ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Andrew C. Kidd




Park Jiha ‘Philos’
(tak:til) 14th June 2019


Following her universally applauded debut album, Communion, Park Jiha has chosen Philos – from Greek, plural: loving, fond of, tending to – as the title for her latest release on Glitterbeat‘s sub-label, tak:til.

It has been described as an “evocation of her love for time, space and sound”. This is certainly evidenced in the multi-instrumental and baleful opener, ‘Arrival’, which consists of simple, metronomic strums and reedy high notes that lace around each other in ominous prismaticism. The piri, a double-reed bamboo flute played by Park, features heavily in this piece, as it does later during the album’s title track.

‘Thunder Shower’ is counterpoint and pacey. It also polyrhythmically balanced: an illusionary allargando (illusionary because the time-signature remains the same) offsets the urgency of the first third and peters out to the sounds of gentle rain before the original yanggeum-played motif resurfaces. It is a clever and rather effective musical metaphor.

The metallic yanggeum, a hammered dulcimer, reappears on ‘Walker’: In Seoul’. This track is played at a strolling pace and blends Park’s steely and melodic instrumentation with more abstract field recordings. I listened to this whilst reading a Hwang Sok-yong novel and it served as the perfect musical accompaniment to the piercing realism of his Seoul-dwelling protagonist. Similarly with the tuneful ‘When I Think Of Her’, where the yanggeum and saenghwang (mouth organ) elegantly dovetail, I am taken to a greeny, open space in a city flanked by buildings that arrow up towards the light blue.

The album departs from the instrumental during the track, ‘Easy’, which features the breezy and philosophical (or, rather, extrajudicial) spoken word of the Lebanese poet, Dima El Sayed. The upper notes intensify and push the vocals to a dizzying and distorting conclusion. ‘Pause’ follows and offers the listener a momentary armistice after the rallying call of ‘El Sayed’; the familiar but distant sounds of static and microphonic noise are point’s d’appui in an otherwise transcendental world of intangible sounds. This hypnotism is also evident on the final track, ‘On Water’, as the piri melody and xylophonic bells glint gently in the eventide.

There is an eloquent passage in the album notes which describes Philos as “[looking] to the future whilst continuing to converse with a rich instrumental language from the past”. This admixture of traditional Korean and Western instrumentation, coupled with compositions that lean towards the ambient and neoclassical, transmute Park’s experiences of a world awash with changing tides, transitory weather and ever-expanding cities into something that is indefinably atemporal.










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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: 
Tadej Čauševič






Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat)
30th August 2019


Channeling the varied topography of their respective parts of the Slovenian landscape via a kitchen table of both recognizable instrumentation and found assemblage (everything including the kitchen sink and water tank), the Širom trio of Iztok Koren, Ana Kravanja and Samo Kutin create a kind of dream realism. Inspired by this environment yet ambiguous, they float across the borders to evoke a certain mystery and yearn to create something new. In so doing, they’ve coined the term ‘imaginary folk’ to describe their amorphous blending of geographical evocations and echoed fables.

However, the roots of this music is tethered to the cartography of Slovenia, a country that the empirical travel writer Simon Winder summarizes in his Danubia purview as a state “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian country of Vas.” Despite being pulled this way and that over a millennia; despite countless displacements and border changes/reductions – mostly enforced by a succession of conquering empires and invaders – Slovenia’s people remained stoic with a distinct identity. Yet rather than nationalistic pride, the trio in this instance use their native environment’s history and sense of belonging and its apparatus to traverse new sonic terrains. And so with vague undulations and floating echoes of an atavistic Balkans remaining a constant they venture into the Orient, North Africa, Middle East and Americas; never quite settling anywhere, in place or time.

Whilst improvisation is part of the initial creative process for Širom, all these drifting and free moving sounding peregrinations are planned and crafted with precision: the end results very considered and articulated and not left to chance.





