Brooklyn misfits Vassals onto my radar. The backing band of Audio Antihero signing Magana, the trio’s latest release bandies between, as the press release puts it, a sort of “bleak beauty” and “chaotic minimalism” that strays into “slacker-rock ambivalence” and “post-punk cynicism”. I can confirm all of that, but would like to add the following if I may.
There’s more than a touch of the new wave on Halogen Days quartet of power-pop and grungy-romanticism. The slacker and grunge elements made brighter and indolently tuneful for it.
A run through of the EP then: We have the pendulous drum and echoed vocals of the opener Sea Spells, which sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook fronting The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the Moonless (“night”) build up swell of crescendos that evokes the Tokyo Police Club and Wampire; and the return to the source of inspiration with traces of The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr on the stumbling SoHo. The finale meanwhile, Ghostwood, traverses Pavement and The Strokes (when they were something), on a peaks and lulls, heavy and accentuate crafted N.Y.C. indie resigned anthem, that literally spirals and pounds away until lifting off.
Bright hopes indeed and nowhere near as petulant as you’d expect. There is amongst that cynicism and effortless sounding despondency some real thought and musicianship, the lyrics actually far more aching and heartfelt than they might admit.
March 30, 2017
Choice Playlist Revue
Words: Dominic Valvona
Selection: DV, Ayfer Simms and Matt Oliver
The inaugural quarterly revue of 2017 gathers together a faithful purview of the last three months of reviews and articles on the Monolith Cocktail. Myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms have chosen a mere smattering of our favourite music; featuring both tunes from albums/singles/EPs/collections we’ve reviewed or featured on the site and some we just never had the time to include.
As usual an ever-eclectic amorphous affair, with the most avant-garde pieces of music sitting in harmony with the most edgy hip-hop, Malian sand dunes blues alongside Belgium alternative rock’n’roll and psychedelic noodling, the first quarterly playlist of the year features The XX, Sentidor, Mauro Pawlowski, Baba Zula, Tamikrest, Emptyset, Your Old Droog, Likwuid, King Ayisoba and many more. A full tracklist is below, with links to relevant posts.
The XX ‘On Hold’
Austra ‘We Were Alive’
Sentidor “Pedreira (Quarry)’ Feature
Porter Ray (ft. Asian T, Rife) ‘Waves’ Feature
Mauro Pawlowski ‘In Starlight (We Must Be Alive)’ Review
Baba Zula (Dr.Das Mix) ‘Iki Alem (Dub Version)’ Review
Baluji Shrivastav ‘Dance Of Erzulie’ Review
Bargou 08 ‘Mamchout’ Review
Terakaft ‘Djer Aman (Afriquoi Remix)’ Review
Dearly Beloved ‘Who Wants To Know’ Review
Taos Humm ‘RC’ Review
Dr.Chan ‘Yannnnk$$$ (Life I$ Not Fun)’ Review
Rudy Trouve ‘Torch’ Review
Irk Yste ‘Wumpe’ Review
Mauro Pawlowski ‘Men In Sheds Pt.1’ Review
Emptyset ‘Border’ Review
Nick Blackos ‘No Answer’ Review
Your Old Droog (ft. Edan, Wiki) ‘Help’ Feature
Paul White and Danny Brown ‘Lion’s Den’ Feature
Blue Orchids ‘The Devil’s Answer’ Review
Alasdair Roberts (ft. Gordon Ferries) ‘Caleno Custure Me’ Review
James McArthur & The Head Gardeners ’14 Seconds’ Review
Piano Magic ‘Attention To Life’ Review
Sankofa ‘Into The Wild’ Feature
Delicate Steve ‘Nightlife’ Review
Retoryka ‘Right Up Your Street Pt.1’ Review
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ‘Down (Is Where I Want To Be)’ Review
Craig Finn ‘Ninety Bucks’
Tinariwen ‘Oualahila ar Tesninam (Transglobal Underground Remix)’ Review
Animal Collective ‘Kinda Bonkers’
Likwuid (Ft. 2 Hungry Bros) ‘Illfayted’ Feature
Oddisee ‘Digging Deep’ Feature
M-Dot (Ft. Camp Lo, Tribeca) ‘True Lies’ Feature
Oh No (ft. Tristate) ‘Showroom Floor’ Feature
Dope Knife ‘Nothing To Lose’ Feature
King Ayisoba (Ft. Wanlov da Kubolor & Big Gad) ‘Africa Needs Africa’
Tamikrest ‘Erres Hin Atouan’ Review
NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 047: Ah! Kosmos, Armellodie Records, La Mambanegra, Mokoomba, Omar Rahbany, Taos Humm, and Charles Vaughn.
