REVIEWS




Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the, Monolith Cocktail founder, Dominic Valvona’s most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

A packed installment this week with the Ennio Morricone suffused debut album from The Magic City Trio, Amerikana Arkana; Black Light White Light’s Martin Ejlertsen takes the band on a Lynchian’ inspired psychedelic journey to new horizons; Op Art meets free-rock, jazz and Krautrock in Geneva 1972 on the latest obscure reissue from the Mental Experience label, Mouvements; Andrew Spackman is back as the spasmodic ennui conjuring electronic music wiz Sad Man, with his latest collection of garden shed productions, Slow Bird; British-Nigerian producer Tony Njoku shares his distinct and stunning soulful avant-garde electronica on his new album, H.P.A.C.; and the Israeli maelstrom guitarist Yonatan Gat records his first album, an expansive entangle of shared history and sounds, for Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til. There’s also the lush dreamy soulful psychedelic debut track from Evil Bone; the third album from the mysterious Edinburgh electronic and rock guitar welding maverick Bunny & The Invalid Singers; and the upcoming psychedelic pop nostalgic afterglow brilliance of The Lancashire Hustlers.


Tony Njoku  ‘H.P.A.C’  Silent Kid Records, 27th April 2018

 

Bringing a very different perspective and life experience to the London avant-garde art and electronic music scene, the British-Nigerian producer with the earthy falsetto, Tony Njoku, articulates a most unique form of magical soul music.

Though undulated with an ethereal to malady suffused backing of sophisticated synthesized travails, Njoku’s vocals always seem to bobble and float above the choppy breaks and ebbing tides.

Feeling an outsider, transferring at the age of fourteen to London from a life spent hiding his true personality in the toxic macho boarding schools of Lagos, the sensitive Njoku found at least one kind of solace; able to show a vulnerability and pursue the music career he really wanted having previously recorded a number of hip-hop albums (the first when he was only twelve) that proved entirely counterintuitive, but were completely in tune with Nigerian environment he grew up in. Yet in the arts community he joined in his new home of London, he found few Afrocentric voices or people he could identify with or relate to. The arts and, especially avant-garde, music scenes are dominated by what Njoku calls the ‘affluent bourgeoisie’. Though to be fair anything that falls outside the most commercial perimeters is patronized and subsidized in one form or another. And this is obviously reflected in what is a majority European culture: resulting in a lack of voices from Africa. It means that Njoku stands out, but in a positive sense; his music amorphously blending both cultures successfully to create something familiar yet somehow fresh and untethered.

Inspired by the ‘high art sonic’ forms of Arca and Anhoni, and by the metamorphosis nature of Bjork, Njoku’s own compositions feature a beautiful synthetic shuffle of Afrofuturism soul and more searing discordant synth waves that clash and distort on arrival but gradually sync and become part of the motion. From beauty to pain and release, and often back again, each track (and not in a bad way) seems open-ended; a constant flowing cycle of emotions, which can be healed during that moment, in that space and time, but will inevitably return: A calm followed by turbulence and hopefully the light.

Remain Calm, a song in two parts, starting with a romantically plaintive half of bobbing tablas floating on an increasingly choppy mental exerted ocean of troubles before being overpowered and capsized by more stressed and sharper sonic invasions, exemplifies Njoku’s shifting emotional turmoil. It’s also one of the album’s standout tracks; recently featured in our first choice songs of 2018 playlist last month.

The rest of H.P.A.C. is as equally diaphanous, despite the longing, hurt and frailty on display. Remaining buoyant in the face of an increasing voluminous distress on My Dear The Light Has Come; aching on the moonbeam blues All Its Glory; plunging from a cosmic enveloped precipice by the end of the sea of reverb consuming Surely This Is As Good As It Gets; and left “twisted out if shape” like an “origami swan” on the whistle R&B lilted As We Danced, Njoku shares his vulnerabilities like an open book. And doesn’t it sound just wonderful: eloquently in a hymn like fashion between pained malady and the venerable, heavenly but also melancholic and turbulent, a futuristic soul album of delicate intellect. Anguish has seldom sounded sweeter.







Yonatan Gat  ‘Universalists’  tak:til/Glitterbeat Records, 4th May 2018

Photo credit: Caio Ferreira.

 

Banned from performing in his native homeland of Israel for taking his former band Monotonix’s confrontational style of rock’n’roll live and, literally, direct to the audience, Yonatan Gat has channeled the buzz and maelstrom of his entangled guitar work into a productive and creatively eclectic solo career since relocating to New York a number of years ago.

Toning down the shock of Monotonix for something more expansive and ambitious, as the title and imagery of his latest album for Glitterbeat’s more experimentally traversing and meditational imprint tak:til suggests, the Universalists of Gat and his drum and bass wingmen, Gal Lazer and Sergio Sayeg, expand their tumultuous galloping desert transcendence style of echo-y tremolo and fuzz beyond the sand dunes towards the imaginary psychogeography of atavistic Europe, Southeast Asia and Northwest America.

Holding up his guitar like some sort of offering, or a transmitter to the sky, Gat stands as a vessel for a cerebral multilayering of musical influences. Nothing is quite what it seems; ghostly visages of Alan Lomax’s 1950s recording of the Trallalero monosyllabic derived polyphonic style of choral folk song, practiced in the mountain villages and port of Genoa, appear on the opening eloquently shambling (the drums majestically in time rolling down a hill) Cue The Machines, and excerpts from the traditional work songs of Mallorca culture romantically waft over drifting guitar and ambient mirages on Post World. Further on, Gat fuses the Algonquin Eastern Medicine Singers pow wow drum group with his trio’s sinewy trance and scratch work to stomp out a shamanistic post-punk ritual on the Native Indian inspired Medicine.

Gat counterbalances his own group’s mystical maelstroms of pummeling, unblinking rapid rambunctiousness and more dream world jazzy shuffling with passages, memories and textures from socially and geopolitically important traditions. Chronology for example, a peregrination of many segments, features not only a scuzzed-up throw down version of Middle Eastern guitar and a vocal sample (sounding a lot like it was pulled from the ether) of a Spanish harvest song, but also entwines a passage from the famous Czech composer Antonín Dvořak’s String Quartet in F Major: better known as the chamber piece standard, The American Quartet. Written during the composer’s time spent both teaching at the N.Y.C. National Conservatory and living amongst the Czech exiles in the desired haven state of Iowa, this New World Symphony as he called it, is included for its own embrace of Native Indian culture, the Irish immigrants folk songs and the music of the misfortunate African slaves.

Of course you don’t have to pick up on all these deeper references as the music speaks for itself; the ‘universalists’ message of borderless, timeless exploration and shared need for a release from these hostile dangerous times is clear.






Black Light White Light   ‘Horizons’   Forwards Backwards Recordings, 20th April 2018

 

Created out of a desire in 2015 to take stock of the band’s short but impressive back catalogue, the Danish and Swedish exchange Black Light White Light, or more importantly the group’s central focus, singer/songwriter and guitarist Martin Ejlertsen, plow forward with their third vaporwave psychedelic rock hadron collider LP, Horizons.

Obviously as the title would suggest, horizons new and expanding are key; the group in co-operation with new drummer Viktor Höber and producer/engineer and fellow musician Christian Ki, putting into practice, during there basement sessions deep underground in Copenhagen, a vaporous often Gothic pop rock vision of cinematic influenced charter duality and darkly lit escapism.

Though never quite as surreal and twisted, or as violently indifferent as Ejlertsen’s key inspirations, David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, there’s still plenty of cryptic lyricism – usually sung under the smog of megaphone effects and resonating trembled fuzz – and sinister mystery. Take the progressive The Fool, which begins with hints of The Cult, Moody Blues and The Beatles but gradually creeps towards the choral and eastern esotericism of Wolf City period Amon Düül II.

Tailoring each track slightly to throb or hazily permeate with a myriad of musical styles and influences, the group attune themselves to The Painted Palms psychedelic pop on the opening King Kong; transduce the Madchester golden age on the halcyon Teenage Drum; evoke Yeti Lane on the more relaxed space rock pulse of Illusions/Emotions; and pass through the lobbies of both DFA Records, and Factory Records, and pick up melodies and inspiration from Jacco Gardner, Pink Floyd, The Stone Roses and Broadcast on the remainder of the album’s eleven tracks.

Floating between harder, barracking drums led psych rock and a shoegaze dreamy portal, Horizons is no matter how serious and mysterious the intentions (and I’m sure, after catching the odd line amongst the veiled effects, there is some dark and prescient themes being alluded to), filled with nuanced melodies and glimmers of pop. Billed as a very different kind of Black Light White Light album, Ejlersten going as far as strongly considering releasing it under an entirely separate project moniker, the horizons explored and discovered on this record prove very fruitful indeed.






The Magic City Trio  ‘Amerikana Arkana’  Kailua Recording, 20th April 2018

 

It’s as if Ennio Morricone had skulked into town himself, as they very first tremolo resonating notes strike and the lush orchestration sweeps in to announce the arrival of this cinematic Americana imbued suite. A Western adventure of melancholic beauty, the debut album from The Magic City Trio treads familiar ground as it pays homage to a century and more of the frontier spirit and tragedy.

