LP REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




U.S. Girls  ‘Heavy Light’
(4AD)  LP/6th March 2020


Marking a decade in a recording career that extends just beyond that, Meg Remy as the ambiguous U.S. Girls has progressed from bedroom diy-style 60s bleeding hearts girl group tape-loops to ever more sophisticated femme fatale politicized boogie, disco and funk. From performing as a, more or less, solitary figure from 2008 until she signed on in 2015 to 4AD, Meg has not only expanded her musical horizons and production techniques but also cast of collaborators: the last two albums for the much-mythologized indie label have included a full-on contorting live band, made up of Meg’s oft musical foil and partner the maverick guitar-slinging Maximilian Turnball (under his nom de plume of Slim Twig) and a host of Toronto talent; many of whom perform together as the multi-limbed collective Cosmic Range.

 

In (re)cycle mode Meg’s latest thematic cerebral pop opus, Heavy Light, is full of reflections and retrospection, not just on duality but hindsight. The seventh LP proper even features a trio of reworked recordings from the back catalogue; songs that chime with and make a connection to those very same themes, as Meg turns away (to a point) from her previous, almost, removed character sketches to gaze inward and take stock: going back even to recollections of childhood experiences. The first of this trio and a recent single ’Overtime’ first appeared on the 2013 Free Advice Column EP. Missing its lo fi Ronettes chimes, replaced with a more up-tempo gyrating workout of withering, cheated heart sassy funk, the refreshed Overtime now features a cameo pined saxophone requiem solo from Bruce Springsteen’s current E Street Band member Jake Clemons: his wane and whining contortions in parallel with the Linda Sharrock like pained wails. An annoyed song of deceit, the title an allusion to a partner drinking away his extra pay in overtime, is pretty much a universal and timeless theme given an uncomfortable twist: the protagonist laying six feet deep in the soil.

The second song to be lifted from its original time, ‘State House (It’s A Man’s World)’, first featured on the 2011 LP U.S. Girls On KRAAK. Given a little pep, crisper production too, the 2020 version keeps the backbeat but adds a choral quality of descending voices – on what sounds like a protest sway rather than march – and one of the album’s most featured backing instruments, the marimba. The lilted undulating sparkle and trickling marimba is interesting, as Meg has decided to record this latest album a little differently to the last; using a live band but with less augmenting beats and synthesized effects, to give it a different feel entirely to In A Poem Unlimited. And so it has a more natural less post-produced sound: “un-automated”, as the PR spill calls it. Though many of the same musicians from that previous LP remain, and Meg has brought in dance producer and remixing luminary Rick Morel (Pet Shop Boys, Cyndi Lauper, Yoko Ono), the instrumentation is more classical, chamber and symphonic – timpani, strings, double bass, balladry melodramatic piano, hand drums and percussion.

Album closer, ‘Red Ford Radio’, is the final track of the three revisions; having first appeared on Meg’s second LP, 2010’s grainy and discordant Go Grey. The lumbered slow-steamed haunting clang of the original remains, if slightly cleaner, and the revolving repetitive vocal loop of “I can’t breathe in this red ford anymore, I’d do anything to get out, get out” is intact, but lifted from the swampy mono gauze so that you can now hear the increasingly panicked mantra and the menacing bounced beats of an oil drum that allude to something far darker.






Heavy Light is as much about the vocals as the instrumentation and production, as Meg works with a host of singers to create a jubilation of gospel, soulful and theatre production chorus voices. Meg’s host of harmonious singers, conducted by the multi-talented Toronto stalwart and motivator Kitty Uranowski, sound like Bowie’s Philly-inspired plastic soul troupe on the weaponised Plastic Ono Band go disco swirled boogie, with Anita Baker in tow, ‘4 American Dollars’, and impassionedly sorrowful on the Mick Ronson tickles the ivories stage-y ballad to the complex notions of consent, ‘IOU’. This chorus not only sings with aria like ascendance but also lends it to the sound-art like collages that break-up the album’s collection of songs. Overlapping individual voices recollect their own unique anecdotes in a number of thematic vignettes, the question being posed through the track titles (‘Advice To Teenage Self’, ‘The Most Hurtful Thing’, ‘The Color Of Your Childhood Room’), with answers both cathartic and bland.

