HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Love Island audition failed once again, Rapture & Verse reverts to bringing you the tastiest hip-hop to tango your chops with. Redbeard’s ‘Misc’ EP packs a fistful of strong, down-to-earth rhymes, triumphing with joypad flex ‘Dead Pixels’, as the iron-chinned guardian to dreamlike assurance that veers into knocks sponsored by seven bells. Loose lips sink ships, but Sinking Ships bite back with the three-track conundrum ‘Foudroyant’, Leviathan and Rat Bastard pushing the everyday into the abstract along a high wire and striding comfortably through a no man’s land defined by one false move. Brollies up for when the ‘Tidal Wave’ of Cappo and Senz Beats breaks defences and provides blunt counsel that shouldn’t be slept on. A superlative remix package has Jazz T, Uncommon NASA, REDA and Lex Boogie all coping with catastrophe with individual adapt/survive tactics. J Lawson’s search for ‘Fools Gold’ over a mean Senz Beats brawler isn’t a bad look either.

Unlikely to put his ‘Reeboks’ on and have a little dance, Baileys Brown bites into a dub bludgeon laced with cosmic sparkles and Axel Holy, Stinking Slumrok and Datkid in tow. A steamroller acting like it ain’t nothing. ‘The Green House’ effect of Eric the Red and El Grobbo is straight goading music by the half dozen, going nose to nose with the crowd in an odd couple throwdown: thickset beats provide shadow when catching rhymes bouncing off the walls. The super ‘Final Form’ is Sampa the Great flattening opposition to the fattest of disco-funk fanfares: get up-stand up multiplied by can’t stop-won’t stop, generates something unstoppable.








Both scholarly and bathed in sunshine, Blu & Exile’s welcome ‘True & Livin’ EP wants to get everyone together, whether that be within cypher, backyard barbeque or think tank, packing more within three tracks than most manage across whole albums. Blu also makes an appearance on the drowsy ‘What Ifs?’, a drifter from Morriarchi and Confucius MC in Old Paradice mode, the subtle spike of discomfort funked up in cool loungewear by Swarvy on the remix. An ode to the ‘Night Shift’ from Murs looks back to set the record straight with some pertinent quotable, Kash’s blooming piano nodding in agreement, before a re-team with 9th Wonder parades a ‘Ga$ Station Gucci Belt’ as a heavyweight challenge staying light on its feet.



There’s no better demonstration of being in the zone than Homeboy Sandman travelling to the ‘West Coast’ and making light speed seem like a Sunday drive. Aesop Rock on the boards serves pure robot-chasing Def Juxism for the circuitous purpose of making complete sense. Ringing bells with boom bap to leave you hunchbacked, J57 and Blame One stoke the fire that causes Mark Ski’s ‘Voodoo’, answering the question that there is such a thing as joyous demolition lasting under two and half minutes. Finland’s Cut Beetlez and New York’s Good People to and fro for the fun ‘Cut People’ EP, an anything goes six tracker of rhymes wounding like a sarcastic slow clap, and a smorgasbord of boom bap rammed into by raw samples and the Beetlez’ trademark contempt for turntables.




Albums

Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin, Jack Danz’ germ peddling ‘TMIB’ gets stone cold/cold stoned as the walls start to drip and reality disintegrates. Mesmeric on his own terms, the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on, manipulates the midnight hour into a seedy object of disdain, remaining heavy enough to give environmental health the finger.





Jazz instrumentalism to a tee from DJ Obsolete induces ‘The Mandela Effect II’, complemented by a crew of emcees to be reckoned with, hurrying up the queue to the booth until another head clocker from the German producer comes through. Nice and relaxed, but with that mean streak made easy, like the 90s used to do. The second volume of Rhettmatic’s ‘Loops, Chops, Beats & Vibes’ is precisely not just that. Early doors the instrumentals are certainly coming from inside the house, the Beat Junkie’s slasher-in-waiting boom bap headlining a bulk load of work for that neck. A premium rate number is DJ Drinks’ ‘Nightline’, switching between getting jazz to force the issue so a red mist starts to fall, and easing on back until ears get warm and blurry. Half an hour of beats that won’t leave you hanging.

The Revorg label compilation ‘Est 2013’ brings up to speed the rock-dwelling community with all of its biggest hitters. Big Toast, Gee Bag, Gatecrasherz, Jack Diggs, CNT, as well as Phoenix da Icefire and MysDiggi, all steam in on a 16-track expo of British firepower: melodious, speaker-tipping beats, and rhymes running ridiculing rings around the unenlightened. Essential.

A seen-it-all-before eye roll set to surprisingly pleasant music – a classic in brave-facing it when the contrary is obvious. Chris Orrick is ‘Out to Sea’, treading water to survive but never leaving you high and dry. A concise collection of Detroit straight talking and a specialist in which battles can and can’t be won, Orrick is able to cut himself some slack with entertaining odes to the munchies and online fraternising.





The serving suggestion for the new Pro album is ‘After Dinner Before Dawn’, and is an album you can’t fault for honesty, in terms of both professional and personal integrity. Someone who won’t stutter, will project his voice and speak clearly, easily slip into a West Coast groove out of East Coast bumps, and whose wisdom fully comes to the fore as the album moves along. Good value.

 Chaotic scenes abound when Injury Reserve’s self-titled album climbs off the bench, though you probably shouldn’t expect anything else from a crew who recorded their first mixtape in a dentist’s office. Tails are up when Rico Nasty, Cakes da Killa and Freddie Gibbs join the trio in creating aggro, when generally they’re not looking to cause trouble or bother nobody. An abrasive leftfield pile-on that levels out, just short of delivering a hotchpotch. Talking of chaotic, Beast Coast are hardly subtle in their ‘Escape from New York’, the massed ranks including Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution riding trap-for-all like a wave machine before creating perplexing sensations when smoothing it out. Strength in numbers barges this one past the winning post.





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Hip-Hop Revue: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Welcome to March’s Rapture & Verse, writers of extraordinary introductions and this month beginning with champions of champions The Kingdem – the improbably heavyweight trio of Rodney P, Blak Twang and Ty – getting down to ‘The Conversation’. Due to the use of “Diplo-styled dolphin vocal loops” it’s not as big a rumpus as anticipated, but certainly works as a summery, elder statesman roundtable. ‘Peep the EP’ and ye shall find BVA shifting with the knuckle-cracking belligerence of a schoolmaster, four tracks getting stuck in with Leaf Dog and Illinformed bringing fire while turning mythical pages. A job-doer not messing around. Ever been told to cheer up, because it might never happen? Illaman is the one to take umbrage with the ‘Give Us a Smile’ EP, pairing a brass neck with a steel stomach and thick skin, getting motivated over beats on the brink and pulling you from ear to ear.





A sympathetic Handbook listens to Supreme Sol being dealt rough hands and rougher handling on ‘Talk Show Host’, a fine, immersive transatlantic collaboration sustaining levels of vivid sourness on ‘Con Consciousness’. Another UK to US brainstorm has London’s Dolenz grinding gears for a typically dour Guilty Simpson on the interesting ‘Pull’, an edgy, industrial-themed click and spark soundtracking the last days of Detroit autonomy, brought into the light by a Darkhouse Family remix.



Ronnie Bosh gives it ‘100%’, sure to make locals edgy once he’s stepped in the place and barged his way to the front with the air of a new, non-shit-taking sheriff in town. Six tracks of ‘Serious Waffle’ is Jimmy Danger getting mouthy on an EP that goes with beats, boasts, bangers and beatings. Dr Syntax, Dirty Dike and Skuff pass through to witness this particular dangerman mashing ‘em down with a sneer you’ll give in to. Snatching the mic with an extended middle finger, Datkid’s ‘Crud Addict’ is two minutes 45 seconds of boorish wind-up merchantry aiming at the front row, a neck wringer where Leaf Dog tinkles the ivories into a catastrophe. Turning the vapour of neo-soul instrumentalism into a significant aphrodisiac, Talos’ onomatopoeic ‘Iridescent’ is a five-track stargazer tweaking the template to keep ears devoted.

The languid attraction of ‘Door Down’ from Chiedu Oraka and Fila Brazillia legend Steve Cobby will knock down a lot of…er…doors when the sun gets fully into position: of cool and not a little cunning. Instrumental soul that’s all in the fingertips, FAIL.WAV celebrates ‘Failuary’ with an eight-sided set of touch-of-a-button smoothness making advances towards your headphones, bringing together far out and warming sounds. Drink ‘Flat Tummy Tea’. Wear a ‘Bandana’. Listen to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, a car chase clearing the lane, followed by bossing the club as the walls drip psychedelics. Wiki drops jewels over the trap-not-trap, boom-or-bust of ‘Cheat Code’, an aggressive player collecting every bonus. El Camino and Benny the Butcher aren’t on ‘Venice Beach’ to relax, creating a sludgy sandstorm with monstrous, last breath strings from Dirty Diggs.