Covering everything from pre-war country music to modern hillbilly noir, this gathering of musicians and artists, which includes The June Brides’ Frank Sweeney and Annie And The Aeroplanes’ Annie Holder serenading and out front, mosey, ponder and lamentably create their own visionary cinematic songbook. Liltingly duets in the manner of an imagined partnership between Lee Hazlewood and Emmylou Harris feature throughout, whilst hints are made to The Flying Burrito Brothers one minute and a lonesome pinning Richard Hawley on the ranch, the next. Sweeney and Holder certainly set the mood when embracing references as varied as Steinbeck’s depression era novels and the murder ballads of the old west borderlands.

Missing out on scoring the golden age of Westerns then, The Magic City Trio (which expands to accommodate a number of guests) walk the walk, talk the talk, but update the old tropes for a post-modernist take. The opening, beautifully crooned, Black Dog Following Me even tackles depression; a subject hardly congruous to the stoic ‘man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ machismo of cowboy yore. It sounds like an unforgiving vision as re-imagined by a 70s period Scott Walker, earmarked for a revisionist Tarantino Western.

You can’t fault the careful and lightly applied musicianship, nor the deliberately pronounced and richly swooned vocal partnership; whether it’s in the mode of a mariachi soundtrack quilted murder scene (22), or a lilting pedal steel, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, eulogy to a dear departed friend (Goodbye My Friend).

Far more than a pastiche or mere homage, Amerikana Arkana is a subtly attuned to modern sensibilities version of a lost classical Western soundtrack: a most diaphanous and sweetly lamentable one at that.






Mouvements  ‘Mouvements’   Mental Experience, March 22nd 2018

 

How they find them is not our concern, but those fine excavators of miscellaneous avant-garde and leftfield treasures, Mental Experience, don’t half unearth some obscure artifacts. One of their latest reissues is the amorphous experiment between extemporized music and op art Mouvements. This Geneva underground scene missive was originally released as a private box set, limited to only 150 copies and sold at art galleries.

Instigated by the guitar player (though free and easy across a whole instrument spectrum) Christian Oestreicher after meeting the artist and painter Richard Reimann at the Aurora art gallery in Geneva, the Mouvements project emulated what was an already flourishing scene of cross-pollinated arts.

Oestreicher on his part, attempted a process of reification through a mix of free-jazz, musique-concrete, psych rock, tape effects manipulation and Krautrock; Reimann would provide the reference point metallic and shimmered geometric artwork.

Sessions for the eventual album began in 1972; recorded at an ad hoc studio in an occupied mansion using a trio of Revox machines. Joining Oestreicher with his improvisations were friends Jean-Fançois Boillat (of Boillat-Thérace obscurity), Blaise Catalá and Jerry Chardonnens – names which probably mean more to the ‘head’ community, but we can take as granted were probably notable in their fields. Allowing his influences to permeate and flow through each gesture, riff and applied layering, Oestreicher’s troupe – gathered round in a circle to perform – sound like a hazy mixture, a primordial soup and veiled ramble of Zappa, early Can, Ornette Coleman, Chuck Berry, Soft Machine, Amon Düül II and the neo-classical.

Conceived as a concept album, there’s a constant, if interrupted, ebb and flow to proceedings; one that moves between minimal garblings and full-on psychedelic jazzy rock’n’roll. A number of recurring instruments, such as the violin and guitar, return us to some sort of thematic semblance, something to follow and recognize. Oestreicher’s guitar (as you might expect) has a prominent role to play; riffing and contorting rock’n’roll licks with snatches of Manuel Göttsching and jazz.

Often sounding as though they’d been recorded from outside or from the other side of a partitioning wall, these ‘mouvements’ vary in their intensity: the opening Largo Pour Piano Et Océan starts the album off on an isolated beach vista; the serialism piano plucking away therapeutically as the waves hit the shore and lonely breeze blows through. But the next track, Goutte De Sang En Feu takes off into a jamming freestyle of barnyard fiddle folk, Mothers Of Invention and Floh De Cologne. There’s even an attempt at a sort of Afro-funk on the vignette Ailleurs, and Le Voyage Sperber has a concoction of West Coast lounge and Lalo Schifrin soundtrack funky jazz running through it.

The main album’s eight tracks pretty much say it all, but included with this reissue bundle is a smattering of bonus tracks; all of which generally riff on or are cut from the same clothe: The Playwriter’s Drift for example, another variation on the Zappa transmogrified rock groove, and the eighteen minute opus, My Guitar Is Driving Me Mad (Take 2), is a strange attempt by Oestreicher to exorcise his instrument over a creepy psychedelic jam.

A spark of interest for those unfamiliar with the Swiss branch of the art-rock crossover in the early 70s, this most intriguing artifact from the period focuses on a hitherto forgotten, or at least passed over, development in the story of European avant-garde; a time when Op Art and free-music experimentation collided. Not to everyone’s tastes, and covering a lot of familiar ground – the sound quality on my CD was very quiet -, Mouvements is nonetheless a curious suite.




Sad Man  ‘Slow Bird’  16th April 2018

 

Featured regularly over the years, the contorted machinations and transmogrified electronic music experiments of artist/composer Andrew Spackman have kept us both entertained and dumbfounded. Building his own shortened, elongated and mashed-up versions of turntables and various plucked, rung or clanged instrumentation in his garden shed, his process methods would seem almost impossible to replicate let alone repeat. And so this often ennui shifting and dislocation of the avant-garde, techno, breakbeat and Kosmische sounds often unique.

Previously causing mayhem under the – Duchampian chess move favorite – Nimzo-Indian moniker, Spackman has now adopted a new nom de plume; a home for what he intends to be, like the name suggests, the most saddest music. Yet with a few releases already under his tool belt, the latest epic, Slow Bird, is more an exploration in confusion and ghostly visages of the cosmos than a melancholic display of plaintive moping. There are by all means some moody, even ominous, leviathans lurking and the odd daemonic vocal effect, but as with most of the tracks on this LP they constantly evolve from one idea into the next: anything from a panic attack to the kooky.

With a menagerie theme running throughout the many song titles, it’s difficult to tell if the source of any of them began with the bird in question or not. The title track itself certainly features flighty and rapid wing flapping motions, yet rubs against more coarse machinery, knife sharpening percussive elements and Forbidden Planet eeriness. Parrot by comparison, sounds like an inverted PiL, languidly reversed to the undulations of bongos, whilst Sparrow pairs Cecil Taylor piano serialism with, what sounds like, a wooden ball rolling across a tabletop. It’s not only the feathered variety being used as bait for spasmodic and galactic manipulation. There’s a Bear Reprise (another repeating theme; ‘reprises’ of one sort or another popping up a lot) of all things, which consists of 808 claps, broken electro and particle dispersing glassy sprinkles, and a very weird tuba like theme tune, dedicated to the Slug.

A cacophony of clever layering and ever-changing focus takes tubular metallics, UNCLE drum break barrages, Ippu Mitsui, Add N To (X), giddy oscillations, haywire computer and staccato phonetic languages, Vader mask style breathing, glints of light beams, the Aphex Twin on xylophone and produces his own, whatever that is, niche of electronic composition. It can feel a slog and overwhelming at times, but Slow Bird is one of his most progressive and well-produced releases yet; mayhem at its best.






Evil Bone  ‘In Vain’  13th April 2018

 

Battling to overcome the mentally and physical debilitations of anxiety disorder, the artist (who I only know as John) behind this new solo project, Evil Bone, seeks a reification of its enervated effects on the soporific, halcyon In Vain. The title, a quite resigned one, refers to his attempts to beat it: all to no effect. Though, as John candidly muses, it is now a part of his make up, and in many ways impacts on the music he creates.

Despite often stifling creativity, the first track from Evil Bone is a haze of languid shoegaze and soulful dream pop that recalls Slowdive and The Cocteau Twins cloud bursting in vaporous anguish. Influenced by more modern psychedelic vaporwave bands such as the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tame Impala (both can be detected here), John is also quite taken with hip-hop, R&B and soul music; especially Anderson Paak and Kendrick Lamar – music with a more colourful sound and soulful vibe. And this can be heard on In Vain’s lush soul-tinged wafted undulations; taking it away from simple lingering dreamwave production towards something with a little more depth and lilt.

Promising an extended release later in the year, In Vain sets the marker for beautifully layered anxious psychedelic pop.




Bunny & The Invalid Singers  ‘Fear Of The Horizon’  Bearsuit Records, 20th April 2018

 

Quite the enigma, the music of Edinburgh solo musician/artist Dave Hillary seems to be adrift of reference, familiarity and classification (an easy one anyway). Though his image is plastered (or is it!) indiscriminately amongst a collage of collected imagery, from holiday postcards to family moments and music paraphernalia, on the inlay of his latest album, his identity has been largely guarded.

Mysterious then, unsettled, the experimental electronic music with textured industrial and squalling rock guitar style of sonic noodling Hillary produces is more akin to an amorphous collection of soundtracks than identifiable song material. Evocations, moods, setting the scene for some futuristic heart of darkness, Hillary fashions a gunship waltz of tetchy synthesized percussion, fairground noises, whistling satellites and rocket attacks on the fantastical entitled Eamon The Destroyer, whilst on the title track, he plays around, almost plaintively, with folksy acoustic plucked notation, sighing strings, twinkly xylophone and arched electric guitar. Hints of the Orient (I’m imagining Hong Kong for some reason) linger on both the weird cut-up The Positive Approach To Talkative Ron and the marooned, twanged and bowed Cast Adrift. Yet, even with title prompts, you could be anywhere on these unique vistas and musings. The closest you’ll find to this meandering is the Leaf label, or the experimental Jezus Lizard sanctioned experiments of Craig Ward.