A concomitant extension of their last musical journey, I Can Be A Clay Snapper (which made our albums of 2017 features), the propound folkloric entitled A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse features many of the lingering, visionary magical astral planning themes of that previous unique album. Humdrum items from the trio’s rural retreat studio rub against a myriad of instrumentation from every continent: ribab, balafon, gamelan, banjo and lyre. In their hands a rack of kitchen utensils can suddenly be transformed into something cosmic and mystical, even ominous. And on this five-track suite, there’s plenty of that. Even the voice takes on a veiled new form, as both Kravanja and Kutin bewail, lull and warble melodically like sirens and ghosts: Kravanja, on the opening magik soundtrack ‘Spran Fantič Iz Vreče Žabje Vzema Fosile’ (A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils From A Frog Sack), simultaneously evokes, with her vivid longing wails, images of India, Kathmandu, Marrakesh and Greek tragedy.

From the Mongolian Steppes to sorrows of East Europe and the hints of the Appalachians and Sumatra, Širom draw inspiration – whether intentional or not – from a fecund of sources; the Slovenian backdrop melting into a polygenesis mirage. With this spiritual, ritual, dreamy longing for a kaleidoscope of real and imaginary cultures the trio’s second album for the Glitterbeat label’s instrumental imprint tak:til is as poetically wondrous as it is (sometimes) supernatural and otherworldly. An alternative folk fantasy imbued in part by the hard won geography, Širom once more wander unafraid across an ever-ambiguous musical cartography that (almost) fulfills their wish to produce something unique: A soundtrack of infinite possibilities.

If you were in love with, or found a connection with the last album than this latest expansive query will not disappoint. There are really few musical excursions and explorations quite like it.





Photo Credit: Tadej Čauševič


Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Black Flower ‘Future Flora’
(Sdban Ultra) 12th April 2019


The soundtrack to a cross-pollination of the mystical and cosmological, Black Flower’s darkened flora scent of Afro-Futurist and Ethiopian jazz drifts and wafts across an atmospheric, amorphous landscape. Continuing to dream up eclectic instrumental vistas, from the loose vine-creeping and astral probed excavations of the famous Cambodian Khmer Empire-built ‘Ankor Wat’ temple complex to the trilling saxophone, desert trudge meets cornet Savoy Jazz dancehall fantasy encapsulation of the atavistic Northern Ethiopian city of Aksum, the Belgium quintet map out a musical terrain both tribally funky and expletory.

Hitching a ride on the Chariot of the Gods as they traverse legendary and hidden cities, the pyramids and desert trading posts, they absorb sounds and rhythms from all over the globe; including the bowed and percussive droning blues of the Réunion Island and archipelago derived Maloya – banned for years by the French authorities that ruled this dependency – and various Balkan traditions. And so as the emerging light of a nuzzled suffused saxophone and snake charmer flute accompanied dawn evokes an Egyptian setting at first, on the title-track odyssey, by the end of this trip the quintet have limbered and swanned through Mulatu Astatke dappled organ led Ethio-jazz, Afro-psych and ritualistic funk. The tooting horns and bouncing, spotting ‘Clap Hands’ sways between Lagos and New York, whilst the retro-fitted cosmic ‘Early Days Of Space Travel Part 2’ takes-off on a flight of psychedelic dub fantasy from an imagined West African outpost of NASA.

Though framed as a metaphor for the importance of “feeding and watering powerful and revolutionary ideas and initiatives that can save the world”, Black Flower express themselves with a controlled vigor and magical rhapsody: exotic, experimental but deeply thoughtful.

Future Flora invokes escapism yet chimes with the need to articulate the uncertainties and anguish of our present times by creating a rich tapestry of universal unity; channeling the sounds, heritage and history of cultures seldom celebrated in the West. Magical, mystical, diverse, Black Flower take jazz into some interesting directions; the roots of which, incubated in the Ethiopian hothouse, look set to break through the brutal concrete miasma to blossom in the light.




Review: Dominic Valvona



Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records) 25th May 2019


In a constant state of erratic flux, you never know which particular inception of Vukovar will show up when the time comes to laying down their brand of hermetic imbued visions for posterity, the only constant being de facto avatar, whether anyone agreed or not to this appointment, Rick Antonsson.

Yet in only four years since laying down the foundations of their stark morbid curiosity and industrial Gothic pop debut Emperor, Vukovar have managed to record seven albums via umpteen labels and always via a series of travails and fall-outs. Flanked at the time of recording by Dan Shea and Buddy Preston, and with the dutiful Phil Reynolds of Small Bear Records fame sticking it all together once more as producer, the seventh three-syllable signature grand theatre of despondent romanticism is a collaborative affairs of a kind, featuring as it does both the vaporous linger and narration of Holly Hero (Smell & Quim) and omnipresence of Simon Morris (The Ceramic Hobs).