Albums

On ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’, Blu and Oh No mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity. Blu rhymes his ass off, resetting himself when on the verge of catching his own tail as the album develops into a Big L-style heist, and Oh No’s funk soundtrack ducks and dives with similar equilibrium, closing the gap between resplendent and kerbside like a GTA dial twiddle.





Enthusiastically leaving dead air in their wake, Clear Soul Forces are anything but ‘Still’ in their welcome to Detroit, bumpy funk dislodging the dust and doing the road trip experience with tracks to cruise to while getting the whole convoy to jump in. A party album on close-knit terms. Chicago’s WateRR and UK stalwart Farmabeats open up a joint venture: ‘The Dispensary’ mostly deals in lows of gutter-bathed rhymes chewing up a psych-laced sound saying that the summer of love is over, and sometimes darker still. A potent strain. The thrill of the ‘Chase’ is that Aaron May has a casually cool, J Cole-style flow to woo you with, the Houston rhymer needing under half an hour to convince you big things are imminent. Patrons of lazy days and sticky nights should sign up for this immediately.





Home cooking from Choosey and Exile serves ‘Black Beans’ as nuggets of gold, a unifier without any grand gestures, capturing the essence of swapping stories and cautionary tales across a crowded dinner table and reminding you not to forget your manners. The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, the mantra of “trying to break the cycle, like I’m squeezing on handlebars”, and rhymes of a valued familiarity without looking to make new friends, has eyes on a top 10 spot come the end of the year.

SOL Development lay bare ‘The SOL of Black Folk’, a live outfit laying the state of the world on a bed of sensitive musicianship – from coy to rousing – and leaving no hot topic untouched. A readymade spectacle away from the stereo, they honour the formula of raw, eyewitness rhymes and uplifting, educational soul hooks and exclamations, strident (and sometimes grungy) enough to turns nods of agreement into pro-active support. Elaquent’s ‘Blessing in Disguise’, a warm instrumental album painting sunnier climes, guides you down the straight and narrow of a neo-brick road ideal for dinner parties and picturesque picnics, drifting without fading past your ears.

With the cloying hue and scent of deadly nightshade heavy in the air, Sadistik tending to ‘Haunted Gardens’ is a classic in tainted soul catharsis. The passive/aggressive survival, functioning via the need to be numb – “I live and die every day, I’m so versatile” – makes for a doom-laden, backwoods champion when his sub-gothic poetry and demeanour wants to be anything but iconic.





As hirsute superheroes with long-established powers of deduction, the Epic Beard Men, funky bad-asses B Dolan and Sage Francis, entertain when their teasing becomes a punishment of the ignorant. ‘This Was Supposed To Be Fun’ is a prophetic title where the pair buddy up before stopping on a sixpence to admonish the ills around them. The diminishing art of the mic swap is alive and well here, rocking out from Rhode Island through the Midwest. With his status as ‘Destituent’ marking him like a red dot to the forehead, merciful/avenging angel Sole sprints to the centre of the volcano from word one. Running against oddly appropriate 80s synths and rawk, battle-hardened symphonies dragged through a silver screen apocalypse like they used to make, typically fluid, inventive wordplay and a level head belie the inevitability of the worst case scenario as the underground breathlessly spills over.


Words/Selection: Matt Oliver

Hip-Hop Revue: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

A bouquet of beats, Cupid-sent cuts, and rhymes to make your headboard rock – it’s the post-Valentine’s instalment of Rapture & Verse for all you horndogs. Legendary London Posse rhymer Bionic returns as the GreenCryptoKnight, showing you never lose your superpowers as he tears into Jazz T and Zygote’s face slapping, emerald-vinyled ‘Superman’, before adjusting the slicked back specs and tie look on the sombre ‘It Set In Stone’. Circling the drain and enjoying the sensation of tenterhooks snagging the skin, Press1, Sylla B and Dr Syntax face up to the facts of ‘Smartphone Zombies’, far gloomier than the amusing title insinuates. Taking you to down to ‘Suicide City’, where the grass is decidedly not greener and you can decide for yourself about the girls, Onoe Capone turns on the rapid fire with nothing to lose as the “bad guy that’s misunderstood”.





Bonus heat from Nolan the Ninja on the quiet storm ‘IMG’ slickly goes from casual retrospective to show-n-prove tying you up in knots. On some grimy underdog biz, Lee Ricks grits his teeth fully aware that ‘Life’s a Bitch’, fired up by being fed up, peering over the edge to BigBob’s fatefully wistful nodder. Similar grit out of necessity is displayed by the granite-carved David May, right on time when grinding hard on ‘Black Box’ with Lake Indigo pairing Celtic wonder with bass pushing the reds. Yamin Semali passionately defining what it means to be ‘Immortal’ comes with strings leaping from the speakers and a banquet of soul food for thought. Nothing but honest energy on seven amped tracks from DJ Nu-Mark, Slimkid3 and Austin Antoine creates a ‘TRDMRK’. Beats and rhymes loosen the screws on your speakers and make the front row spring-loaded, with Guilty Simpson and Dillon Cooper coming through for the jump-ups.






Albums

Round four of the Czarface chronicles, this time with Ghostface Killah in the guest hot seat. There are times when an isolated Tony Starks feels like a fourth wheel/fifth Beatle – 7L & Esoteric 1, Wu-Tang Clan 0 – but compared to some of his more recent long players his appetite on ‘Czarface Meets Ghostface’ is well up. In amongst the usual play-your-position hurricane of uppercut-landing beats and career-ending 16s from the cipher to the comic book store, is confirmation of what an amazingly consistent emcee Esoteric is. Don’t expect Czarface to relinquish their infinite lives status any time soon.





The unquenchable thirst for blood that motivates Ramson Badbonez, makes ‘Mic Day the 13th’ a date to both revere and fear. RB’s considered decapitations, referencing all your favourite madmen, accomplish carnage with the level-headedness of a double agent whose shift changes under a full moon. While beats go bump in the night, a pokerfaced accomplice of the slasher going about his business, it’s a very British campaign of murder-murder-kill-kill.





You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge. The ‘G.A.W.D.’ complex of Joker Starr is his usual bustling style putting an F word to what you heard, hitting you with a bunch of robustly educational reducers set up by Micall Parknsun with a Blaxploitative nod on the boards. Jack Jetson and Illinformed are the ushers to ‘Strange Cinema’, tuneful head nodders galore until necks feel swollen, and an impactful flow with very little histrionics, even when “I lost my mind, now I found it, but it’s missing bits”: a watertight combination. The latest round of two minute warnings from Bisk, sticky, lo-fi claustrophobia from a peak NYC housing project, makes you squint through the abrupt ‘Gunsmoke’: an absolutely deadly spell of fully clipped relaxation.





Your neckline firmly in his sights, Pitch 92 runs a tight ship in representing ‘3rd Culture’ with a steady hand at the wheel. The Manchester producer must’ve sprinkled some sort of emcee catnip in the booth however, as he brings out some excellent performances from Jehst, Kashmere, Sparkz, Fliptrix, Foreign Beggars, the Four Owls and more. While there’s no doubting that the guests would have come through, you have to give credit to Pitch on the boards for giving them the right and clean balance of canvas to do so.





Seethingly succinct and planning your downfall at his most matey, Rick Fury isn’t quiet in giving his targets what for, signalling the ‘Death of Autumn’ from the North East. Expertly manoeuvring soulful strike-outs from DJ ADS, in tune with the changing colour of the leaves and cannily reworking a trance classic on the album’s finale, Fury intertwines the mutual exclusivity of a simmering glare and a playful bounce to his rhymes, suggesting that if you make yourself comfortable, don’t do overdo it. An emcee able to cancel all challengers.

Boom bap, original rap: Bronx Slang’s self-titled album systematically sorts the wheat from the chaff. On paper their method is foolproof: high protein funk prone to espionage (and from surprise sources), mic-crumbling rhymes, 11 tracks, tag team performance, concepts and comment, plentiful lines to rewind…if all of this sounds overly nostalgic at pains to keep it real, Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship.





How do you like your eggs in the morning? Jazzy, sunny side up and with plenty of snap? Remulak’s plate of ‘Scrambled Eggs’ gets a dusting down and offers an instrumental challenge to any plucky master of ceremonies, doing very nicely for itself when you’re taking a break from putting on the Ritz and wearing spats with a swoosh. Most dapper, and no faking either. A decade’s worth of Oliver Sudden in 46 minutes is a fine flick through the racks that sails down like the first pint of summer. The ‘10 Year Mixtape’, put together by Downstroke and featuring assists from Luca Brazi, Sam Zircon and Ill Move Sporadic, is guaranteed to remove all accumulated crud from your ears: pretty much unskippable.

 

Presenting old skool rules from Positive K and MC Lyte, and the greatness of the Train Robbers.