 Fear Of The Horizon is the third such album from the interchangeable Bunny & moniker – Hillary’s debut, Fall Apart In My Backyard, released under the Bunny & The Electric Horsemen title. However, the Bearsuit Records stalwart, constantly popping up on the label’s maverick compilations, and one-time member of Idiot Half Brother and Whizz Kid, is at his most mysterious and serious as Bunny & The Invalid Singers. Truly plowing his very own furrow, Hillary’s warped evolving, sometimes clandestine, electronic and steely guitar evocations once more wander into unusual territory.






The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Stuck In A Daydream’  Steep Hill, 11th May 2018

 

Following on from the warm afterglow of their last outbound journey, Adventure, the London-based (though originally hailing from Southport) duo of lilted psychedelic pop once more dip liberally into the 60s (and early 70s) songbook on their fourth album, Stuck In A Daydream. It’s never quite clear, nostalgia being their bag and signature, if The Lancashire Hustlers are seeking sanctuary in that halcyon age, or commenting wryly on those who seek to turn back the tide of change and return to a preconceived ideal that never quite existed. It is of course what every generation does; fondly celebrating a time they never lived through, and ‘Generation X’ is no different; though the evidence is pretty overwhelming and convincing, the ‘Baby Boomers’ possibly living through an extraordinary golden age, never to be repeated. The duo of Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes sing fondly of that era, relishing in nostalgia on the Celesta dappled and cabassa percussive pining Valley Of The Dinosaurs. Reaching a falsetto pitch at one point, Thorley pays homage to that, not so, lost world; a sort of quasi I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times sentiment.

Suffused with their hazy recondite influences throughout, they channel Jimmy Campbell, Badfinger, Bread and Let It Be era Beatles alone on the first yearning and rolling piano glorious pop song, Consider Me. With a troubadour glow of bouncing lovelorn abandon, the harmonious and ‘considered’ lightness of touch on this perfectly crafted opener is instantly cozy and familiar to the ear. It’s a brilliant breezy start to the album, and exemplifies the duo’s move towards more direct, simpler songwriting.

Later on we hear lullaby twinkled mobiles that hang over daydreamers in the style of Fairfield Parlour; the sea shanty whimsy lament of a lovesick merman as fashioned by The Kinks; troubled relationships as re-imagined by an art philistine metaphorical Rubber Soul era George Harrison; and a sad eulogy to an absent friend as plaintively sung by Gram Parsons.

Let loose in the music box, expanding their repertoire and softened harmonious bulletins, they not only add a wealth of interestingly plucked and dabbed instrumentation (kalimba, taishogoto, metallophone and mellotron) but bring in Rob Milne of the jazzy Afrobeat Nebula Son to play both lingering accentuate flute and bass clarinet and more intense saxophone on a number of the duo’s exotic adventures.

Finding solace in the never-ending 60s revival, The Lancashire Hustlers’ timeless songbook can feel like a nostalgia trip. However, its age old themes speak volumes about the here and now, offering shelter and an antidote to these tumultuous times; those gilded metaphors speaking volumes about the here and now.


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NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Welcome as always to the latest edition of my reviews roundup. Meeting with my approval this month, there’s the (both literally and musically metaphorical) ‘laissez passer’ wandering TootArd from the Golan Heights making an international debut on Glitterbeat Records; the return, in a manner, of the enigmatic Brighton-based artist Matt Finucane; a stunning theatrical avant-garde meets Chanson and morose romantic pop opus from AUDIAC, waltzing onto the stage after years of inactivity; the pique soundclash of Swiss drum and electric bass combo Ester Poly; and the fourth album of ‘lower-case’ minimalism and ambient music from Andrew Heath.

I also take a look at the fanboy style resurrection of the obscure 80s Pennsylvania garage, punk, post-rock and psych outfit In Time, by thrift store digger Steve Krakow, who celebrates the fleeting and undiscovered group’s only album (found unloved by Krakow on cassette tape) and a number of unreleased attic recordings for the Guerssen label. Last but in no means the least of today’s selections, I take a look at the debut album from the Berlin duo of kooky and fun electronica and techno, Psycho & Plastic, Kosmopop. Championed from the very start on this very blog, it seems to have taken the duo – who to be fair are busy with a multitude of projects including the running of their label GiveUsYourGOLD – an age to finally release it.

Read on…

TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Glitterbeat Records,  10th November 2017

 

Photo credit: Mercedes Ortego González.

Caught in, what might seem to them, a perpetual limbo, devoid of a recognized identity, the collective band members of the omnivorous Levant group TootArd are officially stateless: citizens in effect of nowhere. Growing up in the contested, bloodily fought over, Golan Heights the group’s mouthpiece, guitarist Hasan Nakhleh, articulates the predicament of a population stuck between two, once, warring factions – feeling detached with no legal representation; no sense of belonging – throughout the press notes that accompanied this, their latest album, Laissez Passer.

Carved up in two by the former warring states of Syria and Israel after the divisive Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the eventual ceasefire that followed – with the greater share by some distance given to the latter -, the Golan Heights has been uneasily observed by both parties for decades. Under an accord the following year, an international buffer zone – known as the UNDOF ‘purple line’ – was put in place to help keep a fragile peace. Before the apocalyptic civil – and proxy – war in Syria begun, both nations seemed to be approaching some agreement over the region. Israel however, following a policy of non-intervention, is in no hurry to secede ground to Syria.

Under the authority of Israel but without official citizenship, the native inhabitants of the western Golan Heights region are forced to carry the special situation, ‘laissez passer,’ papers of TootArd’s album title to cross borders and travel. Despite this the group have found a certain musical freedom; amorphously drifting across those imposed demarcation lines to adopt styles from across the entire Levant; from Africa and even Jamaica. Originally covering the Caribbean island’s most famous musical export, the group started out playing reggae covers before relishing a change in direction.

However, before settling on their recent traverse fusion of desert blues – finding a commonality and affinity with the Beaudion and, equally stateless, Tuareg -, Arabic modalities, rock and funk influences, the founding members of the group all left for Europe; all going their separate ways: Hasen Nakhleh moving to Berlin and then Bern, recalls that this sojourn period would split the collective up internationally, yet when visiting home they would all regroup for impromptu performances in their native villages, as if they’d never been apart. After a two-year hiatus Hasen and his brother, multi-instrumentalist Rami Nakhleh – missing their fellow compatriots – organized a reunion of a sort, preparing the way forward for a reincarnation of their band.

 

With a new enthusiasm, new material and new sound, TootArd’s second album – though billed as their ‘international’ debut showcase – Laissez Passer has much to contemplate and pine over; framed as it is in the ‘blues’ tradition. Themes of identity and the chaos that continues to engulf their homeland dominate the album. Yet far from lamentable and sad this latest effort is surprisingly relaxed, with controlled swells of more funky and soulful driven upbeat rhythms throughout, and even the odd saunter of swaying joy. The languid reggae candor, transmogrified into a Levant groove, helps to create a sort of Baba Zula souk gait, whilst hints of Tamikrest and Tinariwen’s camel gangly, handclapping, desert blues funk gives the music a drive on both the title-track and, almost galloping and spinning into Dervish territory, Bayati Blues.

But those bluesy ruminating and gazing ponderously inducing themes do often sound haunting; especially with the addition of Ams Mdah’s snake charming and romantically dusky jazz saxophone evocations, and Hasen’s modified oud sounding electric guitar – extra frets added to ape the synonymous dulcet tones of the short-necked lute-like string instrument.

Bringing people together under darkening skies or gazing out across the Golan Heights prism back towards Syria with a Rast scale composed travailing moody accompaniment, TootArd flow and spiral subtly across the region soaking up ancestral musical customs as they go. Though imposed upon them, the Laissez Passer status hasn’t held the group back creatively: forcing them in fact by circumstance to find a new musical freedom. They are, even if it sounds a tad clichéd, only limited by their own restless imaginations, and this album indeed dreams big.




AUDIAC   ‘So Waltz’
Klangbad Records,  20th October 2017


In the age in which the majority of recording artists and bands are struggling to survive on the mediocre, almost vaporous, earnings from their craft and graft, it could be argued that without a monetary reward (no matter how modest) and without security you may as well take risks; push the boundaries; never compromise, and in the case of the Tübingen and Hamburg straddling duo AUDIAC, concentrate your efforts on producing a ‘work of art’. And make no mistake So Waltz is an ambitious album’ bordering at times on the theatrical, but definitely art-y.

Knowing admittedly nothing about this duo, I can only assume they were lucky enough to have at least the time to pursue these artistic ambitions. Though as the press release is not entirely clear, I assume this latest album is the follow up to Alexander Wiemer von Veen and Niklas David’s 2003 debut, Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World; marking quite an absence between releases, but nevertheless indicating that they certainly had enough time to create an epic suite. They also had one of the (infamous) original co-founders of Germany’s most uncompromising iconic groups, the mighty Faust, Hans Joachim Irmler on board to produce; his impressive skillset, shaped in a baptism of fire during the Krautrock epoch, and explorations pushing his chagrins further into sonic experimentation.

 

Remaining true to that debut album however, AUDIAC still sound inspired by Chanson, trip-hop, chamber pop, psychedelic music and Kurt Weill. Only they drop some of those more psychedelic pretensions this time in favour of melodrama and spectacle; dancing in malcontent and lament to a semi-classical avant-garde soundtrack, both melodically beautiful and elegiacally forlorn.