Cremator arrives just as the Vukovar look certain to split: Buddy and Dan breaking away recently to form the Beauty Stab duo, their debut single already released on Metal Postcard Records. Carrying the torch for now, going forward, Rick will continue with the Vukovar mantle. Far from orchestrated, Cremator is nonetheless a swansong, a curtain call at least for the original lineup. It just happens to also be one of the band’s best and most accomplished works.

Suffused with disillusion, as they row across a veiled River Styx (or in this case, as alluded to in the yearning slow junk ride over the lapping black waves of tortured cries of ‘The River Of Three Crossings’, the Japanese Buddhist version of that mythological destination), Vukovar and converts add more fuel to a bonfire of vanities to an overall sound that reimagines Bernard Summer as the frontman of a Arthur Baker produced Jesus And Mary Chain.

Though always wearing their influences on their sleeves, there’s also this time around a trio of cover versions, both obvious and more obscure. These include a despondent if scuzzed growling bass with radiant synth live version of the Go-Betweens ‘Dive For Your Memory’, a cooed ethereal voiced dreamy, with phaser-effects set to stun, diaphanous vision of Psychic TV’s ‘The Orchids’, and, most poignant, a gauze-y heaven-bound ghostly homage (complete with Hebrew vocals) to the late Tel Aviv cowboy Charlie Megira, on the hymnal ‘Tomorrow’s Gone’.

Elsewhere a Gothic esoteric atmosphere of post-punk and apparition crooned rock’n’roll invokes a communion between Alan Vega and the Silver Apples on the magisterial downer ‘Internment By Mirrors’, Coil and Joy Division on the album’s imperial vortex of sorrow, half-narrated, opener ‘Roma Invicta’, and Blixa Bargeld era Bad Seeds leap into the augur’s furnace with The Sisters Of Mercy, on the heavy toiled ‘Voices/Seers/Voices’.

It sounds darkly glorious in all its melodrama and pomposity, with as cerebral high artistic references as the infamous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s feature length documentary ‘Love Meetings’, and the ‘Decameron’ 100-story spanning novellas of the 14th century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio: In fact, what with the album’s opening use of the triumphal Latin mantra of an all-conquering Roman Empire (before it’s famous fall), there’s a lot of Italian, both atavistic and modern, on show; that and a prevailing theme of love, whether it’s spurned, lost, mourned or unspoken.

Once more unto the breach, Vukovar cast augurs or reflect, mooningly on the past; channeling various vessels from beyond the ether as they prowl the shadow world in pursuit or articulating a vision of dark arts experimental drama. As with the previous Monument LP they recorded with the gloom luminary Michael Cashmore, Vukovar find congruous soul mates in their choice of collaborators, Hero and Morris; attuning those individuals equally mysterious and supernatural leanings and illusions to the ambitious Vukovar mysticism.

Cremator is a death knell; the end of one era and setting in motion of a new chapter: whatever that ends up looking or sounding like. It just happens that they’ve bowed out in style with, perhaps, the original lineup (of a sort) most brooding masterpiece yet. Long may they continue, in one form or another.





Words: Dominic Valvona

Album Review: Dominic Valvona



John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’
(You Are The Cosmos) March 15th 2019


Returning after the deep cerebral peregrinations of the previous Across The Door Sill album to the shorter romantic balladry and stage show-like songwriting that first garnered such acclaim for the adroit pianist troubadour, John Howard’s first full songbook in three years is a most sagacious beautifully articulated affair of the heart.

Enjoying a renaissance of interest in recent years; choosing projects wisely and wholly on artistic and desirable (enjoyable too) merit, Howard has recorded a well-received collaboration with Andy Lewis, Ian Button and Robert Rotifer, under the The Night Mail moniker, the already mentioned open-ended experimental ATDS, and delivered the first volume in a vivid and travail autobiography (part two to follow anytime soon) that not only deals with Howard’s haphazard rise and misfortunes in the music industry but chronicles the misadventures of a gay artist in a far from understanding world. The star-turn dealt a typical band hand by the industry as a burgeoning artist in the 1970s, the singer-songwriter pianist turned to A&R (quite successfully as it happens) but always seem destined to plow his own unique furrow; decades later and with wised self-belief, fully in control of his own career. Though he’s found congruous labels, including the wonderful You Are The Cosmos, to launch his recent catalogue of new music, Howard is a candid one-man industry, totally in command of his legacy and story.