Words: Matt Oliver


Hip-Hop Review – Matt Oliver




An overdue happy new year from Rapture & Verse – it’s safe to say that once our back was turned for Christmas duty, all the while resisting a trip to Soulja Boy’s house of electronic bargains, the UK dropped an absolute glut of Yuletide goodness. Into the singles first, and it’s heads down hoods up for Baileys Brown’s ‘Horses Mouth’, a gloomy, watery gift for Datkid and Jinxsta JX to stare down in waiting for vengeance to take shape. Should you keep spending most of your life listening to Old Paradice, you’re doing well – Confucius MC and Morriarchi make ‘The Last Resort’ a nice six-track resting place for ears, while a wary eye keeps watch to keep it all business. The ‘2018 Switch Up’ by Benjicong sets a stall out for the new year by niftily weaving in out of Charles Edison’s crystalline stepper, without spilling a drop of the pint his delivery orders.





Jaroo will bruise a few good men when in cahoots with Aver, the six-track ‘Inner Process’ ensuring none shall pass until an epiphany with Tony Skank and Benny Diction lightens the load. A top notch quintet of remixes from Evil Ed includes the geeing up of Ric Branson, and going in to give extra legs to Triple Darkness and Tesla’s Ghost. ‘Heavy Baggage’ has beats and rhymes academics Gee Bag and Downstroke answering the question as to who’s gonna take the weight, a flavourful four tracks to hoist onto your shoulder via ghettoblaster so the whole street knows. Drums to dislocate jugulars already feeling the gust of one-way verbal traffic, IMS and Joey Menza are less about being woke and all about ‘The Wake’: no naps allowed.






Albums

A collaboration that nearly fell through the cracks, Cappo and Cyrus Malachi embodying ‘Postmodernism’ rise from classified coordinates to torch the whole underground radius. A contrast of lyrical imperiousness, to productions from Evil Ed, Chemo, DJ Drinks, Mr Brown and Wytfang that manage to be both modest and a seething reflection of its orators, this is rap combat carried out by chess grandmasters. Exceptional underground hip-hop.

Few fucks are given by Black Josh, running wild towards a smoke-damaged throne stained by cold sweat, doing so by the light of a blood moon, and reminding those who think it’s grim up North that they really have no idea. Then settling into something approaching a more contented train of thought about halfway through where angles start to blur, ‘Yung Sweg Lawd’ stays fluid in intimidation.

Continuing to live a life of diamonds and fun, Juga-Naut’s ‘Bon Vivant’ is always freshly dipped, full of ear-catching pearls of wisdom in his own version of La Vida Loca. Always with the goods to back up the flash, you get gourmet Notts know-how and a tightening game face as the album progresses. Unconvinced? “I dare you to keep up with the wave”. Let MysDiggi entertain you as he scales the ‘Tip of Da Mysberg’ for a third time, a wordsmith whose batteries will never run out, able to pants emcees before they realise their career is around their ankles. Witty and wily as ever, and easygoing even at his most spiteful, a firm UK favourite has your full attention for 18 tracks.





Hey babe, take a walk on the mild side with Lee Scott’s ‘Lou Reed 2000’, a more reticent outing than you may expect, but still inimitably sweating the small stuff. The curtains are drawn back and the sunglasses are off, but Scott as undisputed bard of the bedsit is still “in a league of me own, losing to me self”, when not announcing “compared to me, the speed of light is slow”. You could argue there’s nowt slower than an ‘Acrylic Snail’, but Dirty Dike is a whirlwind with scant regard for the destructive trail he ploughs. Once his mollusc is in motion there’s no point arguing the toss – no holds barred, and painting some pretty repugnant pictures without ever missing a stroke. An endangered species who can flip the script and look into the depths of his soul when not – or peaking at – being “dumb, numb and comfortably ill”.





Proven shit-stirrers BVA and Leaf Dog ‘Return to Stoney Island’ as the Brothers of the Stone, riling front rows as Illinformed dresses soul in steel toecaps and initiates old fashioned bar brawls. You can’t spell boisterous without BoTS, with MoP and Inspectah Deck nailing their colours to the mast so the album crashes through its destination. For all the stink that’s kicked up, a marksman’s precision underlines everything they do – not the only bros to spark recent conversation.





For as long as the world prices up handcarts and one-way tickets to hell, Big Toast’s megaphone will always be in play. Cranked up by 184 on the boards, yet wise enough not to get in Panini Grande’s way, ‘Prolefeed’ maintains the “you are not special” manifesto, passionate defence and cold fact meeting unconcealed incredulity. Like a red cap to a bull, all Hooray Henrys best button their lip or get their ballot box punted down the river.

Boom time for the B-boy union once Chrome winds up and laces a ‘Dopamine Hit’, headlined by the super sprint ‘Shockwave’ with Andy Cooper. Perpetual motion never dwelling on just the nostalgic, Chrome’s dope dealership knows what’s really real, giving the party some perspective amongst the jump-ups. Triumphantly flicking V signs, Damu the Fudgemunk casts ‘Victorious Visions’ of upbeat instrumental boom-bap that checks itself, and a feelgood factor that doesn’t get cosy. Remoulded from his prior ‘Dreams and Vibrations’ project, the purist hallmarks and soul core are what make the visions loud and clear, while ‘Back in the Trenches’ does rugged with the best of ‘em. Beats to set your body clock by. Depending on how hard your hormones are raging, The Doppelgangaz’ latest ‘Beats for Brothels’ appointment has got you covered, all of their instrumentals marked with a certain strut as they move from room to room, from hard thrusts to smooth touches. ‘Volume 4’ is money well spent. Klim Beats provides the soundtrack to a B-boy retreat providing relaxation and pleasant aromas on ‘Crystals’, beginning with mystical orientation before letting breaks simply do their thing so listeners can you use their own imagination.

Full moon scientist Yugen Blakrok is on a relentless grind to the summit on ‘Anima Mysterium’, prophecies and riddles raining down like an RPG sherpa, where you best take the right path or else. Her totem-like standing as the elements rage around her, sounds like she’s memorized every single scripture the universe has to offer. In an apocalyptic world telling you to believe everything and nothing, producer Kanif the Jhatmaster drives on as a similarly irresistible force.





Street cinema to have ‘em hiding in the aisles, the dark arts of ‘A Piece of the Action’/’Motion Picture’ from FLU, ETO and RGZ keeps the situation critical, capitalising on wild west slinging against modern mobster rules. The provision of balance from Blockhead comes with the offer of ‘Free Sweatpants’. Some fine deep space, backpack readies for Homeboy Sandman, Marq Spekt and Armand Hammer, mix in with instrumentals vaulting you out your seat before returning to sender. Aesop Rock uniting with TOBACCO for ‘Malibu Ken’ builds an instant reputation of being a raw synthed, Rubik’s cube of rhymes , yet both happen upon a sharp splinter of hip-hop pitching to the left, but not way out left. Rock’s visual skill and enthusiasm and TOBACCO’s electro neons jumping with VHS flicker and musical 8-bit strain, create a spacious, well paced, Technicolor bounce, easing any trepidation.




Albums Selected By Dominic Valvona and Matt Oliver.





Welcome to Part Two of our alphabetically ordered best/choice/favourite albums of 2018 feature. You can find Part One here…


The decision making process: 

Being the exhaustive and eclectic set of features our albums of the year are, we know you probably don’t need to or want to dally about reading a long-winded prognosis of our judgement process. But in short, here it is anyway.

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more visceral and personal spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists, stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their numbered spot than another.

With no hierarchical order, we’ve lined our album choices up alphabetically; split into two features – Part One: A (Idris Ackamoor) to M (Moonwalks); Part Two:(Thomas Nation) to (Thom Yorke).

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

All selections in PART TWO from me (Dominic Valvona) and Matt Oliver.

N.

Thomas Nation ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’ (Faith & Industry)


 

Fixed intently on the anguishes of identity in a post-Brexit voted England, yet bleaching his 1960s bucolic and 1970s lounge (erring towards yacht rock almost) imbued songbook with nostalgia, the lyrics themselves read as augurs yet embedded on parchment, Blue House front-man James Howard weaves a diaphanous if plaintively foreboding chronicle of the past and present.

Creating a whole new persona as Thomas Nation, his commitment to a hazy timeless sound, both rustic and ambitious, goes as far as using only his rough mono mixes; undeveloped and left in their most honest, purest form. You won’t be surprised to learn that Howard has also released his Nation moniker debut, Battle Of The Grumbles, on cassette tape.

Littered with references to this Island’s past (both at home and overseas), from the illustrated album cover scene of the 16th century ‘Battle of the Spurs’ (when the Holy Roman Empire teamed up with Henry VIII’s England) to more ambiguous stirrings and despondent yearnings that feature musical echoes from across that ages, Battle Of The Grumbles stands metaphorically at the precipice of the white cliffs of Dover awaiting Britain’s fate.

A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside. Full review…

(Dominic Valvona)


Tony Njoku ‘H.P.A.C’  (Silent Kid Records)


 

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 on his stunning new album. 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.

Adrift in so many ways, through his life experiences, transferring as he did 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. From that isolation comes an album 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.

Eloquently in a hymn like fashion between pained malady and the venerable, heavenly but also melancholic and turbulent, H.P.A.C is a futuristic soul album of delicate intellect. Full review…

(DV)



P.

Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing ‘Finish What We Started’  (Village Live)



“Mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration…with all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall” – RnV July 18

Featuring “beats to make your eyebrow dip” and the flow of one of the UK’s most reliably disdainful when it comes to holding your own, Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing made the very good decision to turn 2017’s one-off ‘The Raw’ into a 40 minute non-apology for playing the game properly. With hip-hop mumbling its way to the dogs, this pair have fire in the belly for the unfashionable return to beats and rhymes designed to stick around and give a damn. Measured run-ups streaked with bluesy, soulful headspace occupancy (with drums front and centre each and every time), a crux of blockbusters and pure boom bap battery, all land like a two-footed tackle, Thing researching and sculpting ‘the real’ without making it a puff piece on nostalgia or announcing they’re here to save the world. Park-E does his utmost to remain an upstanding citizen, pushed to his limits by both Thing’s heavyweight kicks and snares and general scene lethargy. The emcee’s systematic, it’s on when I say so-flow, perfectly lands the elbow once the producer has left you staggering backwards.

(Matt Oliver)

Josh T. Pearson ‘The Straight Hits’  (Mute)


 

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out onto the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ with his latest album for Mute Records.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell! Full review…

(DV)



Q.

Qujaku ‘Qujaku’ (So I Buried Records)


 

Occupying both the spiritual and cosmic planes, emerging from the gloom and holy sanctuaries of the dead, the brooding Hamamatsu-based Japanese band Qujaku wowed with their second album of operatic Gothic and psychedelic doom-mongering. Beginning as they mean to go on, the opening ‘Shoko No Hakumei’ suite, more an overture, is itself a full on Ring cycle (as conducted by Boris) that is dramatic and sprawling: running almost the entire length of a full side of a traditional vinyl album.

On a very large foreboding canvas, Qujaku build-up an impressive tumult across the album’s nine-tracks of prowling esotericism and galloping drum barrage immensity. Between crescendo-bursting three-part acts and shorter volatile slabs of heavy caustic drone rock, the group often evokes an Oriental Jesus And Mary Chain, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Spacemen 3, or Nine Inch Nails when at their most enraged. Psychedelic in the mode of The Black Angels, but also straying at their most languid and navel-gazing towards Shoegaze, Qujaku’s dark spanning cacophony of throbs and trembles bear many subtle nuances and becalmed breaks amongst the masses and maelstroms.

On an epic scale, dreaming big and intensely, Qujaku perform the most dramatic of daemonic theatre. Full review…

(DV)



R.

RAM ‘August 1791’ 


 

Considering the tumultuous bloody revolution from which an independent Haiti was born, RAM leader Richard A Morse‘s “Our existence is a political statement” mantra is unsurprising. Named after the initials of their road well travailed founder, RAM perform an entrancing spectacle of the ritualistic. Morse, originally born in Puerto Rico but brought up in Connecticut, spent the 80s rubbing shoulders with the polygenesis New York art and music scene’s Jean-Michel Basquiat and Warhol’s factory. His interest piqued by the new wave’s adoption of Afro-diaspora rhythms and world music, Morse decided to travel to his native homeland to study the Haitian sound.

The son of Haiti folk legend Emerante de Pradine, Morse was already well aware of his ancestral roots, but had yet to indulge in or absorb the rich history of the island fully. After an initial short trip, Morse found himself it seems so seduced and inspired by Haiti’s culture that he decided to stay for good. Marrying local dancer and singer Lunise, he kick started the frenzied, rambunctious troupe, channeling the ideas he picked up on in New York and merging them with the signature instrumentation and sounds of the local Vodou belief, mizik-rasin and the drifting currents of the Caribbean and Africa.

This year’s odyssey, guided by the spirits and with dedications to the marternel and those that have helped (including the pivotal film director Jonathan Demme, who prominently featured one of their tracks in his or award-winning Philadelphia movie in 1994) shaped the band over the years, springs from Haiti’s enslaved population’s struggle for independence from its European masters. August 1791, the year and month of revolution (inspired by their colonial masters own revolution), frames this tropical fusion of tragedy and sauntering joy. Returning to the legends that sparked this fight, such as the ill-fated former slave turned leader of revolt, Toussaint Louverture (driving out the Spanish and British but captured and imprisoned under Napoleon’s regime; languishing in a cell at Fort de Joux until he died in 1803), and first Emperor of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (assassinated by disgruntled members of the burgeoning administration), RAM evoke the spark that set in motion the first free republic of African heritage people in the Western hemisphere. Their seventh album not only pays tribute but features a musical accompaniment from that era; with a sound more or less, when stripped to its essence, that would be familiar to the Creole and African communities of the late 18th century.

Uniting in a busy percussive fusion the Americas with the roots of Africa, RAM bustle and hustle traditions to produce a paean to the Island they call home.

(DV) 



Soho Rezanejad ‘Six Archetypes’


 

Impressive in all its striking celestial and throbbing distressed staccato shimmer the experimental Danish artist Soho Rezanejad’s ethereal but equally futurist dystopian ambitious new LP, Six Archetypes, is a bold exploration of identity politics.

Interplaying six of the major character symbols (The Guardian, The Orphan, The Seeker, The Russian, The Idealist, The Prostitute) from the Tarot with Carl Jung’s Psychological writings on the collective and structured reality, Rezanejad weaves the complex contemporary themes of gender liquidity and self-discovery into an amorphous mix of electronica, darkwave and Gothic pop suites.

Though not always audible, Rezanejad’s untethered vocals – vaporous and often ghostly undulating in an aria style – whisper, coo, lull, pant, wrench and shout throughout the shard majestic and multilayered intricate backing of synthesized, programmed, modeled sounds. It’s a striking voice too. At times, such as the beautiful but serious stellar flight of the navigator, Bjork meets Chino Amobi, rotary opener Pilot The Guardian, she sounds like Nico. And at other times, such as the lush Bowie/Sylvian synchronicity, Soon, her vocals sound like a mixture of Jesus Zola and Lykke Li.

Returning to the soil, so to speak, Rezanejad saves her most heartfelt yearn until the end; lovingly but starkly impassioned, singing in her ancestral tongue of Farsi – Rezanejad is the daughter of first generation Iranian immigrants – the National Council Of Resistance Of Iran’s alternative national song in protest against the state’s heavy-handed ideology.

An ambitious debut opus of dark beauty and ominous despair, Six Archetypes is a highly impressive cosmology of gender, roots and futurism politics and narratives. Full review…

(DV)



S.

Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’


 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017.

The latest and possibly most restive of all his (if you can call it that) albums is the spasmodic computer love transmogrification ROM-COM. An almost seamless record, each track bleeding into, or mind melding with the next, the constantly changing if less ennui jumpy compositions are smoother and mindful this time around. This doesn’t mean it’s any less kooky, leaping from one effect to the next, or, suddenly scrabbling off in different directions following various nodes and interplays, leaving the original source and prompts behind. But I detect a more even, and daresay, sophisticated method to the usual skittish hyperactivity.

Almost uniquely in his own little orbit of maverick bastardize electronic experimentation, Spackman, who builds many of his own bizarre contraptions and instruments, strangulates, pushes and deconstructs Techno, the Kosmische, Trip-Hop and various other branches of the genre to build back up a conceptually strange and bewildering unique sonic shake-up of the electronic music landscape. Full review…

(DV)


Otis Sandsjö ‘Y-OTIS’ (We Jazz Records)  


 

Imbued as much by the complex language of North American and European modernist jazz as those who use it to riff on in the hip-hop and electronic music genres, the adroit Gothenburg saxophonist and composer Otis Sandsjö transmogrifies his own jazz performances so they transcend, or at least amorphously (like liquid) expand into polygenesis soundscapes.

Y-OTIS reimagines a musical union between Flying Lotus and Donny McCaslin, or better still, Madlib reconstructing the work of 3TM; the flow, if you can call it that, sounding like a remix deconstruction in progress as the rapid and dragging fills and staggered rolls of his group’s drummer Tilo Webber are stretched out, inverted and reversed into a staccato to dynamic bursting set of breakbeats and loops. Mirroring all the various cut-and-paste techniques of the turntablist maestros, Sandsjö and his dexterous troupe of keyboardist Elias Stemeseder, bassist Petter Eidh and Webber sound like a group being remixed in real time, live: And it sounds brilliant, as you’re never quite sure where each of these compositions is going to end up.