With all the limitations and pressures lifted, the duo is able to put forward their grandiose schemes undaunted by commercial success: or so they say. And so moving quasi-classical soul merges with Popol Vuh like divine choral atmospheres, and harsher, stark declarations of pained expression. Not quite in the realms of Scott Walker but sailing pretty close, the vocals and backing fluctuate the malady intensity and constantly restless plunging piano playing and voice combo of Diamanda Galas at its most harrowing – especially on the tumultuous, in a state of despair and rage, Doberman -, and the aching blue-eyed soul of George Michael and cerebral crooning accentuation of David Sylvian at its most romantic. Yet this concatenate pan-European songbook, mostly travailing the moody northern realms of Germany, France and the Lowlands, evokes a penchant for the UK too. Hints of Massive Attack, Thom Yorke, an enervated Underworld, early Queen and the Welsh maverick John Cale appear amongst the waltzing, gushing and graceful allusions of a spurned brooding European protagonist – probably sucking on a Gitanes; carrying all the weight of the world’s problems on his shoulders.

Returning with an impressive minor opus, So Waltz sounds like it took a lot of time and effort to create. Highly dramatic, occasionally indulgent, yet always quite moving they make quite the statement with this bleak but diaphanous and expressive tragedy.






Psycho & Plastic  ‘Kosmopop’
GiveUsYourGOLD,  20th October 2017


 

Guiding lights into the expanses of an imaginary galaxy, the Psycho & Plastic duo of Berlin dance music stalwarts, Thomas Tichai and Alexandre Decoupigny, search both inner and outer space with a suave funky and cosmic techno soundtrack on their new album, Kosmopop.

Previously releasing a string of EPs and videos, with the emphasis on fun and quirky electronic dance music experimentation – bordering at times on the goofy and cartoonish -, the duo have finally found time to produce a more complex, daresay conceptual, album; with aloof wondrous inspirations abound. Self-released through their burgeoning label GiveUsYourGOLD (Armour, AXLOTL, Irk Yste), their debut album proper dials down the more loony, bubbly and tropical kooky influences in favour of smoother, groovier rhythms. This isn’t to suggest they’ve suddenly become serious; the larks and optimism remain, with fond homages to the first and second summers of love, and a particular penchant for the unconscious organic flowering of the 90s rave scene.

 

Alluding to certain science-fiction ascetics in the artwork, the music is itself alien and mysterious at times, erring towards Kosmische influences like Tangerine Dream on the more enigmatic searching voyages – check the brocaded synth fanning, solar winds blowing and whistling satellite signally Superflare and Banco de Gaia does Mayan temple dub Entropy.

For the major part however, the music sounds like a Mir Space Station house band of Der Plan, Niles Rodgers, International Pony and Felix da Housecat beaming down a love-in direct to the berlin dancefloors. Expect to hear astral funk lightly entwining with early echoes of the electro hip hop compilations; echoes and specs of an alien presence reverberating and floating over Chicago House; sitar like brass-y meditations chiming along to pocket calculator algorithms; stoic Germanic tuned narration encouraging philosophical self-discoveries across the universe whilst also urging the listener “to get down” to tribal beats and 808 preset percussion – the four-to-the-floor disco punk Divine Loser even reimagines Depeche mode being born in Düsseldorf rather than Basildon.

Psycho & Plastic’s interstellar travels flow in a cyber boogie motion, gazing as they do into the wonders of a funky techno and as pop disco vision of space. Kosmopop is a cracking debut album and marks a small but significant sophisticated change in the duo’s style; more ambitious, smoother and sleeker.






Andrew Heath  ‘Soundings’
Disco Gecko,  3rd November 2017


 

Praised as a sort of progressive sound and ambient music torchbearer of a genre renowned for such luminaries as Brian Eno and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Andrew Heath’s own experiments in the field lean towards the reification of the fleeting, disturbed and ephemeral quiet traces of ‘people within spaces’. The self-styled composer of ‘lower-case’ minimalism evokes enigmatic, mysterious and occasionally mournful passages of evolving, passing time through the use of found and created sound manipulation and in-situ (a concatenate theme that connects to Heath’s site specific video art) field recordings.

His fourth solo album for Disco Gecko follows on from previous work, building up both synthetic and natural textural layers, drones, obscured broadcast voices and sonorous piano phrases. However, the main difference with Soundings is the atmosphere it creates; the echoing leitmotif of creaking footsteps pacing up and down a room and the almost heavy methodical concentration of memories pouring from the typewriter notation for me conjure up a writer’s garret: the author’s struggle, turmoil and thoughts represented by Heath’s serialism soundtrack.

Used subtly the neo-classical instrumentation that swirls and floats around the concrete sounds is used to bring melody, intrigue and sometimes, sadness. As well as Heath’s lingering, pondering classical piano notes and scales, there’s a touching twinkling and warmer Fender Rhodes offering lighter jazzy tinged, comfort and balance; a counterpoint interaction between the two instruments that began in the 90s when Heath collaborated with Felix Joy under the experimental Aqueous banner. It also resonates with similar piano explorations by Roedelius, who as it happens has worked with both Heath and Joy previously, most famously on the Meeting The Magus album, and more recently with Heath and fellow avant-garde composer/artist Christopher Chaplin on the live improvised recording Triptych In Blue. Roedelius could be said to have an open-ended collaboration with Heath, who it must be said can’t help but be enthused by the Kluster/Cluster/(and in more recent times) Qluster trinity steward of Kosmische and neo-classical exploration.

Another (on-going) collaboration with the Dutch ambient musician Anne Chris Bakkes continues on both the album’s winter moody traipse through the Dutch province of Noorderhaven, and the serene Happenstance articulation. Bakkes on her part performs a masked and fluttering guitar peregrination and plays with more unusual, mostly unidentifiable background sounds on the two tracks: described in the press release as ‘ephemeral’.

Breaking the veiled, swirling clouds hovering atmospherics, Stéphane Marlet and Bill Howgego are on hand to offer both arching serious, lamentable, and swooned jazz inspiration; the former enriches the cyclonic pondering Days In-Between with saddening cello, the latter tenderly sailing above the Tibetan imaginations of A Break In The Clouds with a striking clarinet flourish.

Pivoting between levitating above the heavens and space and counting the days in a haunted soundscape of captured movements and memories on Earth, Soundings hints at scenes and scenery alike; the traces of which make up this gently unfolding series of ambient descriptive passages in time.






Matt Finucane  ‘Threaten Me With Your Love’
Light Crude,  25th October 2017


 

Returning after what seems an age away from crafting some of the most understated moodily resigned and mentally fatigued indie, Brighton-based all-rounder Matt Finucane is back with an instrumentally pared down, but just as sophisticated, duo of EPs this Autumn.

Not that we wish to pry, and only knowing Finucane from a distance, it seems his travails and dysfunctional personal life has got the better of him recently and in the past: hence the absence; part of which was spent in rehab. Threaten Me With Your Love is the idiosyncratic troubadour’s first proper release since then.

Back doing what he does so well, with eight new songs split between two staggered EPs, Finucane has employed the talents of fellow Brighton musician Mik Hanscomb – one half of the city’s (via Southend) pastoral Laurel Canyon imbued folk siblings Junkboy – to accompany him both live and on this recording.

 

Once again channeling vague notions of Lou Reed, David Slyvian, Ian Hunter, Bowie and Bolan, Finucane’s more relaxed, even languid, acoustic heavy material has an unintentional but accepted ‘druggy malaise’ feel to it. Crooning with a certain drowsy but meandrous confidence, our swooning maverick also often channels the quivering moodiness and slick sneer of a 50s rock’n’roll performer – similar in style to Bradford Cox’s very own donning of the vestiges of a crooning 50s rock’n’roll balladeer on the Atlas Sound LP Parallax. Updated of course with slivers of glam rock and post punk, and with the concerns and sentiments closer in principle to the loss of innocence and the emotional wreckage of ‘dead man’s curve’ than the harmless High School melodramas of the genre.

Experimenting with delivery throughout, the vocals often trail off, swooning into the crevices of Finucane’s darkened room, or loosely hovering between both the high and low registers; tripping along in what sounds like an exercise in catharsis; releasing thoughts in a melodically enriching counsel session. The music echoes that mood, both rallying and accentuating the sentiment and evocations on the acoustic rhythm and electric guitar – Moon Madness for some reason reminded me of Mick Harvey. However, the final song of this four track collection, Self Possession Version Two, moves through a number of musical ideas; reverberating brassy guitar strings jangle through Gothic cowboy boot spurs rattling back beat, new romanticism and the Velvet Underground before pushing into a bent-out-of-shape Sonic Youth and ending on a haunting final waning dissipation.

Still finding his range with one of his most stripped-down recordings yet, Finucane thankfully makes a welcome return to the music scene, and once again defies categorization with a unique, if despondent lovelorn, style of delivery.






In Time  ‘Inside Your Mind’
Mental Experience via Guerssen,  13th October 2017


 

The, what seemed almost limitless at the time, pool of lost and obscure garage band treasures was drained a long time ago. Well, at least the halcyon days of the original primal punk, pop-sike, blue-eyed soul and psychedelic R&B back beat era in the 60s; the architects of the Nuggets-Rubbles-Pebbles-Teenage Shutdown compilations feast truly now exhausted. Drying up the reserves of every band and tenuous collection of misfits that ever recorded a single or had a whiff of a named – no matter how minor and obscure – record label or, managed to wow the locals in the provincial state scene for even the most briefest of moments, many crate-diggers and dewy-eyed salivating acid and garage freaks started dredging up the most amateur of home recordings and wannabe demos.