So far the overall results of this output have been anything but indulgent, the quality maintained, with arguably some of his best work being produced in the previous five or six years. The 16th studio album, Cut The Wire, is the first to be recorded at Howard’s Una Casita hacienda studio oasis in Murcia; surroundings that lend themselves well to the meditative and questioning yearns of Howard’s most rich balladry.

Those familiar with the previous From The Morning EP of inspired cover versions will hear the imbued spirit of The Incredible String Band once more on this album’s percussive jangly and bellow-y Parisian peaceable opener ‘So Here I Go’ and the mobile-trinket twinkly and bowed strings title-track: The first of those homespun-words-of-wisdom sonnets evoking a Krishna Dylan, even Donovan. Intentioned or not, the softened doo-wopish lull of enduring adversity ‘Keep Going, Angel’, the forlorn venerated organ blessed ‘We Are’, and sweetly-laced Baroque-psych autobiographical ‘Remains’ all sound like lost ballads from The Beach Boys Friends and Surf’s Up albums. You can also pick up the scents of prime 1970s Elton John, The Beatles, Jeff Lynne and Nilsson in the sage’s purposeful beatific longing maladies and paean performances.

Decentering with blissful melodic ease, Howard, with signature vulnerability, swells and also glides through various chapters of his life; ‘Remains’ recalling to a chiming harpsichord and swooning harmonies regrets in not standing one’s ground, and the nostalgic dreamy-pop ‘Idiot Days’ reflects on the foolish indulgences of youth and the oblivious-at-the-time harmful consequences. But Howard, in more mournful mood, also ruminates on the divisive topics of Brexit; sailing on an accordion wafting elegiac barge on ‘Pre-Dawn’ with cathartic despondency to the changing political landscape and the lack of generosity.

A thoughtful songbook that returns to the melodious balladry of past triumphs and a nod to the rich tapestry of influences that first inspired him, Cut The Wire is timeless; another beautifully written and sung album from an artists radiant with quality.








Words: Dominic Valvona


Album Review: Gianluigi Marsibilio




Royal Trux ‘White Stuff’
(Fat Possum Records) 1st March 2019

An underground civilization always develops thanks to the tunnels, the galleries and the sedimenting of a tradition capable of not seeing the light, even for two decades.

The Royal Trux have returned, without great proclamations and arrogance to put themselves to the test with a music scene completely revolutionized since the early 90s, in fact today we cannot talk about ghosts and institutions like Kurt Cobain or Frank Zappa.

The duo from New York, even today, is able to immerse Dinosaur Jr. in a strange psychic substance; they bring out a work that manages to be a right counterbalance to the word underground. The underground is a wonderful place where you can appreciate the purest soul of things and also of the duo, which while not having the same success as other bands, such as White Stripes or related stuff, has maintained a coherence, which after 20 years we feel deep flowing like lymph in “White Stuff”.

The Royal Trux have maintained the avant-garde drive and the desire to be something else, completely different from whatever the word Rock means today, because even if important projects such as The War On Drugs, The National or others are easily indicated in one vein, the Royal Trux remain other, but not only in terms of sound, their choice is an aptitude that deeply distances the duo from any other band.

“Twin Infinities” (1990) could be a good problem, such a monumental work of historical impact, can lead to comparisons, further comparisons, but in the end an album like “White Stuff” also touches important peaks in songs, like “Sic Em Slow” or “Under Ice”. The psychedelic progression is preponderant in tracks like “Purple Audacity #2”, and the dreamlike wandering that lasted about 20 years offers a solid and iconic cue. The Royal Trux live on their mythical image that is not cumbersome, on the contrary it manages to be decadently fascinating.

Hagerty and Herrema show that they can complete themselves extensively, but above all they can make up for each other at the limits of the other, hiding personal and non personal smears and imperfections: it’s clear that the tumultuous journey that ended in 2001 is an example of what it means to complete, wander and start again.




Words: Gianluigi Marsibilio


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.