Sandsjö’s debut album, released via the Helsinki festival and label platform We Jazz Records, is a multilayered serialism suite of ideas and experimental visions. All of which, despite that complexity and blending of sophisticated avant-garde jazz, hip-hop, R&B, trip-hop and dance music, keep an ear out for the melody. If the ACT label, or ECM, ever converges with Leaf and Anticon, Y-OTIS might well be the result. Full review…

(DV)



Scran Cartel ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’  (Scran Cartel)



“A great, belt-loosening spread grilling you with much more than just a bunch of culinary one-liners” – RnV Aug 18

Brit grafters MNSR Frites (Granville Sessions) and Benny Diction (Corners) read you the specials for twelve fascinating tracks, packing foot-related rhetoric from the moment the dinner bell sounds. It’s quite an accomplishment to master such a particular angle without it being a gimmick, and easy to forget that ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’ is not specifically a concept album, just an expression of culinary love. These two really know their cookbooks and have a shopping list that you can’t check out quick enough, from cordon bleu menu toppers to bread and butter basics and young at heart sweetshop favourites, the Estuary English plating your three squares a day with the same near-apathy as they do exotic, forbidden fruit. The jazzy, funky beats are garnish to the duo cookery schooling everyone, indulging in one sub-grime moment on the E-numbered ‘Dundee’, and a cultural knowhow showing that greed isn’t always good, adds weight to their sprattish statement of “we write and record rap songs about food”. A chef fingers’ kiss for this one.

(MO)


Skyzoo ‘In Celebration of Us’  (First Generation Rich)



“Some of the smoothest psychology and concrete consciousness you’ll hear this year. One to be toasted over and over” – RnV Feb 18

Giving ‘In Celebration of Us’ the grown man rap label is a bit of a giveaway given Skyzoo’s opening skit of confiding in a pal about giving up the streets for the sake of his newborn. The Brooklynite and new father speaks a lot of sense, a flow that will express disappointment rather than anger and keep the titular celebrations modest, and attracts a captive audience when aiming at your head twofold, comprehensively ensuring the wateriness of neo-soul doesn’t just ebb away, or the dustiness of Detroit-style beats fugs your judgement. Picture a sometimes reluctant lecturer, as everyman as the tales you’ll familiarise yourself with, but giving you the full education once the mic in his hand. Not clinging to verse, hook, verse structure, Skyzoo doesn’t ramble, rather makes certain that he’s examined everything from top to bottom, very much schooled in knowing that if something’s worth doing, do it properly. Enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy – there are some undeniably slick, R&B moves crossing over as well – and rather more pensive when presented with the cold light of day.

(MO)


The Last Skeptik ‘Under the Patio’  (Thanks for Trying)



“An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness: dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach” – RnV July 18

Intense from The Last Skeptik, extremely well connected and arguably more well rounded since after a spell of paying extra-curricular dues. Surrounding himself with a boiling pot of hungry emcees gets a maximum return from teeth gritted, rapid fire, pound the road, witty unpredictables, all of whom casually playing down their iron mic grip. Synth-wired, at times spindly beats either host the back-to-mine session or storm the stage, perfect for its roll call – Bonkaz, Kojey Radical, Doc Brown, Scrufizzer but four headliners to pick from – to move through and dominate while playing the back, with motive or just willing daylight away. While originally noted for soundtracking summer humidity, ‘Under the Patio’ is decidedly not an album for office hours. Dabbling in shades of the exotic and skilfully soulful throughout for an album of rough edges, it’s the careful contrasts – the haunting ‘Hide & Seek’ featuring Matt Wills, the inexplicable but permissible ‘Calm Down’ inviting The Manor round for a knees up (there’s the versatility for you) – and Skeptik’s own version of ‘Deep Cover’ on posse cut ‘Oxymoron’ – that triumph in their cohesion to give TLS a massive W.

(MO)


Stella Sommer ’13 Kinds Of Happiness’ (Affairs Of The Heart)


 

In the vogue of an age-old central European malady, the dour romanticism that permeates the stunning solo debut album from the German singer/songwriter Stella Sommer is wrapped in a most beautiful gauze of melodious uplift and elegiac heartache.

Artistically, as the results prove, making the best decision of her career, Sommer steps out for a sojourn from her role in the German band Die Heiterkeit. Far from an extension of that group (though band mates Hanitra Wagner and Phillip Wolf both join her on this album), there are of course concomitant traces of it. Sommer however makes louder but also accentuates these traces and lingering relationships; her lived-in, far-beyond-her-years vocal more sonorous and commanding than before.

Possibly as perfect as an album can get, 13 Kinds Of Happiness is an ambitious, slowly unveiling album of diaphanous morose. Pastoral folk songs and hymn-like love trysts are transduced by a Gothic and Lutheran choral liturgy rich backing that reimagines Nico fronting Joy Division, or Marianne Faithfull writhing over a Scary Monsters And Super Creeps era Bowie soundtrack (especially on the galloping Northern European renaissance period evoking thunderous drumming ‘Dark Princess, Dark Prince’; just one of the album’s many highlights). I don’t use that Nico reference lightly: Sommer channeling the fatalistic heroine’s best qualities atmospherically speaking.

A curious Teutonic travail of venerable lovelorn despair and modesty, Sommer’s debut LP will take time to work its magic. But work its magic it will. A tremendous talent lyrically and vocally, serious and astute yet melodically enriching and lilted, her sagacious deep tones are starkly dramatic, but above all, rewarding. Here’s to a solo indulgence that I hope long continues. Full review…

(DV)


Station 17 ‘Blick’  (Bureau B)


 

With near enough thirty years of experience behind them and a changeable lineup of both musicians with and without various disabilities, the Station 17 collective once more shift their focus and sound; moving away from the all-out pop of the last album Alles Für Alle for a more improvised travail through the Krautrock, Kosmische and experimental electronica cannon.

Free of predetermined structures, lyrics and ideas they enjoyed an improvised freedom; inviting a host of German musical royalty to take part in what is a collaborative recording experience – something they’ve done in the past, having worked with icons such as Michael Rothar and the late Holger Czukay. And so each of the album’s tracks feature the signatures sounds and quirks of its guests: The writhing prehistoric Krautrock-jazzy Le Coeur Léger, Le Sentiment D’un Travail Bien Fait for example features the guiding avant-garde, ‘musique concrète’ presence of drum and bass partnership of Jean-Hervé Péron (the French title track I dare say his idea) and Zappi Diermaier; key founders of the reverent agent provocateurs Faust, who in recent decades have broken away to form their own iteration of the group under the faUSt banner. And, though only as part of its most modern regeneration, Tangerine Dream’s Ulrich Schnauss appears to gaze through a progressive Kosmische tinged explored ‘astronomical telescope’ on the album’s heaven’s gate opening finale.

From another generation, Dirk Dresselhaus, aka Schneider TM, appears both as an engineer, capturing these sessions and crafting them into a coherent album, and as a collaborator on the kooky bossa nova preset Die Uhr Spricht. Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! infamy appears alongside Station 17 singer Siyavash Gharibi on the poppier, Der Plan-esque Dinge, and another Andreas, Andreas Dorau, joins the same upbeat, marimba like candour on what we’re told is an “enduring appraisal of post-capitalist perversion”, Schaust Du, whilst Datashock travel through the primordial soup into another dimension on the Acid Mothers-hitch-a-ride-aboard-the-Cosmic Jokers-spaceship Zauberpudding.

Turning the dial on an imaginary radio station, attuned to all the highlights from Germany’s most experimental if rhythmic decades, Blick confidently absorbs the influences and inspirations of its multitude of guests to produce social commentary and reflect on the here and now. Full review…

(DV)



T.

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (Hive Mind Records)


 

The amorphous traversing post-rock and jazz travelogue from Brazilian guitarist/composer Rodrigo Tavares is filled with a sense of contemplation and meditation, and a yearn for the spiritual. The spiritual is represented in Congo’s genesis; the catalyst for Tavares soundtrack inspired, in part at least, by a visit to the controversial ‘spiritual healer’ John of God – a medium, psychic surgeon of dubious repute -, who lives in the remote central Brazilian town of Abadiânia. The meditative, in this case, runs throughout the suggestive instrumental passages and vignettes that ponderously drift, cascade and ebb across a real and imagined borderless global soundtrack.

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

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

(DV)


Samba Touré ‘Wande’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated and accomplished; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook: previous releases were produced during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for autonomy in the north eastern regions of Mali. Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande; though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues ‘Yerfara/We Are Tired’ could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. ‘Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done)’ even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon. But whatever you do, don’t call this is a desert blues album, or even an African one; Touré correctly insistent that this is contemporary ‘universal’ rock music.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré masterpiece. Full review…

(DV)


Ty ‘A Work of Heart’  (Jazz Re:Freshed)



“Almost feels like a magic carpet ride over the capital’s skyline; come and spread your arms if you really need a hug” – RnV Mar 18

Soft focus viewed with the wisest of eyes cutting through life’s smokescreen: the eminent UK statesman preserves the essence of never getting too high or too low. Ty has long had that trustworthy delivery of a life coach who can pep you up – inspirational with quiet authority – and tell you to man up without raising his voice, any hints at vulnerability given the very British keep calm and carry on treatment (“when you smile with me publicly I’m wearing a mask, gritting my teeth, a wolf in a bundle of sheep”). The liltingly clean production is what might turn a few ears belonging to those thinking hip-hop’s not for them – right from the off it’s of a Ty-tracked, toasted cinnamon bun snugness, a concrete jungle paved with a yellow brick road heading towards promised lands, but with the plain sailing carrying some turbulence. ‘A Work of Heart’ sounds as good as when Jack Frost comes knocking, as much as when the summer’s hose pipes were forbidden fruit. And like the first blooms of spring. AND the first leaves of autumn falling too.