This process has been repeated for most genres, moving on to different more fertile ground in the following decades, and as with this obscurity from Pennsylvania outfit In Time, honing in on the 80s revival; though equally at the apex of both the raw indie and grunge fusions that were to come.

Skeptical about these finds ever since a musician I used to knock about with in the 90s – Spacemen 3 and Sun Ra enthusiast I recall – told me the story of when he and his band mates used to mischievously pass off mock garage band recordings of themselves as authentic lost ‘nuggets’ from the 60s USA hinterland; leaving these constructed recordings on cassette tapes in secondhand stores, or as the American’s would say “thrift stores”. Whether anyone was ever taken in or not, discovering such curiosities has always made me cautious and nervous. In the photocopied ‘ultra rare’ D.I.Y. mode, what might be a cunning ruse or by luck a damn good find, the only ever release by the In Time quartet, Inside Your Mind, was discovered in such circumstances in a Chicago ‘thrift store’. How it got there is anyone’s guess, but this discovery enthused the guy who found it, the Plastic Crimwave’s Steve Krakow, enough to set in motion a fanboy like zeal to track down the culprits responsible; leading to an official reissue style celebratory vinyl release of the boys only proper showcase: boosted by a number of unreleased raw and experimental detritus from the attic.

Krakow pinned down for long enough one of the original members of the shallow angst and knockabout youth punk-garage-psych for a terse interview; chronicling the little information he did obtain in the Ugly Things/Greg Shaw typewritten fanzine style accompanying liner notes. Surprised that anyone gave a shit, two decades on, Stephen Turk, Stephen Daly, Ed Keer and Anthony (AJ) Fischer nonetheless are now immortalized, in a fashion, by their champion Krakow.

 

‘Homespun’ indeed, In Time sound rough and sloppy, powering through a dizzy carnage of the TV Personalities, Subway Sect, 13th Floor Elevators, Swell Maps, The Dils, a thoroughly unclean version of The Clean, and The Gruesomes for starters. Growling and looning throughout, the often hard-to-fathom vocals change from a surly Yank version of John Lydon to a disheveled Dan Treacy; the music from primal rough’n ready Apache beat garage rock to indulgent shimmery meandering. Theme wise the band takes adolescent swipes at the elderly (Old Ladies) and those who meet the ire, or moon about isolation and detachment from the Outside world whilst reserving a special kind of malcontent and rage at a love spurned.

Whether its aping The Residents strangulating Paint It Black on the astonishing and lolloping Antonetta Perplexes Me, or sinking in the hallucinatory toxins of a vat of Kool Aid on the phaser messy experiment Many Are The Tears, the musical reference points are numerous and thickly applied. Despite sounding erratic, on the edge of distortion – the volume and cacophony constantly threatening to overload the sound – and about to fall apart, In Times spirited recordings and unfinished, rehearsal style ideas betray a melodious sophistication and decent performance dynamic. Too late for the original garage band phenomenon and for punk obviously, the band made sure they’d make, no matter how fleeting, some kind of mark on the 80s revival. And yet they are an augur for what was to follow, with hints of post-rock and grunge, and at times sounding like the forefathers of bands such as The Hunches.

 

Well there time has finally come, or at least a fanboy nod of approval in the right direction, a mark of respect. This collection is every bit as much about the obsession of Krakow as much as it is about the injustice that such a group could fail to catch on, disappearing instead into the ether…well, at least Pennsylvania’s attics and Chicago’s thrift stores.






Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’
Ikarus Records,  October 6th 2017


 

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony began as a casual improvised meeting of minds a few years back, before blossoming and gaining traction with more structured, paced material. The spirit of volatility and avant-garde probing experimentation is no less diminished now that they’ve channeled that energy and ennui into nine, more controlled, songs: granted many fall outside the perimeters of the formulaic; amorphously clashing and flaying, dissipating and fading out between the loosest of vocal and instrumental performances and narratives.

 

Framed as a clash of styles and inspirations, with even the record label unsure of how exactly to position the duo’s new album, Pique Dame, Ester Poly perform with great dexterity and articulation as they thrash through brash Stilts bravado (Slutwalk); catch themselves in an overlap, churlishly antagonizing the 72 virgins myth to a Giallo paperback thriller soundtrack (72 Vierges); sultrily but with ominous overtones, apply trebly gangly Pylon throbbing basslines and a Raincoats reggae gait to a sinister Chanson cover (La Vie En Rose); and smash along to a bestial doom soundscapes (The Rise Of The Witches).

Not hampered in anyway by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen the sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process. The latter influence of which pops up a lot actually. Whether it’s the transmogrified inaction of a limping Mother Sky by Can on Dienstag, or the redolent constant rolling motion syncopation of the same group’s late rhythm provider, Jaki Liebezeit, or the prowling, growling bended bass playing of Faust’s Jean-Hervé Péron, that Teutonic influence be heard loud and clear: they even sound like a riot grrrl Neu! on the track Big Bang.

 

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated!





Single/Video Exclusive
Words: Dominic Valvona




Vukovar  ‘The Clockwork Dance’
4th August 2017

“Resistance is token. Commence the clockwork dance.”

Vukovar – a band name that signifies the abject horror of the Croatian City that saw one of the worst atrocities in the Balkan civil war implosion of the 90s – would, if you asked them, say they were frustrated and perturbed by the delays of releasing material, and the process, self-aggrandizement, of promotion.

However, the trio remains quite prolific, having already released three albums of spiraling blissful apocalyptic post-punk and discordant heavy Krautrock flavours since their inception in 2015. And now ahead of a fourth, Puritan, the group unveil a new single, The Clockwork Dance as an advance warning.

Waltzing with romantic anarchist melancholy towards the end times, the despondent outsiders ponder melodically in a swirling Gothic version of a Phil Spector backbeat, almost in a dream like stasis. Quietly anthemic and yet calmly settling, The Clockwork Dance evokes a rapturous OMD joining Echo & The Bunnyman and The The on Nero’s veranda, contemplating the futility of it all.

If like me, you love the group’s more melodious, bordering on cerebral pop, balance between broody and soaring shimmery majesty, and in particular the band’s baptism of fire debut Emperor (more specifically the tracks Koen Cohen K and The New World Order) then you’ll embrace this latest sublime lament.

 

The B-side as it were, is a live version of Quiet from the group’s second album Voyeurism, which acts as a showcase for the band’s darker, rowdy and raw form of performance and howling rage. Channeling The Birthday Party, Bauhaus and the shaman blues style of The Doors, Vukovar put the frighteners on the original; bending and stretching Quiet with a stalking trebly bass and bedeviled and bedraggled rock’n’roll punctuations, before playing out on a long extended fuzzy rippling electronic drone.

Following up on this year’s transmogrified covers album, Fornication, Vukovar’s fourth (and again, featuring a three syllable title) Puritan will be released on the 25th October 2017. If The Clockwork Dance is any indication, then I’m pretty excited at the prospect of what might be one of the year’s best releases.





NEW MUSIC REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA

Featuring: The Bordellos, Diagnos, Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf, Lucy Leave, The Telescopes and Terry.





More eclectic sounds from across the whole spectrum and from around the world in this edition of Dominic Valvona’s ramshackle reviews roundup, including the disarming snappy punk and cool pop of Melbourne’s scenester gang Terry, Oxford’s elastic new wave funk and math rock trio Lucy Leave, the pastoral pagan psychedelic and folky Kosmische Swedish duo Diagnos, St. Helen’s most dysfunctional lo fi rock’n’roll gods, The Bordellos, paragons of the (rather missive termed) Krautrock epoch, Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf, and sonic vessels of the void, The Telescopes.

Terry  ‘Remember Terry’
Upset The Rhythm,  July 7th 2017

 

The Terry gang is back in town. The disarming world-weary punk and quirky pop touting quartet of Melbourne scenesters, banding together under the ubiquitous titular moniker, follow up a prolific run of 2016 EPs and their debut LP with another acerbic witted, snappy melodious release of profound disenchantment and wistful “wish fulfillment”.

Continuing with the shared girl/boy dynamic of lulling, placeable idiosyncratic vocals and flexible punk, country and new wave bubblegum backing, Terry look to expand their repertoire on Remember. The combined musical savvy and experiences of band members Amy Hill (of Constant Mongrel and School Of Radiant Living), Al Montfort (UV Race, Dick Diver, Total Control), Zephyr Pavey (Eastlink, Russell St Bombings and also Total Control) and Xanthe White (Mick Harvey, Primo) push the quartet into all kinds of nonchalant mischief. The gang embraces nonplussed French new wave chanteuse vibes on the brilliant breezy, mosey country lilting, Toy Love meets Serge Gainsbourg Take Me To The City (one of the tracks of the summer), and snappy, bouncy indie synth pop on Rio. At their most raucous, rough and ready to tumble, Terry softens the edges of The Damned on both their keystone kops rave-up Start The Tape and spiky frazzling Give Up The Crown.

Suggesting nothing more rebellious than a cheeky smoke behind the bike sheds, the group’s knockabout catchy hooks and charm cloak a personal profound response to the political and personal anxieties and dramas of the times. And they do this with a certain aloof coolness and adroit ear for a great tune, making this a most melodious and catchy album of knowing pop slanted punk.






Lucy Leave  ‘The Beauty Of The World’
15th June,  2017

 

Venting opprobrious discourse at the result and ongoing shambles of Brexit – though I’m waiting for creative responses from the “leave” camp to materialize – the burgeoning Oxford trio Lucy Leave put forward an ennui fit of 80s downtown white funk and erratic polyrhythm bendy protestation on their latest EP’s opening diatribe, Talk Danish To Me.