Welcome to another edition of Dominic Valvona’s, most eclectic, review roundup of new releases. #47 includes a lively and sizzling revitalization of the Salsa music and dance style by Colombia’s La Mambanegra; an ambitious global-stamped passport of world music peregrinations, suites and songs from the Lebanese polymath Omar Rahbany; a Tonga ancestry soundtrack to love, loss and displacement from Zimbabwe’s breezy and playful lilting Mokoomba; the debut kaleidoscope misadventures of Taos Humm; a two-track EP of sophisticated electronic and cerebral synth pop from Ah! Kosmos, and psychogeography style ruminations on the omnipresence of pylons from Charles Vaughn. Plus, Glasgow’s Armellodie Records celebrate their tenth anniversary with a special celebratory showcase compilation of indie and quirky pop.
Omar Rahbany ‘Passport’
Released 10th March 2017
Talk about ambitious. The grandiose debut, part Middle Eastern rhapsody, part global symphony, from the Lebanese musical polymath Omar Rahbany, boasts a cast of 180 musicians and performers, from twelve different nationalities; all pulling together to produce an hour-long lyrical odyssey.
Taking the Beirut-born Rahbany three years to finish, his well-stamped Passport is inspired by a whirlwind of ideas and mediums. Broadening his “total work of art” conceptions to include film and choreography, projecting a mix of evocative instrumentals and vocal suites across a wide-screen vista, his “borderless” experiments are sophisticated, multi-layered and sweeping; often amorphously dropping from the classical into jazz-fusion.
The action and the themes, however, are deeply rooted, growing from a city that’s seen thousands of years of turmoil. Beirut, and the Lebanon, has been both scarred and enriched by countless civilizations, and as a result, the city is a patchwork of languages and religions, all sharing a history no one can agree on, or as the press statement puts it, Lebanon is “a nation that undertakes a constant struggle to find its ‘absolute identity’.” Imbued with a rich heritage that goes back at least two generations – his grandfather, Mansour, and great uncle, Assi, wowed the country with their distinct innovative compositions as the Rahbany Brothers; and his father is a playwright composer/lyricist and mother a famed professional dancer – Omer Rahbany’s opus is unmistakably steeped in the psychogeography of his native land.
Passport begins with a heralded Overture suite, which glides majestically through trilling flutes, accordion, piano and softened timpani, interpreting seasons as it goes and gradually building to a tumultuous crescendo. The Kiev City Symphony, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko, adds a momentous grandeur of classicism and Bernstein to the Lebanese panorama. This full gamut of emotions score is followed by the heart aching Arabian lamented musical-esque, Umbrella Woman, which features the French Chanson like beautiful spiraling vocal performance of Ghada Nehme, and again, a grandiose orchestra accompaniment. Keeping a semblance of the sinfonietta, but also talking a cue from Amandia period Miles Davis, Rahbany and his extensive cast of players create an askewer avant-garde jazz, reggae and rock music soundtrack to the Biblical referenced vanity project, the tower of Babel, on the constantly evolving and changing Programmusik: Babel. A suitable cacophony is enacted to what was a legendary tower, built to reach the heavens and channel all communications under one universal language; TV and radio transmissions crackle alongside rocket bombardments and speeches to make the point.
Waltzes, rituals, the Tango, Byzantium, allusions to astral-travelling and spiritual peace are played on a mix of both traditional Western and Eastern instruments, including the bezok, rezok and oud. They articulate a wide spectrum of landscapes, from the deserts of North Africa to the reaches of outer space.
A soundtrack to an, as yet, unmade global spanning movie, Passport drifts from Lebanese theatre to jazz and the classical on what is an enthralling and ambitious whirlwind of a modern world music symphony.
La Mambanegra ‘El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña’
Released by Movimientos Records, 3rd March 2017
Nothing short of reinventing Salsa, the “machine-drilled nine-piece orchestra” from Colombia, La Mambanegra, promises an indecorous rebirth of the liveliest of Latin America’s music and dance styles. Injecting street smarts and a venomous dose of sass to a genre that has lost its luster in recent times, Jacobo Velez in his role as bandleader takes liberal pinches of inspiration from Salsa’s most vibrant and dynamic old guard and adds a eclectic mix of Nuyorican funk, soul, hip-hop and ragamuffin.
