DOMINIC VALVONA’S ECLETIC REVUE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest Robots ‘Supermoon Moonlight Part Two’
(Subexotic)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machine ‘S-T’
(WEWANTSOUNDS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qrauer ‘Odd Fazes’
(Nonostar) 22nd September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REZO ‘Sew Change’
30th September 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALBUMS AND EXTENDED RELEASE REVIEWS/PLUS A SPECIAL LITTLE SOMETHING/Dominic Valvona

PHOTO CREDIT: Joona Möttö

SPECIAL LITTLE SOMETHING

IFRIQIYYA ELECTRIQUE ‘Nafta Naghara’
From the 25th March 2022

From our friends IFRIQIYYA ELECTRIQUE, a mesmerizing, loud and incredible dynamic fusion of unworldly chthonian elements, Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and post-punk electronics; recorded live in the last month at La Casa Musicale in Perpignan, France.

Originally formed in the Djerid Desert, a coloration between field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club – and Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which has featured Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – the lineup has fluctuated over two stunning albums and live dates.

Performing a track from their second album Laylet El Booree (released back in 2019) ‘Nafta Naghara’ sees both Syna Awel and Dyaa Zniber (on both voice duties and percussion) change the dynamic once more as they join Greco (voice & bass) and Cambuzat (on guitar, choir & computer) for breathtaking communal.

ALBUMS

Jane Inc. ‘Faster Than I Can Take’
(Telephone Explosion Records) 22nd April 2022

Although the musical DNA was there from the start, through her dance pop duo Ice Cream with Amanda Crist and contributions to Darlene Shrugg and Meg Remy’s ever growing U.S. Girls ensemble, Carlyn Bezic effortlessly shimmied towards the disco, dream-pop dancefloor with last year’s Number One album debut as Jane Inc. – one of my choice albums of 2021.

Bearing all the strains, vulnerabilities but shorn of pity, Carlyn makes good on that previous congruous change with a both disarming fantasy and more heartbreaking plaintive songbook, fit for the age of high anxiety, self-doubt and connection through the computer, smart phone lens.

Life just never feels right, and time…well, time seems to have sped up, hijacked by those seeking to consume all our precise use of it, concentrated down the portal of a constantly changing feed of attention grabbing, virtue competiveness and narcissistic obsessions. Without the space to breathe, process, to take it all in, we’ve been mostly reduced to vacuous, fleeting well-wishers; meaningful, deep connections just for a few, because whose got the time to offer anything lasting. Ok, I’ve gone slightly off the rail, but our epoch, lurches from, but then forgetting, one crisis to the next: though in recent months that carousal has swung from the climate emergency to Covid to the cost-of-living and Ukraine. Who wouldn’t be anxious, drained mentally under such an onslaught?

On the album’s opener, and first single, ‘Contortionists’ Carlyn sings about the effects of time anxiety, of being both trapped simultaneously in the past, present and future, all in the same moment. Transfiguring a 80s musical palette, this crystalized arpeggiator emotional pull dances through softened shades of n-r-g, robotic soul pop, fitness video music and disco: with a certain echo of Chaka Khan thrown in. Fellow Toronto collaborator Dorothea Pass adds a touch of ethereal cooing to a vulnerable but danceable highlight.

Although a mostly synthesized, electro affair, Carlyn finds the human soul, a connectedness throughout. No more so then on tracks like ‘Human Being’ (for obvious reasons), which explores isolation, the requirements of instagram, and that always living your ‘best life’ crap, in an online world to the dualist Giallo glitterball pop, and suggestions of the Juan MacLean and St. Vincent (via Wendy & Lisa). Dreamy realism meets with a haunted reflection, with another signature mirror turn. In a similar lamentable disconnect, the four-to-the-floor, Vogue era Madonna ‘Dancing With You’ projects a romantic embraced dance at the Paradise Garage, but is really a dance for one in front of the computer screen in a bedroom.