Taking its title cue from the Franz Kafka aphorism “A faith like an axe. As heavy as light”, this album takes both a wry and revisionist look at the past. The contrast of experiences themed ‘Woodstock ‘99’ – itself, a perhaps ill-advised festival cashing in on it’s own mythologized past; generation X attempting in some way to own a piece of the boomers history – even lifts lines from Jimmy Webbs classical pop breakup song, ‘MacArthur Park’: “Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it. And I’ll never have that recipe again.” Written – I’m assured – about Webb’s breakup with Susan Ronstadt, turned down initially by The Association, it was Richard Harris who first made it a hit, but its Donna Summers version which seems to have inspired this vague transmogrification – that and a piece of Springsteen, The Boomtown Rats and Bowie’s piano moments on Hunky Dory. Almost with one eye winking, Meg’s impassioned sadness denotes a slight melodramatic indulgence on a song that has some really good lines about revising expectations and relationships with divided loyalties. ‘The Quiver To The Bomb’ goes much further back: four billion years in fact, to the dawn of womankind on a withering repetitive LCD Soundsystem piano drama.

Talking of borrowing, the brushed jazzy stagey, timpani rolled ‘Born To Lose’ has echoes of the sort of glass-y marimba and vibraphone chimes you’d hear on a Modern Jazz Quartet record. Those effective vibes, given a Latin makeover, can be heard again on the tropical, even Tango-esque, sauntering South American Spanish pop song ‘And Yet it Moves/Y Se Mueve’.






Personally though, it’s the beautifully conveyed and dreamy lulled ‘Denise, Don’t Wait’ and the already mentioned liquid funk soulful ‘4 American Dollars’ that I’m most endeared to. The former has that hanging on the end of a call that never comes, the expectant longing of a 60s girl-group heart breaker feel, skewered and reset in the now as a minor symphonic ballad. The latter shows off those over layered harmonies on a resigned polemic rile against the money men and the systematic failure of neoliberalism’s skewered capitalism- though I’d argue that a new elite of tech evangelists is a major driver of the inequality gap; those tech giants so-called altruistic virtues don’t wash as they hold onto ever greater reservoirs of capital and cash, usually offshore, instead of investing and spending in the economy at large: the drip down effect always an unsafe claim of multiple governments, even less effective when the rich don’t offer up even the most measly of crumbs.

 

Meg Remy remains one of the most consistent, (re)inventive and important pop artists and voices of the last decade. This, now, trio of 4AD records marks an unbroken run of assured quality; her finest work so far. No one quite politicizes disco, boogie and pop like it. No one sounds quite like her at the moment: not even close. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, and a lot of revising on Heavy Light as Meg holds up a mirror to both our conscious and unconscious biases, willing to root about in the grey areas and contradictions. Yet there is a sign of hope, a celebration of diversity –not in the achingly virtuous sense –, through the inclusion of eclectic voices and collaborators. U.S. Girls is not an expanded solo project but a hub, an all-welcoming activist umbrella that happens to produce some of the grooviest and most brilliant pop. I really do hope that I’m going to be marking Meg’s next decade in 2030!




Related posts from the Archives:

Half Free LP Review

In A Poem Unlimited Review

U.S. Girls Live Report



The Monolith Cocktail Is Now On Ko-Fi

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

Videos/Singles/LPs
Dominic Valvona




In quick succession, following last week’s inaugural roundup of 2020 of perused singles, videos, previews and the odd album that threaten to overload our inboxes, another selection of releases that you need to know about. This week’s honors go to Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela, Brona McVittie, Ippu Mitsui, Verses Bang and JZ Replacement.


Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela  ‘We’ve Landed’
(World Circuit Records)  Preview Video


 

This is one convergence of talent worth ‘rejoicing’. Arguably two of the most important motivator/instigators in the development of African music over the last 50 years, Afrobeat progenitor, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the late Hugh Masekela, finally crossed paths in 2010 to record this sublime swinging and lilted atmospheric album: an album that had been in the making since the two central figures in Afrobeat and Afrojazz first met in the 1970s. However, those original sessions were put on hold until last year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians including Tom Herbert (Acoustic Ladyland/The Invisible), Joe Armon-Jones (Ezra Collective), Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko) and Steve Williamson.

Rejoice is set to drop on the 20th March 2020; until then here’s the loose Francophone swinging jazz announcement ‘We’ve Landed’ to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. Look out for a full review on the site in the next month or so.

Links of interest from our archives

Hugh Masekela ’’66-‘76’

Tony Allen ‘The Source’

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘A.H.E.O’


JZ Replacement  ‘Tubuka’
(Rainy Days Records)  Single/Now

Introducing the new dynamic fusion project from saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev (Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland) and drummer Jamie Murray (Sun Ra Arkestra, Native Dancer), the first single to drop from the JZ Replacement moniker duo is the off-kilter acceleration of moodier Massive attack prowls, lurching breakbeats, d’n’b and vortex squawking contemporary jazz with blasts of hard bop, ‘Tubuka’.

With an already enviable providence as both a performing duo in their own right and with a host of luminaries on the scene, Strigalev and Murray look further afield to develop and challenge their sound. As part of that challenge, the duos upcoming new LP, Disrespectful (due to drop on the 13th March 2020) was recorded with the increasingly in-demand L.A. bass master, Tim Lefebvre (who played with the Donny McCaslin led troupe that backed David Bowie on his swansong album, but also such notable talent as Wayne Krantz, Elvis Costello and Mark Guiliana). On the evidence of this precursor single, the album promises to be a ball of exploratory jazz and grooves.


Verses Bang  ‘The Eagle Has Landed’
Single/Video/January 2020


In case you missed one of the UK’s most burgeoning talents on the Hip-Hop and beyond music scene, the ever sartorially sharp Verses Bang drops a reminder single and new video from last year’s high anxiety deconstruction of an addicted personality, Cardigans & Calories, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. From his own mission control, Verses’ convergence of rap, grime and trap lurks menacingly on this unsanctioned Apollo flight into the shadows.

Verses name drops idiosyncratic references to British culture and TV and tongue-in-cheek digs at the varnished validation culture of many of his more puffed-up peers on social media, with the pressures of trying to make it whilst battling those addictions. One to watch for sure in 2020.


Ippu Mitsui  ‘Break Through 50 Watts’
(Pure Spark Records)  LP/23rd January 2020


Always in a state of developing and reworking, Tokyo electronic composer and label boss Ippu Mitsui draws breath with an album of rerecorded, remasterd and in some cases, alternate visions of his back catalogue on Break Through 50 Watts.

Delivered via his very own burgeoning experimental electro and dance label, Pure Sparks Records, Ippu hurtles and careers through a miscellaneous of tracks from 2017, including a freshly coated twitch-house take of the opening 32-bit, dial-up tone skittish collage ‘Bug’s Wing’s’ (taken from his L+R LP for the Edinburgh label Bearsuit Records) and a sophisticated shadowy airy refresh of the cruising ‘Rotation’ (taken from his Shift Down EP for Submarine Broadcasting Company). Ippu watchers might also recognize remasters of the E Noise EP’s breakbeat thriller ‘Chromium’ and the Resonance EP’s re-Warp busy percussive ‘Biorhythm’. Scattered amongst these are a host of equally cybernetic and machine code engineered techno treats: the dulcimer chiming timepiece soundtrack ‘Recovery’, melodic childlike piano downtempo ‘Playground’ and the strange putting-robots-to-sleep deconstructive techno number ‘Sea Slug In Love’ being some of the more interesting and diverse tracks on offer.

New to the charms and exploration of Ippu Mitsui, then this collection would be a grand starting point to a one-man electro and techno industry.