Translating as “The Black Mamba”, the La Mambanegra name and concept is embellished with Colombian mysticism and legend, loosely based on fact and fiction. Charting the story of an anonymous “hero” from the Barrio Obrero neighborhood in Cali (Colombia’s third largest city) and his “fantastic” adventures via La Habana, as he makes a journey to New York. Inspired by Velez’s own great grandfather, the musician Thomas Renteria (known to many as El Callegüeso Antigua), and his misadventures on a perilous voyage to the “Big Apple”, El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña celebrates as much as it focuses on Colombia’s tumultuous history; from the country’s own internal flight of people from the worst-hit areas of fighting between the government and FARC forces (though negotiations for an end to this fifty-year conflict are reaching, what looks like, a peaceful resolution), to cities such as Cali, and the migration to more stable states across the region and further afield, especially to the already mentioned New York. Renteria escaped drowning, thrown overboard on his intrepid voyage. Thankfully he made land; washed-up and stranded in Cuba, his stay proved to have been a productive one as he soon made friends with the famed Chano Pozo, who gave him, as legend has it, a “magical flute” from Africa. This infamous flute made that eventual journey to the USA, and was passed on to Velez, who uses it now as the source of his band name.
Migrating protagonists and snake spirited flutes aside, Velez and his troupe’s self-styled “break Salsa” transformation shoves Salsa towards its original revolutionary and communal dynamism. Sizzling with a wealth of Colombian talent, the La Mambanegra hub expands its ranks to include guest spots from Latin America’s finest. Dutch trumpeter, and Colombian-resident, Maite Hantele appears with the Colombian percussionist Denilson Ibargüen on the sultry, brightened horns, Fania-style trip to Africa via Miami opener, Pure Potenkem, and jazz great, Eddy Martinez can be heard on the more lilting, serenaded, lyrical tongue-twisting, Contare Para Vos. They sweep, but mostly saunter, through a grandiose mix of Kid Frost meet DJ Muggs Latino funking rap (La Compostura and Barrio Caliente, which features a lingering candour of The Pazant Brothers A Gritty Nitty); Albert Ayler jamming with Lalo Schifrin to create a Havana-style Salsa and jazz hybrid (Me Parece Perfecto); and Henri-Pierre Noel Haitian disco converges with South American cabaret (La Kokinbomba).
La Mambanegra’s uncoiled snake spirit spits out a fiery fusion, straddling the old and new guards and adding some 21st century grunt and excitement to a Salsa rebirth. One of many great groups from Colombia enlivened and confident of their vigorous cross-border influences, this multi-limbed orchestra steps up with an invigorated Latin celebration and revival.
Released by Outhere Records, March 10th 2017
The next stop on our global music review is Zimbabwe; home to the energetic Mokoomba. Imbued by the awe-inspiring, life-giving forces of the Victoria Falls and Zambezi River scenery that nurtures the region, the group pay homage, not just with their name, which translates and encapsulates a “deep respect for the river”, but in their lyrics too. Most notably on the opening pan-flute lilting, nylon-string plucked guitar swooning Mokole, which literally translates as “water” in the Ndebele tongue, and pays tribute to the beauty and importance of those impressive and immensely powerful Falls.
Though they use a mix of languages on their latest, self-produced, album Luyando, it is the ethnicity of the Tonga that proves to be the integral ingredient to the Mokoomba sound and subject matters. One of Zimbabwe and the neighboring Zambia’s smallest ethnic groups, the Tonga’s ancestry goes back an age, yet in the second half of the twentieth century they were unceremoniously uprooted from their homes to make way for the Kariba dam. No repatriations were ever made, and fifty odd years later, many are still waiting to be connected to electricity. Their plight forms the backbone of the atavistic meets organically building, call and response, breakbeat Kambowa track. An articulation of pain, loss and longing, this traditional drum and group vocal performance begins as a glimpse into history but soon grows rhythmically, hurtling down the railway track towards a joyful funk.
The balance between tradition and the contemporary continues throughout the album. Growing up in the Chinotimba Township, the group learnt to blend their roots with the rhythms of Zimrock, soukous, ska and salsa. Moving closer towards those roots, Mokoomba have changed direction slightly from their debut in 2012, Rising Tide, which was a more switched-on rocking affair. Luyando is in comparison, more raw and stripped; a mostly acoustic performance that leans towards the local sounds of the region on what the bio declares, “is a quest for the wisdom of tradition and history as well as insight and solace amid contemporary crisis.”