Amongst the glitterball emitting lasers Carlyn expands the musical scope, sauntering down to Rio like a 70s Joni Mitchell sharing a fantasy with Seu Jorge on ‘Picture The Future’ – which actually, despite its accompaniment of soft-paddled samba moves, describes a calendar rota of metaphorical growth. ‘An Ordinary Thing’ takes an acoustic direction towards the troubadour sorrow of Evie Sands or Catherine Howe on a cathartic, candid Baroque turn of resignation. The close, ‘Pummeled Into Sand’, features strains of both reversed phaser and Brian May guitar licks, hints of Aldous Harding and Eleanor Friedberger on the Mexican border.

I’m drawn however to the gorgeous if heartbreaking ‘Every Rip’. A Diplo remixed Vangelis patterned lush ache of vulnerability, this dream-wave pop lament will bring a tear to the eye.

The absence of the physical (love, friendship) echoed through the full spectrum of emotions couldn’t sound more effortless. Even if the artist feels fragile, this second album under the Jane Inc. flag couldn’t be more assured in pop brilliance. Taking the familiar tones of disco, pop, new wave, fitness video n-r-g, Carlyn takes a more carefree, danceable approach to deeper feelings in an era of rapid change and disorientation. You won’t hear much better.

Birds In The Brickwork ‘Recovery’
(Wayside And Woodland)

The first in a promised series of multimedia releases from Benjamin Holton’s latest inspired alias, Birds In The Brickwork, the Recovery album contours a both faded and quintessentially damp English landscape; as seen through Holt’s photographic lens.

A concomitant partner to the gauzy, washed guitar and synth music of epic45, his longstanding duo with foil Rob Glover, Holton once more plugs into a familiar, if far more dreamy and beautifully languid, mode.

Before we dive in though, a little background to this newly adopted moniker is needed. Sympathising greatly myself with this, Holton was forced to give up work due to a ‘massive flare-up’ with his back. During a time of recovery (hence that title) the Staffordshire native attempted to document the period with the tools-at-hand. This included that already mentioned guitar (both acoustic and electric by the sounds of it), a camera and computer.

Finding all life’s answers, pathos and bathos in the natural typography and its artificial markers, structures, the focus of this project is on the landscape; something that could be seen as a reoccurring feature, theme in much of his work, especially the pylon straddled haze and nostalgic glaze of My Autumn Empire

Capturing the ephemeral through various instrumental traverses, Holton sculpts magical, mysterious radiating versant slopes, hills and the ghostly pastoral visage of a village hall, as he wells up a mood board of the wondrous, universal and cerebral. Evoking a languorous Land Observations without his bass notes, the descriptive and higher-purposed guitar playing of Craig Ward, Spiritualized Jason Pierce and Myles Cochran, Holton evokes the halcyon, conversational, the empirical.

Through lingered, floated, finely attuned guitar work, synthesized washes and waves, pitch-shifts and attentive drums he gently encompasses the fields of post-rock, the psychedelic, shoegaze, acid-country and kosmische; whether that’s unveiling the enormity of the great expanse or in solitude, waiting to get back out into the world of small wonders: ‘small glimmers’, the ‘old blossom’ and the reconnected resonance of ‘people talking’. All things missed and now documented with a lightness of touches.

The inaugural visions of a geography taken for granted, barely noticed, comes to life in the first Birds In The Brickwork audio setting. With art prints, DVDs and postcards still to come Recovery puts down the marker for a fruitful new musical horizon: even if it was borne out of pain.

Kota Motomura ‘Pay It Forward’
(Hobbes Music) 22nd April 2022

Although it’s been a few years, the experimental Tokyo artist Kota Motomura makes good on his previous free-floating, swimmingly jacked-up House and Balearic flowed EP for the Hobbes Music imprint with a just as tropical, eclectic album.

Pay It Forward once more sees Kota reunited with his foil Mutsumi Takeuchi on reeds. Later on, with this album’s paradise plaint closer, ‘Flowers’, a second guest, Akichi, joins the twosome, adding a wistful but dreamy Balearic acoustic guitar accompaniment, sat under a canopy of heavenly bird song and humid tropical heat. That curtain call is the most placid, scenic track on the whole album, with the rest destined for the club environment: albeit set in the rainforests or in some futuristic vision of 80s Tokyo.