Links of interest from our archives

Ippu Mitsui  ‘L + R’


Brona McVittie  ‘The Green Man/Eileen Aroon’
(Company of Corkbots)  Single/20th January 2020


In anticipation of the ephemeral harpist and diaphanous lulled singer’s second solo album this year, Brona Mcvittie releases a couplet of fluttery yearnings that pay homage to Celtic imbued contoured landscapes. Brona’s magical, lingering, self-penned ode to the atavistic ‘The Green Man’ (a song idea that “literally grew out of the trees visible from my living room window”) and beautifully sang version of the Carroll O’ Daly 14th century paean ‘Eileen Aroon’ (a song in which the protagonist of that tale espouses his love for Eleanor Kavanagh, daughter of the Leinster chieftain, comparing her to a “flower of the hazel glade”) continue the harp-led evocations and trip-folk cinematic landscaping of the debut LP We Are Wildlife (which made our albums of 2018).

Producing melodies and phrases that often feel like a breath or just the merest presence of the harp and voice, Brona amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or Boards of Canada the next.

Be sure to keep an eye out for a future review of that upcoming album.

Links of interest from our archives

Brona McVittie  ‘We Are Wildlife’

Album Review
Dominic Valvona




Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’
(Sacred Geometry) 11th October 2019


In the spirit of maverick adventure, Hampshire-based singer-songwriter Owen Tromans walks a similar path to the arch druid of counterculture and psychogeography traversing, Julian Cope. The co-founder of the most informative sonic accompanied rambling fanzine guide, Weird Walks, Tromans (and his co-authors) circumnavigates the hidden British landscape of run-down flat roof pubs whilst waxing lyrical about the fantasy role-play meets Black Metal flowering of the Dungeon synth scene, and the more well-known traipsed chalk pits and megalith landmarks.

The soundtrack is important, both as an enriching experience and communicative tool. And on Between Stones the soundtrack could be said to be a surprising one. Ambling certainly; wandering this sceptered Isle imbued typography with all the ancient lore it entails, yet far from held-down to the British sound, Tromans actually channels a English pen pal version of R.E.M. and the great expansive outdoor epic trudge of Simon Bonney on the album’s hard-won stirring opus ‘Grimcross’: Imagine an 80s American college radio John Barleycorn. There’s even a touch of a mellower Pixies and early Dinosaur Jnr. on the grunge-y ‘Vague Summer’, and hints of Mick Harvey throughout the rest of the album.

It’s not just musically, but also the album’s mythology and fantastical themes that reach beyond these shores. Between The Stones entwines both episodes (real and imaginary) from Greek and German history into a rich green tableau. The protagonist in the former, a lamentable questioning soldier on the shores of Troy, attempts to make sense of the woes of that infamous war whilst communing with Zeus on the subtle organ-bathed ‘A Dialogue’, the latter, explores the fact and fiction behind the Disney castle eccentric Bavarian King, Ludwig II, on the plaintive Neil Young-esque ‘Burying The Moon King’. Perhaps only ever immortalized before by the Munich acid-rock gods Amon Düül II in a suite of songs from their Germanic conceptual epic, Made In Germany, the “mad” fantastical Ludwig may or may not have met his demise on Lake Starnberg at the hands of nebulas intrigue and the encroaching behavior of a unified German authority – Ludwig’s own ministers conspired to have him sanctioned at one point. Troy of course plays well in the lyrical alternative history of Britain; through a convoluted suspension of belief historiography, via the pen of many atavistic chroniclers (including Geoffrey of Monmouth), the fleeing survivors of that legendary city and war have been linked to the founding of both Rome, through their champion Aeneas, and Britain, through his descendant Brutus.

Beautifully conveyed throughout with subtle Baroque-psych chamber strings and a country falsetto, Tromans follows the desire lines, hill forts and undulating well-travail(ed) pathways on a most ruminating magical songbook; a thoughtful and poetic accompaniment that goes hand-in-hand with those “weird” and wonderful walks.




Single Review
Words: Dominic Valvona



Roi ‘Dormouse Records/Straight Outta Southport’
(Metal Postcard Records) 25th August 2019


Though it’s never stopped anyone else, and most music writers’ side hustles include making music and PR, it would still seem incredibly self-promotional for our maverick-in-residence Brian ‘Bordellos’ Shea to review and publicize his own record. So I’m going to do it for him instead.