Of course, no conversation, commentary and review on Zimbabwe can continue for long without mentioning the omnipresent Mugabe. Completely impervious to his own people and the neighboring borders and greater international communities; splitting his fiefdom into fierce rivalries whilst the country grinds to a slow collapse, Robert Mugabe has unsurprisingly few admirers within the arts and music world. Yet far from rattling the rafters and bawling in protest, Makoomba meander peaceably through their Tonga heritage, making a connection with the rituals and ceremonies that shaped them: looking back to go forward in a sense. The title track for instance, “mother’s love”, alludes to the Makishi masquerade and joyous graduation ceremony called Chilende; an initiation for boys between the ages of eight and twelve, who leave their village homes and live for one to three months at a bush camp. The song itself is a soothing sweet paean, punctuated by various hooting, animal-like, noises. And the moving, dusty earthy soulful Kumukanda is built around another Tonga initiation ceremony, on the band experienced in their teens.
Raw and emotional raspy; plucking and picking; shuffling and winding; Mokoomba channel their ancestral roots through an often lulled and playful, though at times more intense, spiritually harmonious blend of local and cross border rhythms. The voice of protest and the quest to find an answer to all the turmoil has seldom sounded so breezy and sweetened.
Taos Humm ‘Flute Of The Noodle Bender’
Released by Stolen Body Records/ Howling Owl Records, 17th March 2017
The burgeoning Bristol label, Stolen Body Records, has carved a certain niche for itself delivering some of the best garage band and psychedelic releases of late; somehow squeezing something fresh and inventive out of genres that, lets face it, have been flogged to death.
Among their rich roster, and a constant surprise, is the Isle of Wight émigré abound in Bristol, Edward Penfold, whose debut languid beyond-the-calico-wall psychedelic solo LP, Caulkhead, made our choice albums of 2016. Another year, another set-up and this time a congruous shared release with Howling Owl Records sees Penfold joined by fellow psych initiates Joe Paradisos and Matt Robbins, under the Taos Humm banner.
The trio’s debut, Flute Of The Noodle Bender, might imply some kind of allusion to psychedelia’s golden age, but there’s more of a post-punk, cacophonous feel to this twisted kaleidoscope of haunted somnolence and erratic, jerking, razor-cutting guitar hysteria: and indeed noodling. Though vocally – when there are lyrics, narration and voiced utterances to be found – the reverberations of Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and gramophone, calling from a bygone bucolic age, Tiny Tim permeate Taos Humm sound musically like a lax clash of Postcard Record label releases from the early 80s – on the discordant strangulated guitar vortex Hi Hats Are For Post Punk Heroes – and a Galapagos islands Fiery Furnaces – on the alternating attack/ sustain amorphous Velociraptortoise.
Despite the spikiness, intense tremolo quivers and the tortuous Gothic schlock horror screaming and screeching guitar mooning of BB, there’s a semblance of melting psychedelia, shoegaze and pondering post-rock lingering in between the erraticism and urgency. This kool-aid inebriated state can be heard on the wafting, mirage melodious Meek, and the lulling South Seas peregrination Tapestar, which has the group perform a suitable drifting, lush, instrumental and hushed cooing workout over the top of a recorded loop, played off what sounds like (as the title would imply) a tape recorder, from John Barry’s You Only Live Twice soundtrack.
Flute Of The Noodle Bender is full of ideas, both maniacal and languorously vague. Psychedelia, lo fi, shoegaze, post this past that all merge into a mix of wig out adventures and off-kilter velocity that’s way beyond the imaginations of most bands.
Various Artists ‘Armellodie Is 10’
Released by Armellodie Records, 10th March 2017
Self-deprecating. Mocking their status as a relatively obscure record label – as demonstrated by the cover art, which features a blasé Daft Punk, as though beamed down from another planet, loftily show their ignorance to a Glaswegian record shop assistant – the thankless task duo behind Glasgow’s Armellodie Records, Al Nero and Scott Maple, celebrate their tenth anniversary.
A beacon for countless mavericks and eccentrics, Armellodie has – despite alluding universal recognition from silly robotic-helmeted French electronic music stars – released a steady flow of exciting, interesting and melodically diaphanous indie and quirky pop records over the last ten years. Encapsulating, what is and has been, a varied roster Armellodie Is 10 documents the label’s output; picking out twenty tracks.