The actual entitled ‘Paradise’ features Mutsumi’s snozzled jazz-house toots, spirals and drifted hazy rasps and Kota’s detuned, almost distorted, piano stabs over a sort of Japanese 80s new wave pop production with shooting lasers: imagine a bit of Haruomi Hosono shaking it down with Yasuaki Shimizu.

A change in style, ‘Tropical’ sounds more like an ethnographic sampled lost treasure from Byrne and Eno or, the sort of no wave experiment Basquiat would have been throwing down in ’82. Native voices, pneumatic drilled samples, shuttled sticks and hand drums evoke the veldt, the Maasai, as remixed by Coldcut and the 900ft Jesus.

‘To Be Free’ is an upbeat number of Farley Jackmaster Funk’s Chicago grooves, handclap beats, arpeggiator patterns and funk, whilst ‘Emotion’ sees Mutsumi on flute, blowing merry suffused charms over a pumped N-R-G meets New Orleans Mardi Gras House music groove.

The highlight for me though is the constantly changing, evolving percussive and drumming relay, ‘Rhythm’. It could be a Brazilian Samba band, the African diaspora or even a Cuban rhythm section on a coked-up Miami night, but the beats just keep rolling and rattling, even galloping.

Pay It Forward is essentially a well-crafted, fun experiment in dance music genre hopping. It’s House and Techno music with a spirit of adventure that’s never idol and always up for taking the audience across a movable dance floor.

OK:KO ‘Liesu’
(We Jazz) 15th April 2022

Named after its drummer-composer/bandleader Okko Saastamoinen, the Finnish OK:KO quartet have been accumulating fans and acclaim alike over the last five years. Now onto their third album with the leading Euro jazz label and festival hub (and now quarterly magazine) We Jazz, they once more show-off a signature sound that’s imbued by the roots of hard-bop, free jazz and the more explorative, envelope pushing of a small tight combo. The notes sum up that style perfectly as, ‘adventurous but accessible’. 

In practice that means Coltrane and Harden on the Savoy label, Charlie Parker, the Bill Evans Trio, Nate Morgan and Sonny Stitt taken on a scenic, poetic ride across the Finnish pastoral. Mikael Saastamoinen’s double-bass on the most naturalistic composition, ‘Kirkkis’, even manages to emote an oaken tree spreading its branching: The bass actually begins to sound like a cello against a wooded stretch of rim rattles and brushes. Later on, with that same composition, the quartet moves towards both the blues and luxuriant swing; beamed and trained on 60s NYC.

Bandleader Okko’s drums follow a constant leitmotif of splashed cymbals and rolling maelstroms that never quite penetrate the sea wall defenses, as Jarno Tikka goes high with flighty spirals and lower register rasps and descriptive lulls, and Toomas Keski-Säntti plays piano with a sense of both freedom and emergent-gestured melodies.   

Tunes vary between expressive dances and erudite scene-setting emotions. The opener, ‘Anima’, goes for a visceral encapsulation of that title’s Latin origins – the breath, soul, spirit of vital forces -, whilst ‘Arvo’ pushes into more serious, noirish directions: like a bluesy but mysterious sassy accompanied skulk in a 1950s stripe joint.   Throughout this album were constantly drawn back to the sea; both a very real Baltic one but also a metaphorical one of choppy emotions and swelled intensities. There’s drama yet nothing that ever proves too frantic, fierce, as this quartet keep it all in check, constantly flowing no matter how high those waves get. I love it, and still think Finland is producing some of the best contemporary jazz in not only Europe but beyond that. OK:KO’s reputation is save and broadening on the strength of this third album of the lively and emotive. 

Kloot Per W ‘Arbre A Filles’
(Jezus Factory) 22nd April 2022

Despite doing it all so well, the maverick Kloot Per W, as a Belgian from the other side of the multi-linguistic quandary that is Belgium, apparently should be frowned upon, snubbed for singing in the French vernacular. In a culture, historical battle I’m unwilling to get drawn into, there’s a whole legacy of political backlashes against those with the Flemish mother tongue singing or speaking in the much-guarded French language: Jacques Brel aside. Actually that’s a terrible example, as Brel’s Flemish family actually dropped it to adopt the French language.