Album Review / Dominic Valvona





Deerhunter  ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’
(4AD)  January 18th 2019


Loaded with despondent query and concept-fueled reference points (both in the literature and geographical senses), Deerhunter’s latest nuanced road trip across a ruined divided landscape poses many open-ended and visceral questions: And doesn’t exactly answer them.

As the current instability (take your pick: Brexit, Trump, Putin, rise of right wing populism in Europe and South America…. the list goes on and on) across the globe keeps Bradford Cox awake at night, the frontman’s pen scribbles away at a fair old rate in anxious irritation at the imposing chaos, on the band’s latest album for 4AD: The songwriting, it must be said, more honed and (daresay) melodically accessible than ever.

Making sense of the miasma, sending back woozy postcards from the languid ‘slipstream’ and hazily cooing eulogies to a constant theme of loss and a poisoning of the well of human kindness, Deerhunter repeatedly yearn like they did on their previous cerebral triumph, Fading Frontier, about the fading away of everything they hold dear. That album mined a similar discourse of disappearing humility, and musically captured, with an equally assuage tactile brilliance, the prevailing mood of the times through a steady daze of synthesized and melodious jingle-jangly troubadour indie pop.

Though proclaiming that ‘nostalgia is toxic’ in the sub-headed description of the surprisingly Bolan glam hued, cynical ‘Futurism’, Deerhunter’s penchant for reinvention never truly breaks free from the shackles of the past. Woozy elements abound of Bowie and Eno’s partnership on Low and Heroes, a languid John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band, the Tubeway Army and, weirdly, a more credible Starsailor. Aiming to circumnavigate familiarity and a link to rock’s back pages, they discard separate amplifier setups to plug directly into the mixing desk. The results of which, played out over a flattish drumming backbeat, airy vaporous synthesizer sculpting build-ups, nuzzled suffused saxophone, bobbing undulated marimba, gentle romantic piano flourishes and pizzicato strings, often subdues the guitar sound entirely, which is light on lead but heavy on the acoustic rhythm.





Adding an aura of lilted and dreamy idiosyncrasy, cult Welsh experimentalist Cate Le Bon makes up part of the extended production and guest appearance crew. Lining up alongside long-term Deerhunter producer Ben H. Allen III, plus Ben Etter and the band themselves, Cate’s qualitative musical eccentricities add some sparkle and strange off-kilter ethereal wooing to the overall sound. You can hear her subtle Baroque harpsichord playing on the album’s first single, ‘Death In Midsummer’ – a slow unfurled highlight that despite its melodious warm quality sets out on an elegiac walkabout, inspired in part by a macabre photograph from the Russian Revolution -, and sad aerial harmony on the somber Heroes LP imbued ‘Tarnung’ – subtitled notes allude to a ‘walk through Europe in the rain’.

Not only produced by a number of collaborators, the tracks themselves were recorded in a number of inspired, prompted towns throughout the southern hemisphere of the USA; from Cox’s attic in Atlanta to the Seahorse Sound Studio in L.A. and a couple of locations in Texas. Among these, the poignant Marfa, Texas setting of the fated last film performance of James Dean, Giant. That last summer of 1955, before Dean tragically crashed his somewhat untamable sports car just months later in September of that same year, is played out in the tropical marimba and heavenly allured synthesized buoyant ‘Plains’. As with most of the songs on this album, the bubbly but languid swoozy swansong to Dean draws vague analogies to the fate of change. Cox doesn’t so much implore us to break from the past and fondness for what may have never existed, as gently and with tactile restraint, offers direction: swooning at one point to follow him through “the golden void”.

However, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is an elegy of remembrance to those that have been left behind in the pursuit of progress too. Cox even chooses to swim against the tide of these ennui attention-span self-absorbed times by penning and playing more cerebral, nuanced and subtly experimental music in the face of instant gratification and validation – the ‘eternally jetlagged’ visage of the Tron and Blade Runner-esque, glistening ‘Détournement’, is an uneasy strange hallucinatory vision of that future-present symbiosis.

Billed, in part, as an unpredictable sci-fi album about the present, WHEAD? offers a sensibility and melodious weary, clipped amorphous survey of a disappearing humanity, on the verge of a Cormac McCarthy dystopia. Yet it sounds, mostly, brilliant, personal and at times languidly beautiful.