Featured on the Monolith Cocktail a while back, the collection’s opening artist, the idiosyncratic Yip Man, offers an skewered rhythmic gait version of Squeeze on the inventive pop ditty Barnburner. Also previously receiving our seal of approval, the lush anthemic indie stargazers, The Hazey Janes, are represented by their magnificent Manics-esque emotional rollercoaster The Fathom Line.
Elsewhere, Appletop make US college radio alt-rock sound somehow inimitably Scottish on Burning Land; the rambunctious Super Adventure Club turn in a distressed math rock stormer with Pick Up Sticks; and Conor Mason hands-in the lingering, charming country pick-up Words.
Immensely proud of their roots, referencing through band names and song titles Scotland’s tumultuous but proud history: For instance, The Scottish Enlightenment, which proves to be a great band moniker. However, The Douglas Firs (another cracking name), with all the sincerity in the world, pay a sort of homage to that cult favorite, Highlander – we’ll forget about the loose historical inaccuracies, it is a fantasy after all. The Quickening, which proves to be a folky peregrination around the campfires – pondering between sweetness and ambient experimentation –, takes its title from the, shoddy and usually over-egged pyrotechnic blast onscreen, duel to the death by decapitation of the film and TV franchises’ “immortals”. The song itself sounds serious enough and quite beautiful.
Not that any validation is needed, Armellodie Is 10 is a most brilliant showcase and anniversary celebration from a label that has remained constant. This is a label that thoroughly deserves championing. Here’s to the next anniversary in 2027.
Ah! Kosmos ‘Together We Collide’
Featured for the first time on the Monolith Cocktail in 2013, the Istanbul-born sound designer and electronic music composer Basak Günak was just starting out on a fruitful career, releasing the alien subterranean debut EP, Flesh. Under the cosmological guise of Ah! Kosmos, Günak has, we’re happy to say, gone on to reach international acclaim.
Relocating to Berlin a while back, Günak has composed numerous sound-art pieces and soundtracks for installations, site-specific work, short films and plays, and has also garnered favorable reviews for her experimental electronic and dance music performances. Her latest release, Together We Collide, is a two-track EP; the first track of which, From The Land Below, features the rich polygenesis soulful vocals of Warp label signed artist LAFAWNDAH. Clattering-stick percussion, taut delay, nuanced swaddling horns and a number of synchronized rhythms, both Techno and futuristic jazz leaning, form a sophisticated soundtrack for the undulating vocals. Moody in the manner of Massive Attack, this mythological, spiritual trip starts to click after repeated plays, and sounds more and more melodies each time.
Keeping From The Land Below company is the Tricky-swooning-to-the-moon-above-Eastern-skies, winding and pondering, Silent Safe. Awaiting the listener is a wilderness with symbolic spellbinding ritual yearning, cooing lyricism and tribal trip-hop beats, verging on leftfield synth pop.
Highly sophisticated, nuanced and dare say, cerebral, Günak continues to produce a deep thoughtful mix of electronic and melodic poetics, this latest EP another brilliant example of her growing reputation as an inventive composer and artist.
Charles Vaughan ‘Pylon Reveries’
Released by Wayside & Woodland Recordings, 24th March 2017
Despite being vividly warned-off, like many of us kids in the 1980s, exposed to TV public health and warning announcements films from playing anywhere near pylons (for obvious reasons). Charles Vaughan is fascinated with these metal leviathans. Collected from a decade’s worth of filled-up hard drives and miscellaneous tapes, his fourth soundscape come psychogeography soundtrack is suffused with the pylons constant throbbing and charged omnipresence.
Attempting in a conceptual sonic manner to escape the overburdened mind, plugged into the overbearing data avalanche of an increasing impossible to break free from technologically connected world, Vaughan shows that even in the middle of an isolated field/meadow it’s near impossible to find a sense of disconnection: the hum, pulse and crackle of technology always close at hand; symbolized by the proliferation of pylons, straddling the landscape.
Handled with subtlety, the fizzled droning undulations of these looming “sentinels” move slowly and sonorously; often in trepidation and constantly unsettling. From shorter, passing vignettes and ruminations to longer, drawn-out ambient pieces, Pylon Reveries fluctuates between Ambient Works era Aphex Twin and Kosmische pioneer Asmus Tietchens, and on the transmogrified harpsichord-like arpeggiator, neo-classical, Revery, Thomas Dinger and Hans-Joachim Roedelius.