Written whilst on holiday in the Danish capital, this discordant yet highly elastically funky number is as complicated as it sounds; the group reflecting the Brexit vote of 52% for leave with irrational dissonance and a whole tone scale flourish. Yet, despite this, that opening tumultuous track is surprisingly flexible and even melodic; tracing a path back through The Rapture, Liquid Liquid, ESG, A Certain Ratio, American alt rock, grunge and Oxford’s own synonymous – well made famous by – “math rock” scene.

The press one-sheet may have other ideas on where the trio’s influences lie, citing Deerhoof, Tortoise and The Minutemen. But on songs such as the spasmodic disjoint title track they channel PiL (the bass lines most definitely deftly sliding and dipping towards Jah Wobble), and, of all groups, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (though don’t hold that against Lucy Leave, as they sound a whole lot more credible), whilst it’s the floating semblances of Pink Floyd coupled with the slacker mumblings of grunge in the ascendance on Josh. Their appetite for sounds is as omnivorous as it is pliable.

Lucy Leave’s siblings Pete (on drums) and Mike Smith (guitar), and Jenny Oliver (bass and occasional succinct saxophone jazz gestures) all take it in turns to sing. Each bringing a subtle distinct tone and phrasing, especially Oliver who sounds like a submerged Vivian Goldmine or Dominique Levillain of Family Fodder, on the watery reggae gait and psychedelic swelling car crash inspired NIGHTROAD.

Hurtling without a map but a studious head for music theory and figures through The Beauty Of The World, Lucy Leave produce a magnificent bendy chaos. Without a doubt one of the most interesting new bands and among the most unpredictable releases of 2017 for me.






The Telescopes  ‘As Light Return’
Tapete Records,  7th July 2017

 

After thirty years of tuning in and out of the void The Telescopes – or rather the only founding member to have endured this sonic travail, Stephen Lawrie – suggest there might be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel on their ninth drone behemoth album, As Light Return. Don’t get your hopes up just yet though. The miasma caustic discord still hangs like a millstone around Lawrie’s neck; a heavy weight that all but keeps him from clawing out of the vault towards the surface for air: the shoegaze melodious elements and audible vocals of yore all but dissipated and recondite.

If there is any kind of let up in this latest album’s unrelenting sustained waves of abrasive and searing feedback then its very subtle one. Whilst not quite daemonic and not quite as bleak as the visions of Sunn O))), As Light Return is still unyieldingly dark.

Relief is hard won, with any emerging semblances of a Mogadon induced Spector motorcycle gang doo-wop and Spacemen 3 redemption – most notably on the opening lament You Can’t Reach What You Hunger – being obscured and dragged under the ominous efflux of guitars. Just as the fuzz, squalls and unflinching bed of drawn out drones resemble anything moodily melodic they meet a stubborn indolence of gnawing white noise. As usual Lawrie’s vocals remain cryptically veiled in the gauzy production: detached in a stupor as the overpowering seething vortex of layering consumes all.

Using a revolving door policy of guitarists and continuing to change set ups, though Lawrie once again indoctrinates band members from St Deluxe on this album, As Light Return shares much musically, within the perimeters of anyway, with the previous drone suite album, Hidden Fields. However, the tone is even darker and serious, despite the light referenced title; sonically turning the cursed ashes of unheeded augurs into an atmospheric malaise and sound experience.




Diagnos  ‘Diagnos’
Control Kitten Records,  July 14th 2017

 

Building on an initial music project stemming from Marcus Harrling’s filmskills (one half of the Diagnos duo) this extended eponymous soundtrack of concomitant mystical ambient electronica, folk and psych is the perfect accompaniment for an imaginary 1970s set pagan horror: a kind of Scandinavian Wicker Man if you like.

Harrling, a graduate filmmaker of The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, originally developed Diagnos with Per Nyström to score a number of his super 8 camera shot travel films. Both stalwarts of their native Swedish independent music scene; members of The Concretes, Monsters, Mackaper, and Sons Of Cyrus; the duo ask a number of compatriots to contribute to their debut (proper) album. The roots of which first emerged in 2009 when Daniel Fagerström of The Skull Defekts arranged a “one-minute-festival” show for them; a performance that led to the creation of the incipient radiant synth and swooning incantation When The Sun Comes Up: a full version of which now closes this album.

Made up of instrumental passages, vignettes and cooing, psychedelic folky vocal tracks, Diagnos uses a backing of suffused sampled sounds, keyboards, purposeful attentive drums and guitar loops to create the right dreamy esoteric and folkloric atmosphere. Guest collaborators Nadine Byrne, Tove El, Maria Eriksson, Niek Meul, Oscar Moberg and Felix Unsöld add wafting, swaddled saxophone, lulling and supernatural pastoral lush vocals and hallucinogenic inducing tones to this magical journey.

Floating between flute-y synthesizers, primal tribal reverberation percussion and more drawn-out, but softened, drones, this suite weaves progressive and Kosmische influences into a gauze-y bed of spiritual and ominous layers; recalling the dissipating echoes of early Popol Vuh, Kluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Sonic Youth, Land Observation, Air, and on the languid trip-hop like Reflections, the soundtracks of Basil Poledouris.




Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf   ‘Krautwerk’
Bureau B,  28th July 2017

 

Stalwarts of Germany’s influential late 1960s and 70s experimental transformative Kosmische and Krautrock music scenes, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf join forces to celebrate a legacy. Representing two of the country’s most important epicenters and incubators of electronic music, Berlin and Dusseldorf, the duo glide and ponder through all the various iterations from that era on the pun-intended Krautwerk album.

Provenance wise Grosskopf drummed on a number of early Klaus Schulze albums (reverberations of the legendary electronic composer can be found throughout) and recorded thirteen albums with the Ashra incarnation of the iconic acid transcendental Ash Ra Tempel originators (again, traces of which can be heard here). Kranemann’s travails in Krautrock took the usual course, studies in more classical music at the Dortmund Conservatory and art at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf (studying under the behemoth of European conceptualism, Joseph Beuys), followed by a baptism of fire, propelled into the earliest developments of German electronica, co-founding such giants of the scene as Kraftwerk, Neu! and Pissoff.

In the aftermath of that most important decade in German music history both artists went on to release numerous solo projects. Their paths however didn’t cross until 2016, and by chance; both solo artists booked to perform at the very same music festival, where they planned this melding of minds project.

Two schools of thought and conceptualism, Krautwerk is a sophisticated, sagacious sextet of analogue (featuring of all things an Hawaiian guitar and, not so surprising, a cello) and synthesized peregrinations and moods. Channeling a wealth of experience and influences this congruous partnership combines the graceful transience and stirring futuristic ambience of Cluster and Tangerine Dream with the tangled, industrial guitar playing of Manuel Göttsching and the progressive kinetic beats of the Pyrolator and Kraftwerk. Clandestine romanticized reflections captured at midnight appear alongside mystical cello etched beasts in the Tibetan mists, on the Deutsch Nepal trail, and more nonsensical Japanese phonetic silliness to cover a swathe of Dusseldorf and Berlin inspirations.

Though there’s also a strong nod in the direction of the musical styles that evolved from and ran parallel to Krautrock/Kosmische with Moroder style arpeggiator propulsion and 80s drum machine percussion on the vortex sucking and reversed hi-hat Basic Channel transmogrified Be Cool, and Jeff Mills cerebral techno on the Tresor club turn Banco de Gaia trance journey Happy Blue.

Every bit as erudite as you’d expect; finely tuned and considered, Kranemann and Grosskopf celebrate a full gamut and heritage. Yet sound relatively contemporary at times and fresh despite the fact that these musical genres were created in the 60s. Fans of Kosmische and electronica music in general will lap it up.




The Bordellos  ‘Life, Love & Billy Fury’
Recordiau Prin,  16th June 2017

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

That signature mumbled and pained expression of malaise and the miserable backbeat and tambourine jangled foundations, we Bordellos fans love and find so endearing, prevail but are joined by meandered detours and passing fancies of inspiration: on the heavily medicated Secret Love it’s a touch of (would you believe it) Lee Hazlewood and Nick Cave, on the breezier “what’s cooking” kitchen sulk Brief Taste it’s a conjuncture of Siouxsie Sioux’s Banshees and The Clean, and on the Adriatic wooing Signomi, Arketa!, I can hear Talk Talk beating out a military tattoo rhythm on Adam and the Ants Burundi drums.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances.





New Music Reviews Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona


Monolith Cocktail - Baba Zula


Welcome back to the first review roundup of 2017, which gets off to a grand start with this dazzling cornucopia of new releases from Baba Zula, Dearly Beloved, Hanitra, Mikko Joensuu, Piano Magic, James McArthur and Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward. 

In this edition of my regular review roundup we have the grand sweeping gestures of Mikko Joensuu’s second album in the Amen cycle; the second idiosyncratic folk and country idyllic songbook from James McArthur; some tender sounds “from the heart of Madagascar” in the shape of the Island’s talented songstress Hanitra; plus a bit of hardcore from the Dearly Beloved. There’s also a trio of special anniversary releases, the first, a triumvirate of solo work from Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward, celebrating the tenth birthday of Jezus Factory Records, the second and third mark the twentieth anniversaries of both the chamber pop dreamers Piano Magic, who have chosen to have one last fling before disbanding this year, and the polygenesis dub Istanbul outfit Baba Zula.