Anyway, the seven-decade spanning journeyman Kloot has decided to give it another bash, following the success of his inaugural Francophone EP, Nuits Blanches, from last year. Like the already mentioned Brel, and because of a history of reinvention, sagacious wit and self-depreciation, the Flemish cult artist dons a gauloise smoking jacket with élan and a certain fuck you attitude on his new songbook, Arbre A Filles (or the odd phrased “girl tree”).

A sort of intergenerational project, again, Kloot calls upon the production, collaborative help of Pascal Deweze: a full twenty-years Kloot’s junior we’re informed. And swinging by the studio, repeat offender foil, guitar-slinger for hire and ex dEUS band member Mauro Pawlowski and his collaborative partner Randy Trouvé add a bit of (middle-age) youthfulness; a taste of contemporary alt-rock to the songs. Keen Monolith Cocktail followers will of course remember (hopefully) that Marco and Kloot brought out their very own dysfunctional, knockabout White Album, called Outsider/Insider, a while back (making our choice picks at the time).

A road well-travailed, Kloot’s numerous musical changes – stretching back to the late 60s and early 70s as a bassist for The Misters and as a guitarist for The Employees, to a solo spell and the JJ Brunel produced Polyphonic Size – have lent the music a wise ring of authenticity; a life well-lived and experienced. And on this new songbook themes range from such timeless concerns as facing one’s mortality and more contemporary fare like Internet conspiracy theorists, cultural divisions. This is a grown-ups album then: despite the reference to Kloot’s worries on his cock size, though thankfully not a French speaker, I have no idea where this obsession springs-up on the album, as it’s only pointed out in the accompanying notes.

It all begins with the opening fuck you attitude of the French new wave, via Lou Reed, Mick Harvey and Anton Barbeau, styled ‘Tu Me Troubles’ (“you disturb me”), which has both bristle and sophistication, coquettish doo wop female backing singers and a touch of Britpop melody. ‘Le Pays’ (“the country”) moves the action towards a smoky blend of the Jazz Butcher and the Bad Seeds, as satellites’ twinkled communications blink over a psychedelic starry, starry night café scene. A spooked Morricone creeps around on the vibrato, cooing female-voiced backed ‘Girl On The Phone’, but it’s Blixa Bargeld fronting the Os Mutantes in a haunted jazz lounge on the title-track.

Raspy, grizzled and also mooning when not crooning, Kloot’s lyricism is fitted with a movable backing of both salon and Muscle Shores piano, strokes of beat music, glam, rock ‘n’ roll, radio city music hall, a touch of Cohen, and on the “lalala” flittered ‘Super Likeus’ a hint of both rebel country and the paisley underground. Yet everything is still contained in the French vogue, if from a unique perspective.

There’s a lot to like about this album, and it goes someway to Andrew Bennett (Jezus Factory’s one-man cottage industry founder) aggrandisement that Kloot is “Belgium’s best kept secret”. If there was any justice in the world (you’re kidding, right?!) this album would reach a wide audience and shine a light on, certainly, one of Belgium’s great talents. It’s also a killer French language songbook that proves the Flemish can indeed sing the Frenchman blues.

Jörg Thomasius ‘Acht Gesänge der Schwarzen Hunde (Experimenteller Elektronik-Underground DDR 1989)’ (Bureau B) 15th April 2022

From the steel curtained side of the Berlin Wall, a second GDR dedicated showcase of electronica from the noted Jörg Thomasius. At various times an artist in his own right (under the Tomato moniker), but also a member of the Das Freie Orchester, a radio show presenter, author, boiler man and exhibition technician, the East German maverick knocked-about with the likes of Andreas Grosser, Lars Stroschen and Conrad Schnitzler – working with the last two to set up the Tonart label. 