Dropping singles, albums and miscellaneous detritus like the most candid, cynical of therapy sessions, Brian, as patriarchal cult leader of St. Helens’ most ramshackle miscreant underground heroes The Bordellos, wages a daily battle with the music industry and, well, society in general. He does all this of course shadowed by an extended cast of Shea family members and anyone stoned, deranged or bored enough to have happened across one of the impromptu legendary late night recording sessions. With a gift equally as spot-on and part of the cultural fabric of shitty Britain as Half Man Half Biscuit, Brian and his troupe have found profound wry humour in the darkest of subjects. True outsiders, they’ve forged a career out of misery with a lo fi ascetic that makes The Fall sound as if they’d been produced by Phil Spector.

Of on one of his many tangents, Brian teams up with long-suffering bandmate and offspring Dan (doing grand and promising things with Vukovar and the burgeoning Beauty Stab) and John McCarthy to create his newest project, Roi. The first single from this new turn salvages both a lost Bordellos plaint from the brilliant (one of our albums of the year) 2014 LP Will. I. Am, You’re Really Nothing, and hones a slurged dissonance to a mate’s record shop. The latter of those, ‘Dormouse Records’, is a deranged paean to the vinyl stockist of Brian’s dreams. Memories, inconsequential to some, and rites-of-passages are marked by a litany of favourite records as Brian wistfully rummages through the racks of a less cunty, less surly version of the High Fidelity record store vision. It often sounds like two completely separate tracks/ideas playing simultaneously; the intermittent synthesized rumbles and noise bleeding into the main jangly melodic rhythm of the main song.

Almost as a sort of grudge against Bordellos stalwart Ant, a new version of the 2014 kiss-me-quick, misty-eyed ballad to love in a Mersey seaside town, ‘Straight Outta Southport’ replaces Brian’s sibling’s original parts with those of McCarthy’s. Losing none of its lo fi heart rendering beauty in the process, there’s perhaps a slightly more distorted and forlorn edge on this recreation: Roi covering The Bordellos as it were; truly pop will eat itself.

Even though 6Music, The Guardian, uncut and their ilk talk and feature/pick-up on what the Monolith Cocktail was already raving about months ago, The Bordellos remain a cult, but very influential, missive waiting to happen. They’re too good for us anyway; we don’t deserve them. But some recognition wouldn’t go amiss in the wider press and industry (I make apologies to similar sized-ventures and radio shows that have been championing them like ourselves). Roi is just another example of that unassuming, unaided-thoughts aloud talent.




EP REVIEW
Words: Andrew C. Kidd



Swan/Koistinen ‘Swan/Koistinen’ EP
(Soliti Music)  3rd Match 2019


Astrid Swan and Stina Koistinen star in this free-spoken and weighty musical narrative, which they describe as an “art pop symphony for two voices”. Their collaborative work takes the listener into a world of hospitals, cancer treatments and the gritty realism of living with a life-limiting illness. An in-depth feature in Flow Mag describes the incurable cancers that Stina Koistinen and Astrid Swan both have and the process that led to the recording of this extended play: “cancer brought us together”, the duo put plainly1.

The EP is composed of four tracks of pianos, guitars and subtle electronics that lie beneath crisp, harmonised and electronically edited vocals. Samples even include the mechanical sounds of a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, adding further depth. The string arrangements come courtesy of Canadian violinist Owen Pallett who has previously written compositions for the likes of The Arcade Fire, Frank Ocean and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The accompanying visuals have been filmed in collaboration with Tekla Vály.

The EP opens with ‘Diagnosis’, a track that builds upon a throbbing, modulated synth and crunching beat. The vocals are unabashedly raw: “gimme just one more day”, is the appeal. The visuals on ‘Diagnosis’ are abstract and immersive. A brief glimpse of a snail quickly leads to images of hands coursing over an uneven wall. The stone masonry becomes increasingly complex as footage of lattice brickwork eventually pans across to a bust of a stony head; perhaps these symbols represent cancer growth? Or even maturation of their thought processes as they reach a point of realisation? The hands continue to course over a person lying prostrate before touching toys and eventually broken musical instruments. As the synths and strings filter away, we are left in a grassy field with blood-red flower heads and a lone woman in a dress, making circles with her hands; the latter images are much closer-to-home and sum up the all-consuming and life-altering nature of their respective diagnoses.