Baba  Zula   ‘XX’
Released  by  Glitterbeat  Records,  27th  January  2017


BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK - 20.09.2016)

BABA ZULA. (FOTOGRAF: CAN EROK – 20.09.2016)

 

Bastions of a psychedelic Istanbul scene, they’ve arguably made their very own, the omnivorous Anatolian Acid Mother Temple of dub-styled Baba Zula have been melding all their many musical inspirations together for twenty years now. Co-founded by Osman Muret Ertel and Levent Akman in 1996, the kaleidoscopic group originally sprung from Ertel’s previous ZeN Outfit as a one-off soundtrack project for a film director friend. Two decades later and we can surely assume that Baba Zula won out.

Inspired by the first wave of Turkish bands, that grew out of a previous generations atavistic folk scene, in the 1960s, notably the psych pioneers Moğollar, Ertel and Akman helped revitalize an age of experimentation, lost during the tumultuous upheavals of Turkey’s coups in the 70s and 80s. Politically acute, challenging the authorities with trance-like joyous expression, Baba Zula are once again finding themselves overshadowed by developments in their own backyard. And so just when we and their comrades need them that discerning label of new musical discoveries from the African continent and beyond, Glitterbeat Records, have decided to celebrate the band’s legacy with a generous double helping of reimagined material and a whole host of transmogrified dub treatments from congruous bedfellows and admirers alike – including the Mad Professor, Dr. Das and Glitterbeat’s quasi in-house band Dirtmusic.

Choosing a unique method of documenting that twenty-year career (and counting), Ertel explains: “None of the pieces here are in their original forms. Instead, we picked remixes, re-recordings, collaborations, live tracks, all the possibilities, but none of these have been released before.”



Transformed but not enough to completely obscure the source, the first of these two CDs (or albums) travels back and forth across the decades, with the earliest example being the feverish female protagonist orgasm over a DJ Shadow backbeat Erotika Hop from 1997, and one of the latest, a nine-minute Tamikrest-on-an-exchange-trip-to Byzantine Aşiklarin Sözu Kalir (otherwise known as “External Is The Word Of Poets”). Elsewhere you’ll find the group’s biggest hit to date, Bir Sana Bir De Bana (“One For You And One For Me”) playfully re-styled as a Gainsbourg-on-the-Bosphorus duet between a French woman and an Armenian man.

Opening this meandering journey, Ozgür Ruh showcases the group’s signature languid dub sound; a free-spirited melting of ascending, whirling electric saz (a long-necked lute-like instrument), accentuated brushed bendir hand drums, longing male and female vocals and a cosmic Jamaica blown off course towards the Adriatic, vibe. However, there’s no mistaking the band’s roots on Biz Size Asik Olduk; a curious dervish romance with the candor and atmosphere of a desert blues serenaded camel caravan trail. The final two tracks are live. There’s, what sounds at first like a tuning-up session, kosmische freestyle Çöl Aslanlari performance from the Bada Bing in Berlin (handed over to Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke to mix) and a nineteen-minute experimental reverb-heavy dub odyssey version of Abdülcanbaz from the Piraeus Resistance Festival In Greece to lose oneself in. Both are great examples of their untethered abandon and float-y transcendental mesmerism.

 

The accompanying (mis)adventures in dub companion is a veritable feast of the most somnolent drifting mixes. It helps that Baba Zulu’s exotic vapours lend themselves so well to dub, imbued as they are by it. But with no limits set and with a litany of dub explorers allowed a free-reign to remodel, the band’s material is swathed in so much echo that it almost disappears into the ether.

The first few tracks are by the group themselves and someone known as “arastaman”. Reshaping their own catalogue and sound they use the lingering traces of a song and submerge beneath a smog of warbled theremin and phaser effects on Alem and cut up the vocals on a mind-bending Ufak. Guest mixes include the radical Asian Dub Foundations’ Dr Das and his Uncle style heavy shake-up of Iki Alem; Dirtmusic’s mysterious lunar sandscaped ‘Hopche’; and The Mad Professor’s quartet of polygenesis traverses: merging a South American tropical groove to the Istanbul guitar cycles of ‘Baso’ and playing with the convulsing vocals and howling calls of ‘Erotik Adab’.

 

To a backdrop of continued violence (at the time of going to press there’s been both the shootings at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub and the car bomb/gun attack on the courthouse in Izmir, in just the last two weeks alone) and heightened turmoil, caught in the midst of suppressive regime currently removing dissenting and alternative voices from the street with the most tenuous of reasons it’s hardly surprising that many wish to escape the realities of daily life. Baba Zula know more than most how dire the situation is; Ertel’s own late uncle, a journalist, was tortured and imprisoned for his troubles. Though highly entrancing and mostly destined for psychedelic shindigs this eclectic voyage is every bit the rallying call of protestation; just existing amounts to a form of dissention in the face of increasing nationalism. Here’s to another twenty years of stirring the omnivorous musical stew.



Dearly  Beloved   ‘Admission’
Released  by  Aporia  Records,  January  27th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Dearly Beloved

Recorded through Dave Grohl’s acquired custom-built 70s Neve 8028 analogue console, at his famous Studio 606, the desk that that facilitated Nirvana’s Nevermind has imbued the latest steely hardcore row from the Dearly Beloved duo. Still thundering along at a furious velocity, thrash-powering their way through a scowling mix of Black Flag, Black Sabbath and The Pixies, the dynamic Niva Chow/Rob Higgins gut-thumping and bewailing partnership have acquired an extra, controlled, ingredient of grunge.

More suffused, the light and shade of Admission rages in a thoughtful depth between dystopian drones and full-on esoteric rock’n’roll, ala a Mogadon induced Royal Trux in a switchblade scuffle with The Black Keys – the opening RIP track showing a flair even for southern boogie blues, albeit a very noisy one. For a band that fluidly absorbs a litany of hardcore, punk and doom influences, Admission is surprisingly melodic and nuanced. And so you’re are just as likely to hear echoes of Placebo and the Moon Duo as you are Death From Above 1979, and run through not just broody miasma moods but also fun-thrilled frolics.

 

Whipped into shape (not literally of course!) by Ramones and Misfits producer Daniel Rey who laid out a relentless schedule that had the duo rehearse in a East L.A. sweatbox for eight hours a day for a week, the Dearly Beloved for the first time entrusted an outsider to sit behind the controls. As it turns out, the road-tested and solid work out sessions have captured the duo’s live energy perfectly, delivering a lean, sinewy, heavy-as-fuck rage with all the indulgences and chaff taken out. That tumultuous, controlled but far from caged performance matches the turbulence of the times we’re living in.




Pawlowski,  Trouvé  &  Ward   ‘Volume 2’
Released via  Jezus  Factory  Records,  January  20th  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward ‘Volume 2’

 

A decade on from the last Mauro Pawlowski, Rudy Trouvé and Craig Ward triumvirate compilation of solo work and to celebrate the tenure of the label vassal of so many Belgium borne alternative rock projects, Jezus Factory Records have now released a long-awaited follow up; named simply Volume 2. All at one point or another members of Belgium’s, arguably, most famous export dEUS, all three musicians have also shared a highly complex interlocking relationship; each serving together in a rambunctious myriad of side projects, team-ups and explorations, most notably The Love Substitutes, iH8 Camera and Kiss My Jazz: if anyone could ever be bothered, it would make a convoluted but interesting rock family tree diagram. Crossing over and extending beyond the dEUS hub it feels like the common bond of releasing their material on Jezus Factory could see the trio join forces at any moment.

Showcasing their individual flights of fantasy, this second volume of solo work is sometimes bizarre, often curious and occasionally silly; traversing the more serious glacial suffused drones of Ward’s four-track travail; the guitar and post-punk synth of Trouvé; and the killer-ziller-driller lunacy of Pawlowski’s imaginary 80s movie soundtrack, complete with commercial breaks!

A familiar face on the Monolith Cocktail, the erudite Scottish guitarist/composer Craig Ward was originally invited many moons ago to holiday in the Belgium city of Antwerp by dEUS and Zita Swoon stalwart Stef Kamil Carlens. Somehow instead of returning home, he stayed and signed-up for in a stint in a local band, Kiss My Jazz, before inevitably joining the dEUS fraternity; playing guitar and delivering vocals on the In A Bar Under The Sea and The Ideal Crash albums. Ward subsequently left to form both The Love Substitutes and A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen. More recently he’s carved out a solo niche for himself with the suitably evocative ambient suite New Third Lanark whilst also running a guesthouse in his native Scotland. Earlier in 2016 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant to complete his ambitious solo opus Leave Everything Move Out, which was actually recorded in France with the Grammy Award winner David Odlum. Sticking to the same tone of moody strangeness and drawn-out drones, his environmentally descriptive quartet of soundscapes cover the territory of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. Ward circumnavigates with a touch of subtle gravitas the mysterious veiled landmarks, circling the behemoth omnipresence of Mount Betsy; hovering In The Wet Maze; dreamily rowing the topographic ocean from Island To Any Islands; and lurking in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a Sunless compression of resonating guitar notes and heavy-leaden synth modulations. It’s classic Ward at his deepest.