It was the former, the renowned technician Grosser who opened up a whole world of electronic exploration, and instigated a train of events that led to Jörg meeting Terry Riley: freely handing out LSD at the time. Whilst under the authoritarian grip, Jörg still managed to connect with the burgeoning scene in West Berlin. And his experiments, collected together here from three different sources, easily fall into the greater Kosmische and new wave brackets.

Acht Gesänge der Schwarzen Hunde brings together diy explorations, peregrinations, sketches from his 80-85 documented Schwarze Hände (“black hands”) cassette, his own Kröten Kassetten label’s Gesänge der Komparsen (“songs of the extras”) 89 release, and the 90s After Eight – released again on another of his own label hubs, just after he left Das Freie Orchester.

Across the majority of this collection each modulated, oscillated, effected idea weighs in under the three-minute mark; glimpsing at, vanishing clips of what could be more expanded, drawn-out scores. The opener, ‘Besen Im kopf’ (“broom in the head”), seems to feature a strung-out, deconstructed orchestra of the avant-garde, classical and even Fluxus kind: Low ship horns sound, the inner workings of a piano resonate with a brassy metallic spindly sound. ‘Okoschadel’ (“eco skull”) and ‘Erste Himmelsmelodie’ (“first heavenly melody”) have more than a hint of early computer tech sampling; the kind Sakamoto was experimenting with in the early 80s. A mix if synthesized cut-ups, tubular bell percussion and staccato fashioned splurges.

‘Küss Mich Mien Liebchen’ (“kiss my love”) features (I take it) Jörg’s vocal ravings over a squiggled loon of underground tape culture, post-punk, Faust and Populäre Mechanik weirdness.

Ghosts in the machine, aerial whirled chattering space birds, slapped beats, timpani and lo fi computerized effects permeate the first nine oddities on this compilation. The tenth and final track however is an expansive twenty-minute plus sun rays ‘Meditation’. In that languid, relaxed time frame, Jörg astral-planes hints of Popol Vuh, Frosse, Ocean Of Tenderness Ash Ra on a new age equinox of spiritual alignment.

The Hamburg label Bureau B continues as custodians of Germany’s past and present electronic, experimental, Kosmische and new wave genres with another intriguing showcase come reminder of East Germany’s part in the underground music scene that defined a generation. Fans of those musical fields will find this an interesting addition to that story.

Qrauer ‘Heeded’
(Nonostar Records) 22nd April 2022

The most electronic signing yet to Alex Stolze’s burgeoning Nonostar imprint, the congruous fit of Christian Grochau and Ludwig Bauer coalesce their respective disciplines once more as the Qrauer duo.

With Christian’s percussionist, production and remix and Ludwig’s pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composing skills, Qrauer’s latest EP is a sophisticated shift of layered electronic body movement techno and reverberated spells both on and inside a neoclassical attuned piano. In the former camp, the EP’s first trio of tracks includes the subtle air-pinched filtered, cybernetic convergence of Four Tet, Carl Graig and trance style techno ‘The Mess’; the tinkling, translucent bulb mirrored short ‘Stardoll’; and the more clean-cut beats meets mysterious and gauzy wooed ‘No Sh.Left’, which features the wafted, ghostly and vaporous vocals of the German singer Sea Of Love.

Taking a slightly different path, the title-track is a sort of experiment in scoring a mini electroacoustic soundtrack. ‘Heeded’ is highly atmospheric, with the echoed resonance of a piano’s guts being touched by various textured materials, and a moving melody of both singular and a more uninterrupted flow of notes played from the keyboard itself. Almost a seamless follow-on, ‘Lustend’ features staccato cut-up samples of a voice and piano, but soon, in a relaxed fashion, bobs along to jug-poured and steel drum reverberated techno effects – like a calypso Phylyps on Basic Channel.

Sounding in many ways like a remix of chamber piano work, with all the original elements washed-out, the Heeded EP is a cerebral version of techno, trance and electronic dance music for people who hanker after more than just a four-to-the-floor beat and repetition. 

Astrel K ‘Flickering I’
(Duophonic Super 45s Mail Order) 29th April 2022

Like one long mirage, a psychedelic tinged wavy trip inside the preoccupations of Rhys Edwards, the newly imagined Astrel K set-up sees the one-time Ulrika Spacek member swim in solo Scandinavian waters.