‘Hospital’ follows. The reddened filter of a naked person web-laced and alarm-like, key-changing synths and stabs of the strings imbue conflict. The piece builds up to a frenzy before the reverberated vocals expand and filter out in harmony; a metaphor for feelings of anxiety gently soothed by the calming hand of youthful optimism.

“It’s not me”, is the opening line sung on the emotive ‘Symptoms’. The sparse string arrangements, high-pitched arpeggio of the piano and grainy images of a silhouetted-figure dancing in the background allude to a sense of oblivity. The fragile vocals touch upon the temporal: days add up to months, which in turn become years. “I’m no longer invincible”, the duo sing. The contrasting Martelé and tremolo of the strings further these ideas of uncertainty and, ultimately, loss.

The duo concludes with the determined ‘Singing’. It starts as a quasi-reprise of the previous piece. “I’m still here”, is sung over piano and a string section which continually climb the scales, lifting the sounds to lofty and triumphant heights. The colours in Vály’s accompanying visuals are now warmer, more sanguine. Up until this point the EP has been stylistically very free form, suspended somewhere in the murky ambience of the trip hop, chamber pop and electronica sub-genres. The slow shuffle rhythm played out on the drums provides a momentary point of temporal reference for the listener. The EP concludes here.

The external manifestations of cancer are somewhat brash and often visible: a lump, a blemish, and hair loss. The internal impact is much harder to comprehend. People may experience loss or complete devastation. They may even meet it with indifference or a joyless hyperactivity. Regardless, a cancer diagnosis will most certainly be the start of a long and oft-times silent journey spent in the twilight. This is the impression that I got when listening to the Swan/Koistinen EP. They share the trauma and struggle and incertitude of the seemingly irrational paths that they have encountered. As the listener, one could easily become lost in the turmoil and ceaselessness of the situation. Yet, it is through the strength of the duo that the listener is led forward to a place of light and life. It is exactly here, in the broad, blinding daylight of this metaphysical clearing, where Swan and Koistinen connect so strongly and where their voices can be heard the loudest.

1Ylitalo M. Time Heals Not. Flow Magazine, 2019. p21 & 22. Available from: https://www.flowfestival.com/current/uploads/2019/05/FlowMag19_web.pdf





ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Gianluigi Marsibilio




Frog ‘Count Bateman’
(Audio Antihero/Tape Wormies) 16th August 2019


Frog are a kiosk by the sea, on a suburban beach.

The essence of their work is gathered in a search for intimacy that is expressed in DIY and lo-fi passages; a very successful sound universe touched by Bon Iver, Daniel Johnston and other such sacred monsters.

Their flame is lit on Count Bateman. The new album in fact captures the peak of a clear path and placed lo-fi sound. The interweaving of stories on this record are a safe place that puts us at peace and in dialogue with the idea of Frog’s music.

The ability of the work is to go down, and at the same time transcend, in a strongly psychological dimension, but there is no Freud or Jung, but simply a dose of sharpness and freshness that make us feel good, almost inexplicably.

The guitar landscape of songs like ‘It’s Something I Do’ or ‘Black Friday’ is uncontaminated, a walk with Christopher McCandless. The sound is light; it’s a wave of fresh water, an immersion in a style very close to that of Daniel Johnston.

In Frog there is the rediscovery of a low profile attitude, which must be understood and studied in the light of a historical moment in which the ability to remain in the dark, with the light off, has been lost, even in more indie environments.

Frog are like Matisse, painters of windows and fixtures that open in an expanse of neighborhoods, cities and stories. Count Bateman is an open window from which air enters and often there is also a hurricane breeze; in fact the second part of the record is full of unusual sounds and more driven, electronically, for the duo.





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.










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

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