Still holding down the day job as a member of dEUS, Pawlowski has really gone for broke on this compilation with his 80s pastiche soundtrack. A quick run-through of the CV is needed first before we go into the details. Pawlowski originally rose to fame in the Evil Superstars, until they called it quits at the peak of their career. He went on however to release the Dave Sardy produced album Songs From A Bad Hat and launch a string of experimental groups and collaborations, including a Dutch language folk LP under the Maurits Pauwels appellation, and the Hitsville Drunks and Gruppo Di Pawlowski (recorded incidentally by Steve Albini) projects.

Throwing a tongue-in-cheek (I assume) curveball at 80s cinema, his eleven-track mix of Casio demo display crescendos, yapping seal noises, and Carpenter meets John Hughes is pure bonkers. There’s bad acid telly binges and garbled industrial menace aplenty, but the best is saved until last with the finale firework exploding retro tribute to AM college radio rock, Starught: a mix-up of Strangers When We Meet era Bowie, The Cars, Queen and Boston, it is an unashamed punch-in-the-air love song anthem. Pawlowski’s contribution is certainly the most varied and odd, detached from the more serious and dour tones of his album mates.

 

The final leg, the baton handed over to Trouvé, fluctuates between the stripped guitar sounds of The Durutti Column and a 80s homage of despondent Visage and Soft Cell synth maladies. Originally a founder member of dEUS but tiring of the group’s major label success and all the bullshit that comes with it (the band’s debut was released on Island Records), Trouvé left to form the Heavenhotel Presents label and play in the Ornette Coleman inspired experimental project Tape Cuts Tape, the The Mechanics (with Pawlowski) and the “all star” improvising iH8 Camera.

With a wealth of experience and enough of an eclectic swag of influences behind him, from post-punk to avant-garde jazz, ready to surface at anytime, his twelve-strong contribution of meditative and considered explorations reflects an omnivorous craving. And so one minute you’ll hear a hint of Spiritualized or DAF, the next minute, John Cale, yet the underlying sound remains signature Trouvé.

 

A decade in, weary and beleaguered with the current Brexit woes (just wait until it’s actually been triggered and unraveled), Andrew Bennett’s showcase label for music from the nation that unfortunately symbolizes both the best and worst excesses of the EU, has a challenging future ahead of it. There’s no signs however of fatigue nor a dip in quality or originality; Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward still producing the goods no matter what the augurs foretell.




James  McArthur  and  the  Head  Gardeners   ‘Burnt  Moth’
Released  via  Moorland  Records,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - James McArthur

Conjuring up an idyllic image of sipping Cider with Rosie on the back of Constable’s Hay Wain, Welsh-born troubadour James McArthur and his Head Gardeners troupe return with another lilting album of bucolic folk and country songs on Burnt Moth.

Following up on the Strange Readings From The Weather Station debut, which announced McArthur’s move from backing Paul Weller on drums to fronting his very own songbook, this second peaceable collection continues to wander a perpetual end of summer into early autumn seasonal landscape. Picking away and plucking attentively in the style of Bert Jansch or Mike Cooper, the serenade-style poetic musicianship on display is effortlessly timeless, yet the often meandering lyrics chime with the contemporary themes of an ever-changing society moving unabated towards a digital, even virtual, immersion: encroaching on the tranquility and earnest pastoral ideals of a slower-paced more personal interactive world, which to all intents and purposes is proving a sanctuary from the fully-connected hum of the internet.

 

Mostly acoustic, McArthur is also accompanied throughout by an accentuated backing of burnished and dampened drums, slowly released from its quivered tension strings (all co-written and arranged with Jim Willis, who also plays mandolin on the album), rustic pining pedal steel guitar and on the classically leaning yearned To Do the lulling coos of guest vocalist Samantha Whates. Not only assisting McArthur in the making of this album but also chipping in with backing vocals and bass on the roulette wheel of lovelorn fortune, Evens On Green, is Joel Magill of the psychedelic Canterbury band Syd Arthur.

 

Burnt Moth is a charming sun-dappled tapestry of McCartney-esque, and on the title track finale, Harry Nilsson (fronting a dreamy Morricone romance) idiosyncratic storytelling and musings. McArthur is in no hurry to reveal and unfurl the album’s many nuances and beauty; toiling away gently to create a most enjoyable and thoughtful songbook.




Mikko  Joensuu   ‘Amen  2’
Released  by  Svart  Records,  end  of  2016.


Monolith Cocktail - Mikko Joensuu

 

The middle of an ambitious all-expansive soul-searching trilogy, the second Amen chapter finds a vulnerable Mikko Joensuu rising from the porch of his cabin retreat to step forth into the radiant majesty of the Finnish landscape. Finding an obvious awe-inspiring beauty in the stunning vistas yet equally overwhelmed, Joensuu attempts to cope with his troubled past. An epiphany if you like, the Finnish troubadour “lost his religion” a while back and has since been attempting to draw back from a mental abyss. Imbued with the candid soul and gospel of Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized and the melodious drone of My Bloody Valentine, Joensuu’s second album in this triumvirate cycle balances the ethereal with a tumultuous chorus of peaks and lows; the opening Drop Me Down opus for example gently builds from the diaphanous to a nosier cacophony of horns. Even when the fuzz, distortion and tribal backbeat dynamics are let loose the dappled light pours in.

An alternative questioning and sincere hymn supported by the North Finnish veranda, Amen 2 is a grandiose stunning visceral work of art.




Hanitra   ‘Lasa’
Released  by  ARC  Music,  6th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Hanitra ‘Lasa’

 

An unofficial cultural ambassador for her homeland of Madagascar, the sagacious and much-celebrated talented songstress Hanitra sheds light on both the personal and environmental plights of the unique Indian Ocean Island and the universal suffrage of women in the wider world on her latest album Lasa.

For many, Madagascar continues to be an enigma: Famous unfortunately as the title of a DreamWorks animation franchise, but apart from its reputation as a colourful menagerie for all kinds of exotic wildlife and fauna, it remains a mystery to many. Musically speaking it has attracted a host of composers and musicians, including the recently revived French ethno jazz maestro Jef Gilson with his Et Malagasy masterpiece.

 

Almost as an anthropological experiment and survey Madagascar’s isolation and history has fascinated many. Lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, it’s strategic position has made it a popular port-of-call for traders and explorers, though many literally bumped into it unaware it existed. Despite a litany of famed travellers, from the Arabs to Marco Polo, recording its discovery over the centuries, it would be France that colonized it. However, whether warranted or not, conquerors and traders alike left traces, resulting in a cross-pollination of influences including music. On Lasa you can hear this legacy well with elements of jazz, the Balearics, Arabia and even the reverberations of an old Afghanistan – resonating from the evocative sound of that country’s lute-like rubab instrument; used to plaintive dreamy effect throughout on this album – entwined with a distinct foundation of Madagascar folk and gentle African rhythms. But it’s the award-winning siren’s vocals, flexing with élan, which encompass this imbued richness. Inherently timeless, fluidly moving between cooing, almost lullaby, and effortless soaring tension, Hanitra’s voice subtly matches the themes of her album without showboating. The double-meaning title song for instance, translated from the Malagasy dialect as to “go past”, is an elegy of a sort to the French-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela, who passed away in 2010 from breast cancer. Yet this touching tribute to a singer is far from sentimental; its Middle Eastern permutations and tenderness sweet and reflective rather than downcast and lamentable.

 

Soothingly in an array of colourful hues and tones, Hanitra addresses the themes of maltreatment, meted out both physically and psychologically towards women, on Eka and Avia, deforestation, in particular the devastating environmental costs of cutting down and selling Madagascar’s rosewood, on Mivalo, and another of those tributes, this time to the Vezo fishermens wives on the Island’s southeastern coastlines, eking out a hard living, on the oceanic motion Ampela. There’s celebration, paeans even, with the relaxed, lilting defense of same-sex marriage on Myriam and an invitation to dance in joyful abandon on Lalao. Whatever the emotion, Hanitra articulates her concerns and protestations with a soulful sincerity.

 

Lasa’s extended title is “from the heart of Madagascar”, and this is very true, yet the Island’s melting pot of musical influences and Hanitra’s own global travels mean this album is in fact universal.



Piano  Magic   ‘Closure’
Released  by  Second  Language  Music,  20th  January  2017


Monolith Cocktail - Piano Magic

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

The self-proclaimed purveyors of “ghost rock”, formed at the height of the Britpop, have traversed and mapped out a moody romantic pathway for themselves over the years. Originally starting out as a lo-fi electronica trio in 1996, soon finding favour with John Peel, Piano Magic gradually grew into a full-on tour de force alternative rock band as the millennium drew near; recording amongst their notable cannon both a soundtrack for the Spanish director Bigas Luna’s Son De Mar and the Writers Without Homes album, which famously featured the folk legend Vashti Bunyan – who emerged from a 30-year musical silence to dust off the quelled vocal chords for the band. Still far off his critical-applauded born again renaissance as a “torch singer”, that same album also featured the dour talents of John Grant; just one of many collaborations over the years, the band also working at one time or another with Alan Sparhawk of Low, Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, Cornershop and Tarwater. Closure is no different in featuring a suitably congruous number of guest spots, with Peter Milton Walsh, singer of the fellow chamber pop, Australian band, The Apartments channeling Mick Harvey, and Oliver Cheer (aka Dollboy) providing a south of the Rio Grande style swooning brass accompaniment on the Choir Boys-travail-a-literary-rich-Outback Attention To Life. Offering harmonic and atmospheric support on backing vocals, Josh Hight of Irons can be heard wafting about on the album’s opening grandiose and subtle opus title track and the stripped-down electro pop, in a quasi New Order style, Exile.

 

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in this enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

 

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending.




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