Dominic Valvona (founder/editor/chief instigator of the Monolith Cocktail)

Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’ (Hive Mind Records) 30th November 2018

Returning to the stimulating landscapes of North Africa after a brief excursion to the visceral South American horizons of Rodrigo Tavares Congo, Marc Teare’s burgeoning tactile Hive Mind label rests in the shadows of the Titanic straddling Atlas Mountains with its third release, Atlas Electric.

Paying tribune to the atavistic folk music forms of the Amazigh people (the Izlan and Ahidous) of Morocco meets modern synthesized pop fusions of the celebrated Moroccan polymath Moulay Ahmed El Hassani, Teare’s latest labour-of-love repackages a double album’s worth of material that was originally released on Hamid’s own label, Sawt el Hassani, during a decade timespan between 2004-2014.

Relatively unknown outside his homeland, the prolific doyen of modern Moroccan pop music has knocked out over fifty albums (mainly confined to cassette tape and CD) during a thirty-year career. Though crate-diggers, samplers and admirers of cult Arabian music will know the name, this lavishly illustrated and compiled collection acts as an introduction for the rest of us: A showcase if you like.

A sprawling musical odyssey that immediately evokes the romanticized escapism and exotic fantasy of the Atlas Mountain landscape it was produced in, Ahmed’s swirling paeans and lyrical social commentaries trot and canter on air like a magical camel trail through the rugged canyon and desert terrains. Like the Bedouins, this electrified pop hybrid moves lightly and freely across an expanse, weaving the traditional with a taste of modernity: The dramatic, sauntering and gliding mirages of tradition, in this setting, are countered by Casio keyboard pre-set rhythms, fizzled drum pads and warbled auto-tune. This melding of forms, a bridge between generations, gives it a twist. Though undoubtedly the technology is lagging behind a little, elongated thumbed strings and psychedelic, Tuareg-like, blues guitar are undulated by 1980s style balladry synth and programmed drums throughout.

Joining Ahmed on this adventure is the richly voiced trio of dueting Arabic and Amazigh language sirens, Karima, Hind and Khadija, who lull, trill and accentuate the heavenly and romantic gestures of these delightful sonnets: Often sounding like the Arabian equivalent of a Bollywood musical.

Electrifying the landscape with a strange beguiling fusion of R&B and pop (the sort of sound clash M.I.A. soaks up), yet staying true to tradition, Ahmed’s Moroccan musical fantasies soar and flutter above the travails and toils of the modern world; representing, even if plaintive at times, the beauty and dreamy lovelorn desires of those who live in the shadows of the Atlas Mountain. It’s a marvelous release and an education.




Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Fofoulah  ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)   9th November 2018

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times. And in many ways this is down to the production.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

After a short introductory vignette of mysterious churned tetchy and dampened crunchy beats, the ode to a family’s first born (Secka’s notes emphasis not only the importance but heavy responsibility laid upon the first child; the ‘star’ or in Wolof, ‘Taaw’, must above all set a good example to his siblings), ‘Ndanane’, opens up the music box of effects; languorously swirling in an Afro-dub diaspora; evolving and stretching with interlayered limping beats towards a less zappy Ammar 808 vortex. Continuing with a similar message of responsibility, urging leaders of the country (especially Gambia’s very own president, Adama Barrow), from the very top down to the community, to remember their moral obligations, ‘Njite’ is a sound clash of Lee Scratch Perry, PiL and the On-U sound label. It also envisions an alternative moment in history; a sputnik space launch from Jamaica!

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether.

On the ensemble’s most out-there of experimental dance albums, vague echoes and passing reverberations of R&B connect with roots, hip-hop with drum’n’bass, and the tribal with post-punk synthesized music as rhythms both rapid and chattering flutter with slower slurred ones and synthetic melodic atmospheres. Not to put it any better than the band, Daega Rek embodies the ‘spirit of morphing and connectivity’, and can be read as a sonic attack on the ‘fortress mentality’ and dangers of shutting down borders.

This album proves a congruous fit for Glitterbeat Records, and shares a bond with the musical explorations of their label mates Ammar 808 and Ifriqiyya Électrique, but remains tethered to its own sonic imaging. A great album that improves on the debut, progressing as it does into new fields of dub and beyond experimentation.





Fofoulah band photo courtesy of Alex Bonney.




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