Although a solo platform, a moniker under which to pursue his songwriting, Astrel K does in fact include an array of local musicians from Rhys new(ish) home of Stockholm. We should of course name them at least: Lili Holényi, Milton Öhrström, Niklas Mellberg and Thomas Hellberg; all of whom make it possible for this hallucinogenic musical world to float.

Leaving behind the now defunct Spacek music factory, KEN, in (one of my old stomping grounds) Homerton, Rhys finds inspiration in the Swedish capital. Via the mail order label, Duophonic Super 45s, his debut Astrel long-player (the first single, the wobbled, languid and quivered Beatles and Velvets jangle, ‘You Could If You Can’ sold out rapidly on vinyl) swimmingly and with a gauzy lushness balances hazy winding L.A. scenery detective and romantic movie scores and tinkled ray-shining Library music with somnolent Floyd, Edward Penfold and Flaming Lips psychedelic pop, dreamwave and distant lingered, suffused trails of saxophone. All elements that come together across golden slumber cooed songs and shorter Stereolab and KPM like instrumental interludes.

Actually, one of the album’s best tracks is the expanded burnished and sax-swaddled ambient score ‘Forwardmomentum’ – reminding me of the Canadian school of such astral peregrinations, Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn’s work.

Whimsy, wistfulness and druggy stupors hide pressing matters in the real world: the anxieties of the environment and online worlds especially. Certain paradoxes and idiosyncratic observations, plaints are dreamily wooed to a most fluid and softened backing of light and shade. Occasionally there’s a touch of fuzz, a little electric grind, but it’s mostly a lunar and tropical affair of psychedelic pop, enervated soundtrack strings, quirky changes, knowing easy-listening and beautifully conveyed, soulful songwriting.

No matter what the themes are, Flickering i is a languorous, swell and trippy bubble of a place to sit and reflect.     

Sinnen ‘Hawk Moth Man’
(Hreám Recordings) 11th April 2022

I’m going to be honest with you all. I’m going in blind with this slow-release of pent-up energy; woes and guitar pedal effects sustain contouring.

Released on the always intriguing, and reliable, Hreám Recordings, Sinnen’s latest drudge and cymbal-splashed resonated traverse has an esoteric menace running throughout its gnawing and yearned core. A psychogeography of darwave, grunge, slowcore, the industrial, doom and the dreamy, the sword and sorcery title referencing Hawk Moth Man reimagines Mike Cooper fronting Sunn O))). Well, at least some of the time.

Shafts of soulful despondency, a release of abstract imagings languidly emerges from a slow-motion dissipation of shimmy and halftime beaten drums and amplified hums, drones. After one of those amplifier-contoured lead-ins, the first expanded track proper, ‘Painting Daisy’, grinds through a sludge of Codine, Fritch and Dinosaur Jnr.; a haze of the occult and that already mentioned grunge sound.

As the title would suggest, the next slow driven gruel, ‘Bury Your Regrets In Frozen Ground’, drags the listener across a harrowed soundscape. By contrast, a brief pause, an interlude of a sorts, ‘Shifter’ is an ambient (almost) vignette of holy orders as preached by Popol Vuh and Vukovar.

Personally I’m hearing shades of Outside Bowie on the very strange and curious ‘Hill’: a creeping sense of menace, trauma that seems to reach back into civil war period England. But it’s the semi-epic slowcore and flange wave, force field vibrating ‘Se Boda’, which sounds like Michael Stipe singing with The Telescopes, in some alternate universe, that I especially love.

There’s much to untangle, demystify from the heavy atmosphere of suspended pain, discord: one being, why the reference to the swordsman character from the 80s cartoon adventure, The Black Cauldron, ‘Taran’? What’s that all about then?

In all that slow dissonance there’s still some light, and so it never feels too dark, too much to bear. Having never crossed paths with the band/artist before, this could be their stock-in-trade signature: or not of course. Anyway, it gets a recommendation from me.

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

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