There’s a certain wonder and reflection on these “totems”, but also a sense of nostalgia too, one borne out of an interest for the type of dystopia themed TV shows of the late 70s and 80s. Vaughan after all takes his name from a character in the British lo fi drama, Survivors; the synopsis of which has a virus wipe out 98% (very specific!) of the world’s population. Vaughan emerges in the aftermath of this catastrophe with a band of “survivors” to a desolate wilderness. Tasked with collecting information and exploring he hopes to rebuild society from the ground up. Here he is then, reimagined, documenting and creating a reification of the infrastructure that encroaches upon the land and our lives: Is technology freeing us or slowly binding us to a new reliance?
Increasingly uncomfortable with the fears of an ever-connected society, one that is moving towards a fully integrated technology, Vaughan has a myriad of feelings and meditations to represent through sound, but it is an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty, which dominates and prevails.
February 10, 2017
Compiled by Dominic Valvona
Continuing in 2017 with the first of, we hope, many Monolith Cocktail Socials, Dominic Valvona presents another eclectic playlist. In case you don’t know the drill, previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify, our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself. With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, and from all eras. #27 includes thoughtful post-country evocations from Bruce Langhorne; southern-drawled, Steppenwolf-esque, roadtrip musings from Circuit Rider; a rebooted live version (with friends) of I Have Known Love by Silver Apples; diaphanous soulful rays of Africa from post-punk outfit Family Fodder; a Malian jazz odyssey from Le Mystere Jazz de Tombouctou; desert rock yearnings from Mdou Moctar; exquisite balladry from Drakkar Nowhere; the sweetest of soul takes from the felonious The Edge Of Daybreak; and 23 other equally evocative, stirring, foot-shuffling and sublime tracks from across the decades.
Bruce Langhorne ‘Opening’
Circuit Rider ‘Forever Angels Proud’
Trance Farmers ‘She’s Made Of Rainbows’
Mistress Mary ‘Dance Little Girl’
Elyse Weinberg ‘Your Place Or Mine’
Sensations Fix ‘Grow On You’
Silver Apples ‘I Have Known Love’
Family Fodder/Vic Corringham ‘Walls Of Ice’
Diane Coffee ‘Never Lonely’
Black Peaches ‘Chops On Tchoupitoulas’
Le Mystère Jazz de Tombouctou ‘Leli’
Khiyo ‘Amar Protibaader Bhasha’
T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo ‘Finlin Ho’
Mdou Moctar ‘Iblis Amghar’
Black Hippies ‘Love’
The Beach Boys ‘Here She Comes’
Dr. Lonnie Smith/George Benson/Ron Carter/Joe Lovano ‘Apex’
Mongo Santamaria ‘In The Mood’
Volta Jazz ‘Air Volta’
The Frightnrs ‘Trouble In Here’
The Olympians ‘Sirens Of Jupiter’
King Tubby ‘King Tubby’s Special’
Moloch ‘Dance Chaney Dance’
Takeshi Terauchi (Blue Jeans) ‘Tsugaru Jongarabushi’
Los York’s ‘Facil Baby’
The Critters ‘Blow My Mind’
Pierre Cavalli ‘Cacador’
The Edge Of Daybreak ‘Your Destiny’
Roy Wood ‘Songs Of Praise’
Drakkar Nowhere ‘Any Way’
February 3, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
Intoxicatingly beckoned by their satanic majesties into the subterranean, the bewitching new single from the reputable morbidly curious Liverpool band Sankofa, Into The Wild, is a sassy, knowing two-geared esoteric augur. Following hot on the heels of their last, and equally daemonic psych single, All The While, ahead of the band’s debut album (released later this year), this entrancing incandescent liquid lightshow video adorned doom-monger shifts from a malady of Crime And The City Solution style tremolo twanged gothic country, The Doors and The Creeps, to a final unyielding, heavy rock guitar crescendo. In case you missed the subtle hints and miasma, both sonically and lyrically, the cover art can’t help but give you nightmares, alluding as it does to very real metaphors of puritanical regimes and their witch-hunts.
Into The Wild will be released by the, burgeoning, independent Glasgow-based In Black Records label (home to Acting Strange and Mark McGowan) on the 3rd March 2017; for now, you can catch our exclusive taster video.