(MO)



U.

U.S. Girls  ‘In A Poem Unlimited’  (4AD)


 

Featuring most of the Toronto cast of collaborators that propelled the first U.S. Girls release for 4AD records, Half Free, forward, but stretched and lushly flexed into space boogie and other equally eclectic grooves by the city’s multi-limbed collective The Cosmic Range, Meg Remy’s latest cerebral pop revision tones down some of the vibrancy for acerbic, sax-wailing pouted-lips resignation and introversion.

Moving across the border from the USA with her husband and musical collaborator Maximilian Turnbull, aka guitar-slinging maverick Slim Twig, long before Trump reached The White House, Remy has broadened her postmodernist transmogrification of bleeding hearts 60s girl group meets tape-loops signature to accommodate femme fatale disco and funk since making a new home for herself in Canada.

The momentum of this album fluctuates throughout, and compared to Half Free, takes a lot to bed in and flow – and I’m still not sold on the two skits -, starting as it does with the aching ponderous slow burner Velvet 4 Sale – perhaps Remy’s most dark fantasy yet, imaging (just imagining mind) a role reversal of power, as she implores a girl friend to buy a gun for protection, impressing that the only way to change men is for women to use violence. An unsettling twist played out to a dragging soul fuzz backing track, the song’s central tenant imagines a world where women take up arms against men, though Remy ‘deplores violence’ of course. It’s followed by an equally sensually nuzzling sax and yearned vocal performance, and take on the Plastic Ono Band, Rage Of Plastic, before picking up with the album’s most bouncy weaponized boogie, M.A.H. – a chic Ronnie Spector fronting Blondie style diatribe broadside aimed at the democrats venerated saviour Obama, who Remy condemns for the charismatic charm seduction that pulled-the-wool over many supporters eyes, hiding the fact that he presided over a covert number of unsavory drone strikes.

Hardly disarming then, In A Poem Unlimited deplores the present hierarchy with a seething checked rage, set to a challenging but melodious soundtrack of yearning no wave, scintillating chic disco, Plastic Ono Band soul, vaporous 80s pop and even jazz. The patriarch comes in for some scathing poetic justice; played out to some of the year’s best tunes and performances. Full review…

(DV)



V.

Vukovar ‘Infinitum’ (Le Recours Forêts Production)

Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’


 

Among the most prolific of bands, Vukovar have released two of their most stunning albums in just the last quarter of 2018 alone. Keeping to the signature three-syllable grandly entitled Gothic statements of malcontent, melodrama, aggrandizement and melconholy, both Infintum and Monument romantically encircle the void better and with more sagacious quality than previous records. Though only in existence for barely three years, and perhaps already splitting up, Vukovar are improving on every release. Both are included because…well, I can’t make my mind up about which of these recent opuses of despair and hermetic exploration I prefer.  Hell….they’re both great. And here’s why:

The fifth LP in the malcontent’s cannon, Infinitum, pulls at the mortal coil of human misery in a murky quagmire. An endless backing track of reverberating delayed snare strikes, a rolling timpani bounding bass drum, esoteric stately sounding waltzes, unwieldy bestial guitar, resigned new romantic synth and escaped melodies muddily, and often amorphously, swim and oscillate around a combination of longing, if worn down and depressed, swooning vocals and Rimbaud-meets-Crowley-meets-Kant-on-the-edge-of-an-abyss poetic despairing narration, on what is a bleak if at times gloriously dark beauty of an album.

Bound-up in their own self-imposed limitations, these anarchistic dreamers go one further than the Hebrew code of law commandments by adhering to 13 of their own; each one a rule or restriction in the recording process that couldn’t be broken, at any cost. So strict were these conditions that even if the band were close to finishing the album, any infringement no matter how minor, would result in the entire sessions being abandoned. Mercifully they made it through to the end; releasing a troubled, bleak lo fi ritualistic romance of an grand opus.

Cut from the same cloth, but collaborating with an undoubted influence, the group’s sixth LP, Monument, traverses the void with Current 93 stalwart and producer/composer Michael Cashmore (appearing under the guises of his Nature And Organization nom de plume). A congruous in what is a melancholy harrowing romantic partnership with the morbidly curious Vukovar, Cashmore leads with a vaporous, industrial and often godly (whichever God/Gods they be) brutalist swathe of sagacious moodiness. Arguably inheritors of Current 93 and, even more so, Coil’s gnostic-theological mysticism and brooding venerable communions, Cashmore seems the obvious foil. Current’s The Innermost Light and Coil’s (and John Balance’s swan song as it were) The Ape Of Naples both permeate this conceptual opus.

From haunting melodrama to harrowing decay, unrequited love to radiant escape, the loss of innocence and youth to sagacious death rattles, Vukovar prove ideal torchbearers of the cerebral Gothic sound and melancholic romanticism. A meeting of cross-generational minds with both partners on this esoteric immersive experience fulfilling their commitments, Monument shows a real progression for Vukovar, and proves a perfect vehicle for Cashmore’s uncompromising but afflatus ideas to flourish in new settings, whilst confirming his reputation and status.

Whatever happens next, this ambitious work will prove a most fruitful and lasting highlight in the Vukovar cannon; one that’s growing rapidly, six albums in with a seventh already recorded; another ‘momentous’ statement that affirms the band’s reputation as one of the UK’s most important new bands. Full reviews…

(DV)



Y.

‘Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs Of World War II’  (Six Degrees)  


 

In light of the recent Tree Of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, the increasingly uncomfortable language and hostility from the far Left, and the rising tide of European wide anti-semitism, this most tragic songbook of WWII Soviet Union laments from the Jewish community that joined Stalinist Russia’s defence against the Nazis, is a timely reminder of persecution from the graveyard of history. 400,000 men and women signed up to fight Hitler’s forces in one of the most bloody and apocalyptic campaigns in military history. If gratitude was ever warranted, the fate that awaited many of the survivors was anything but; mistrust and resentment instead led to swathes of the Soviet Union’s Jews being imprisoned, tortured and murdered by Stalin’s regime, their sacrifice for the mother nation all but airbrushed out of existence – almost.

Thought lost in the annals of time; suppressed, if not destroyed, the tragic but poetic WWII testaments, made lyrical prose, of just a small cross-section of Russia’s Jews is given the richly evocative and adroit production showcase it deserves by a collective of professors, producers and musicians. Originally unified in an anthology by an ethnomusicologist from the Kiev Cabinet For Jewish Culture, Moisei Beregovsky, alongside colleague Rovim Lerner, hundreds of Yiddish songs written by Red Army soldiers, victims and survivors of the Nazi’s massacres were gathered in the hope of being eventually published and performed. Unfortunately at the very height of the Communist Party’s purges in the decades that followed the end of WWII, both these well-intentioned preservationists were arrested. Subsequently the project was never finished, the work sealed up and hidden away. But as it would later transpire, not destroyed.

Transcribing these laments and firsthand accounts of endurance (many of which included testament evidence to various Nazi atrocities) would take patience, skill but above all respect. The results of this this most tragic desideratum are underscored by the musical director and violinist Sergei Erdenko‘s conducted stirring accompaniment ensemble of classically trained instrumentalists and singers; all of whom were brought together by the producer, and overseer (one amongst a whole group of people that have perserved, shared and made this project possible over the decades) Dan Rosenberg.

Songs of heroism, stoic belief, and even more violently encouraging prompts to machine gun as many Nazis as possible, are brought back to life. But despite the materials obvious harrowing and tragic heart-wrenching nature, the music throughout is a dizzying, waltzing mix of Yiddish, Roma, Klezmer, folk and even jazzy cabaret that’s often upbeat. The band does a sterling job in giving voice to those suppressed individuals and the songs that were believed lost forever, destroyed by a regime that would treat its loyal Jewish community, many of which made the ultimate sacrifice and wholeheartedly believed in the socialist doctrine, little better than the Nazis they so valiantly overcame. Yiddish Glory is not just a reminder however, or even just a revelation, but a beautifully produced and evocative performance. Full review…

(DV)


Thom Yorke ‘Suspiria (Music For The Luca Guadagnino Film)  (XL Recordings)


 

I’ve no idea of the inimitable Thom Yorke‘s methodology and process – whether he composed directly to a cut of Luca Guadagnino‘s remake, or, went away on the premise that…well, it’s Suspiria, and this iconic Gallo trip knows exactly what sort of a soundtrack it thirsts for, so I’ll just make it up in me head -, but whatever it is, his evocative harrowing soundtrack technique works; providing an eerie balance of spine-chilling tension and beautiful dreamy waltzes.

Elevating further the progressive and ritualistic treatment of the original 1977 Suspiria movie soundtrack by Italy’s revered Goblin, Yorke’s mirror-y hypnotised lingered vignettes and bestial guttural scares are treated with earnest seriousness.

If a film could be even more stylised than its original forbearers, this post-millennial disturbed take by Gundagino is an artistically knowing, conceptually aloof indulgence for the senses that receives the most stunning, richly esoteric of soundtracks. Compelling, alluring and plaintive; using many of the arty macabre’s signature tricks, atmospheric mood stirrers and prompts – from heightened Gothic choral aches to Carpenter meets Oldfield piano note and tubular chiming nerve tinklers – Yorke sets out his soundtrack somewhere between the perimeters of Kubrick, magic realism, psychological drama, Dario Argento, Francois de Roubaix and his very own solo work.

The proof is in the candle-lit shadowy mood induced eating of course, and sitting as I was in the daylight of the early afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel unnerved enough to check behind the curtains for murderous witchery dance troupe teachers, who’s intent was to embed a sacrificial knife into my skull. Yes I was spooked.

A frightful but often ethereal magical score, Yorke matches his Radiohead foil, Jonny Greenwood in the field of soundtracks: an artform all in itself. I’ve no doubt it will become a cult album; equal to the sacred Goblin score, if not, dare I suggest, an improvement.

(DV) 



Playlist: Chosen by Dominic Valvona & Matt Oliver/ Curated by Dominic Valvona





Priding ourselves on the diverse, pan-global playlists we collate for your aural pleasure and indulgence, the Monolith Cocktail Quarterly Revue series is the eclectic behemoth of them all. With no demarcation of any kind or rules we mix the harrowing and gothic with beckoning polyrhythmic dancefloor screamers, flights of panoramic fantasy with raging protestations, and the most sublime peregrinations with experimental cries from the wilderness.

Everything you find on this playlist has either featured on the site over the last three months or been in our general orbit (the sheer volume of music we get sent means there is inevitably issues of space and time, and so some great tracks just don’t make it; this is our chance to feature those lost tracks). Below you will find a full track list, including links to reviews.


Tracklist:-


Malawi Mouse Boys  ‘Hunger (Hymn)
Spike & Debbie  ‘Strike – Compilation Version
Dur-Dur Band  ‘Yabaal
Goatman  ‘Jaam Ak Salam’
Mac Miller  ‘Party On Fifth Ave.
Parquet Floors  ‘Wide Awake’
LCD Soundsystem  ‘Oh Baby – Lovefingers Remix’
Papernut Cambridge  ‘The Hobbledehoy
Yuzo Iwata  ‘Gigolo’
Soft Science  ‘Undone
Stella Sommer  ‘Dark Princess, Dark Prince
Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Delight
Yiddish Glory (Loyko, Alexander Sevastian, Sophie Milman)  ‘Shpatzir in Vald (A Walk In The Forest)
Yazz Ahmed  ‘The Lost Pearl – Hector Plimmer Remix
John Coltrane  ‘Impressions – Take 3’
Thelonious Monk  ‘Nutty, Pt. 2’
RAM  ‘Dambala Elouwe’
Vaudou Game  ‘Tata Fatigue’
Derya Yıldırım, Grup Şimşek  ‘Uc Kiz Bir Ana’
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids  ‘Land Of Ra’
Bixiga 70  ‘Quebra Cabeça
Etuk Ubong  ‘Black Debtors’
Ayalew Mesfin  ‘Hasabe (My Worries)’
Ippu Mitsui  ‘Shift Down
Otis Sandsjo  ‘Teppich
Nyeusi  ‘Jupiter’s Giant Red Spot’
Angels Die Hard  ‘Acid Beach
Mothers  ‘PINK’
Rat The Magnificent  ‘Up The Street
American Nudism  ‘Future 5-0’
Dead End, M, Second Son  ‘Let The Music Talk
Tenesha The Wordsmith, DJ Khalab  ‘Madea’
CRIMEAPPLE, Big Ghost Ltd.  ‘Your Love’
The Last Skeptik, Mikill Pane, Allana Verde  ‘Rules Of Engagement
Beans, Sam Fog  ‘The Black Chasm’
Bronx Slang  ‘Rushing The Stage
Wordburglar  ‘Rental Patient
Gunshot  ‘Sulphur
Stringmodulator  ‘Betwixt & Between
Laure Briard  ‘Janela’
Brian Bordello  ‘Eddie Cochran’
Simon Love  ‘God Bless The Dick Who Let You Go
Picturebox  ‘The Vicar’s Dog
Atmosphere  ‘Make It All Better Again’
Daniel Rossen  ‘Deerslayer’
White Denim  ‘Good News’
La Luz  ‘Mean Dream’
Kammerflimmer Kollektief  ‘Action 3: Thoughtless, Hamburg


Previous Quarterly Revues From 2018 



ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER





What a blockbuster month in hip-hop it’s been… Snoop setting the world’s biggest gin and juice record. Eminem and Nicki Minaj reportedly going steady. 50 Cent against Ja Rule, episode #89. Seven tracks being the new 18 tracks plus intro, outro and skits, plus bonus disc.

And there’s also been Pusha T versus Drake: ‘Daytona’ is a significant, title belt-claiming blow that’ll take some recovering from – the latter’s ‘Scorpion’ is imminent, with the additional angle of Martin Shkreli weighing in. Kanye’s ‘Ye’ poses more questions than answers, which is precisely what makes the man, while Nas & Kanye’s ‘Nasir’ has its moments, but falls short of what the dream team billing promises and certainly needs more room than the running length du jour. This is before we’ve even had time to take on Kid Cudi & Kanye’s ‘Kids See Ghosts’, or attempted to try and keep up with The Carters.

 

Singles/EPs

Dead Residents’ ‘Style Terrorist #1’ weighs an absolute ton, a clunky renegade barking like a sergeant major wearing influences as badges of honour. Heist vibes in full effect when Mr Brown sets a tripwire and infra red assault course and Confucius MC and Jehst come abseiling in through windows, all in the name of protecting ‘The Art-form part 2’, warning that “the ultimate high is the overdose”. One man’s lazy day on the river is another’s circled by sharks – Benofficial’s ‘Machine Gun Benny’ perfects the casual-smarting look. On the edge of grime and trap, VersesBang is sonically and sartorially sharp with seven tracker ‘Dressed to Kill…Myself’, well-paced so as to let listeners take a peek behind the big time persona (“I need to take control, like playing FIFA when it ain’t my go”).





After destroying airwaves with one of the freestyles of recent times, Black Thought rises above all of the aforementioned hullaballoo with the six track ‘Streams of Thought’. Augmented by 9th Wonder’s telepathy, soulfully shaded but a no-go zone for suckers, it’s an absolute lesson in politics, autobiography and pure battle-hardened craftsmanship that number one spots are reserved for. Parading the glamour life before denting it hard, Conway the Machine and Sonnyjim, with business-like savagery, cause ‘Death by Misadventure’, professional professors in the science of not flinching when stakes get high. To pianos that go left where ‘Still DRE’ went right, Blank Face and Tools Beastly ride the streets on ‘Gunslinger’, advising against feeling lucky. Trademark street cinema from Endemic Emerald joins with French generals 87 Escadron for the war report ‘Mercenaires’, army fatigue gruffness driving through the eye of the storm with Ruste Juxx and Tragedy resuming support. Add Apollo Brown carefully stirring emotions with boom bap going deep in thought, to Locksmith laying bare introspection, ideas and education, and the answer of ‘No Question’ is empathetic and quietly emphatic.




Albums

This year, Ramson Badbonez is ‘Jason Bonez’. That’s not Jason of the Bourne Identity, nor the Argonaut organiser or even the one-time Scott Robinson, but the mask-wearing blood and guts specialist who as with everything he does, doesn’t take his foot off the gas from the first unsheathing. Here to carve open nine swashbuckling tracks, wringing the house of horror hitman spiel out hard, there’s a new patron saint for whenever the 13th Friday of the month rolls around.





The restless sound of Rye Shabby is to ‘Die Shabby’. Worldly pressures that build up around him are absorbed by the protection of a dark, eerie glow, lyrically economical with energy but never the truth. With Verb T writing out prescriptions that enhance the dilapidated, empty experience, sling it on during the dead of night and find it how it envelopes the room, bringing silhouettes to life and an unspoken feel for consolation.

We may be a bit late on this one, but with new special editions launched and then swiped off shelves, Crimeapple and Big Ghost are the crime family with ‘nuff shots to share. ‘Aguardiente’ is a 100% proof of ferocious rhymes and slick stories making you believe everything spoken about every goon, scam and threat (the hook to ‘Five Chechnyans’ will make you laugh when it probably shouldn’t), to the tune of soul-infused onlookers and accomplices that either look the other way or are in too deep. Music to stash goods and tint windows by.





Neat and tidy true school enthusiasts who have the golden age running through them like a stick of rock, New York’s Penpals crew keep the underground on the level when penning ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Their zeal for technical perfection/pseudo-nerdery means rocking the boat extends to shouting out John Cleese, but the likes of ‘On the Roof’ are just what your garden party and fly school reunion needs. A few listens in and thou shalt not return to sender.

Time for some hip-hop corporal punishment to keep the next generation in line: Bumpy Knuckles is the elected elder statesman who won’t bend to socially mediated conventions. ‘Pop Duke’ is produced by Nottz knocking heads together, and has Chuck D, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie showing there’s no substitute for experience and a carefully sharpened stick in the mud that creditably, doesn’t ramble on.

In it to win it. Fake it til you make it. ‘Thieving as Long as I’m Breathing’. The world according to blasé boosters and old skool aestheticians Career Crooks, savvy Philly pair Zilla Rocca and Small Professor emptying a swag bag of doting remixes plus their own version of how to hold the hip-hop underground to ransom like gentlemen bandits. Do not be scared to check or scared to look. ‘Paranoid City’ by Isaac Roberts, previously known as Sleaze da Don, and Sonnyjim, is another to get repackaged by respectful well-wishers. Remixing new life into the pair’s doyens at the top table diary, Illinformed, Kelakovski, Smugii, Kosyne and the headliners themselves put up a very fine set of variations still keeping it tight knit.





Tom Caruana unveils volume six of his always exceptional ‘Rough Versions’ remix series with a collection of super funky Biggie revisions that elevate classics to new levels, made like the Son of Sam man was the real brains behind Bad Boy all along. The equally notorious David Begun is also at it again with a slice and dice job of Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. Even if you think the format is tired (and there’s not much wrong when linking core QBC epitaphs to the ghoulish underground), the artwork alone to ‘Dr OctoMobb’ deserves a bony-fingered round of applause.





Bored of the World Cup? To finish, here’s the one man army that is Aesop Rock.




Matt Oliver

HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

If you can look away from Kanye rediscovering his Twitter password, here’s the new Rapture & Verse to clog up your social media feeds with self-amusing jpegs, resent at royal wedding snubs, and wondering who’ll step up next after J Cole’s ‘KOD’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’. The saga continues when Salar examines the ‘Demigod Complex’, whose who-wants-some rhymes come wrapped in dynasty strings measuring you for a horse’s head. S. Kalibre takes the weather personal on ‘Sun and Rain’, a quiet storm looking for a sliver of light in burdened times. Bluesy keys and dipping sunshine won’t hold back Fliptrix, asserting ‘It’s Like That’ with bladed precision synching syllables against the shimmer. “If the bars don’t get ‘em, then the flow will” – Legion of Goon lump you with extra credit, ‘AIOFO’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ keeping up their strain of witty unpredictable. ‘Lock Your Doors’ is a pretty flimsy means of resistance once Ramson Badbonez does his best Jack Torrance impression, and ‘Safe’ by Kalieon won’t provide shelter from a measured pounding of the streets battling uphill.

The sweg of sarky master Lee Scott continues unabated, ‘Oh, The Fun We’re All Having’ a seven tracker finding pleasing ways to rise up from his customary wit pricking dulled psychedelica. ‘When It Rains It Pours’, and when Lewis Parker reaches cucumber temperature, it’s normally a keys and breeze classic, smoothness to the Nth degree with Verbz on the mic a good fit for street forecasting. Three times for your mind, the P Brothers’ buccaneering ‘Mentaltainment’, with Daniel Son, Doo Wop, Your Old Droog and Milano picking up and brandishing the baton, does heavyweight jail breaking you’ll lose your shoes over. On 2018’s system update of ‘don’t touch that dial’, Homeboy Sandman and Edan attempt to break superhighway shackles and ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’, a fun old skool caper with a hook from the rooftops capping exasperated moral guardianship/public health warning.








Interesting spoken word/rhyming at both ends of the candle from Lausse the Cat tells the tale of ‘The Girl, The Cat and The Tree’. A cosy jazz bedding of some splendour can show its claws, and the comfortably muted storytelling joins the dots between telltale realities of love and life, and what’s going on through the looking glass. The powerful, stark prose and spectacle in the spotlight of ‘Without Certainty’ has Ceiling Demons speaking up in a bid to bring a pertinent good cause to the fore: job done if it strikes a chord or doesn’t leave you sitting comfortably. “Emotional damage, you know I’m a vet” – at the junction of heartbreak ridge and breaking point, WLK’s ‘The Gry’ EP is a bid for survival knocking you sideways: industrially scalded, claustrophobic in surround sound, and lashing out when rationality evaporates. With a Guilty Simpson-esque roughness around the edges, MIKE’s ‘Black Soap’ EP is a steel wool wash of loops and freestyle static circling the drain, that gruff command structuring and keeping heads above water.




Albums

A whiny, shrill, eyeballs bulging flow researching Cage at the height of his neuroses with a dash of Chester P: that’s the mist of Eric the Red descending on ‘Caught Red Handed’. Eric’s mugshot is front and centre while Illinformed helps himself out back, in prime form with 14 shots to the dome and his own mutinous agenda. A swift in and out job, as much about partnering in crime as trying to stitch one another up, this is a thick cut of hella lairy British beef.





Spraying bars to bleach your grey cells and decreeing “I’d rather be real shallow than fake deep”, Lunar C has got the smarts to back the undoubted brat factor. ‘Dirtbrain’ rides mischief and sledgehammers found on grime stairwells (see the scales-breaking ‘Skwolla’), with WTF wordplay goading the rewind button. But canny operations that could well take him further, show his strength for the gift of gab beyond gobbing off. Ain’t no such things as halfway crooks, but there is The Mouse Outfit’s ‘Jagged Tooth Crook’, which is neo-soul, nailed. Manchester’s late night live band stick to the script and show the usual steady steps spiced by a rota of emcees and guests.

With assistance from Earl Sweatshirt and Knxwledge, Denmark Vessey’s ‘Sun Go Nova’ is a laborious half and half of rhymes most ears won’t be ready for, and a turnaround of instrumentals riffing off of needle fluff. “For lack of a better word, it’s alternative and leftfield” says the man himself, which is putting it mildly. An insurgent radio station needing the deftest of twiddles to lock onto, follows an audience address admirable for its single-mindedness, chipping away at your defences.

If the origins and whereabouts of Pan Amsterdam lead your search engine down a dead end, ‘The Pocket Watch’ shrugs ‘so what?’ if its skittish ghetto Jackanory leads you down a rabbit hole/Never-Netherlands. Easily distracted with thought pieces of no why and wherefore, the coolest town crier refuting time and space that you’d never imagine medicates to funk, jazz and electro paying low rent but giving glints of bygone razzle dazzle. Unfazed, unconstrained, and easily up for cult listen of the year.





Instrumental scaremongering from Dew8 offers a one-way ticket to a two-way street of the outer limits and no man’s land with lo-fi ghoulishness, ‘Pigeon Feed’ perfecting the classic of letting your ears fill in the gaps for what horrors will follow. Parallel altered state ambience and patent anxiety from Sam Zircon reserved ‘For Shipping and/or Storage’ is like trying to piece together the ghosts of dreams past, offering sub zero degrees of nostalgic comfort and a boom bap itch that you can never quite get to.

Solidify your summertime listening with Dumi RIGHT’s ‘Doing It The Right Way’, the Zimbabwe Legit emcee doing user-friendly consciousness with help from Mr Lif and Mike G of the Jungle Brothers; a good one to throw on once debate breaks out over beers and barbeque. Follow suit with Offwhyte’s ‘Both Sides of the Mississippi’, packing contemplative punch from that fairly gentle, ever fluent flow of his, where rhymes manifest over perfectly matched beats until he’s the last man standing. More fire from The Doppelgangaz tells you to open wide and say ‘Aaaaggghh’. Tinted a little darker than their rockingly good ‘Dopp Hopp’, still crossing from East to West but like they’ve dimmed the high beams on the low-rider (‘Slay Bells’ demands are you listening), all praise remains due to The Cloak from one of the baddest assed pairs out there.





The love of lexicon is still the apple of Paul Barman’s eye. More than meets the ear in his answer-for-everything, stimulator kook role, ‘Echo Chamber’ carries on closing the gap between potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end. A supporting cast of ?uestlove, Mark Ronson, Open Mike Eagle, Prince Paul, DOOM and Masta Ace means it’s not far from frickin’ awesome. Blu and Shafiq Husayn’s flaky ‘The Blueprint’ has funk to be found, but sounds like it’s constantly going in and out of tunnels while it breaks down gang divisions and geography by the most basic means possible.

Some proper old skool, four-track business out of Cali produces a re-up of The Nonce’s ‘1990’, the Project Blowed affiliates finding their feet with De La Soul-style rhymes, pointers towards Peanut Butter Wolf & Charizma and The Pharcyde, and interplay and concepts (little metaphor needed for the napkin-tucking ‘Chocolate Cake’) getting the most out of raw materials. Royce da 5’9” continues to go from strength to strength when unlocking the ‘Book of Ryan’, piled high with battles and confessionals, life lessons and fears to open eyes and ears. Given the LP’s length, ‘I’m not getting better, I’m just getting started” will make you think twice if you thought you knew everything about the man already.





With so much drama in the CNT it’s kinda hard being the LDZ. Funky DL does GTA, and Sam Krats has got the cream.













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