ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Vukovar ‘The Great Immurement’
(Other Voices Records) 23rd April 2021

In the metaphorical (and actually quite literal) wake of last year’s chthonian mini-opus The Colossalist, Vukovar now bring us the second chapter of their most recent incarnation and equally as consumed with vague auguries of fallen empire and gothic yearned romanticism, The Great Immurement.

In an atmospheric sonic vision of Bosch’s triptychs, this latest (the 9th album proper) work marks the second in a triumvirate of albums under the ‘Eternity Ends Here’ series (The Colossalist being the opening account in this saga). As with the previous industrial, post-punk and spiritual hungered epic, The Great Immurement pays homage to the dearly departed; featuring as it does the final song that the group’s co-conspirator of recent years and inspiring guide Simon Morris recorded with them. As a codex, nee mini-requiem, that last impassioned-esoteric-pop-song-hidden-in-a-mire, ‘Cement & Cerement‘, is a brutalist romantic anthem from the crypt of mental fatigue: pitched somewhere between Joy Division and Alan Vega catching a lift on Death In June’s vapour. Morris committed suicide in 2019 but his spirit continues to affect the band; looming large over both this and the last album. If you ever need to know just how influential but also how personal his death was for Vukovar, who’d managed to corral the much-venerated underground figure (notably for his instigation of The Ceramic Hobs) into their ranks, please take time out to read, one of the founding members of this pyre of a band, Dan Shea’s stark but intimate account of their friendship (an account the Monolith Cocktail published back in 2020; coincidently just a week before lockdown in the UK).

Morris may very well have been part of Vukovar’s constantly imperiled lineup if he hadn’t decided to vanish and leave this mortal realm as he did. His involvement was part of one of many changes in the band’s fortunes. Pressing forward though, constant warden and co-founder Rick Clarke is not only joined by another Hob and oft collaborator, Jane Appleby, but once more embraces his foil Dan Shea, who for various reasons in a fraught dynamic left to pursue other projects, notably, with fellow Vukovar stalwart (though missing from this lineup) Buddy Preston, forming the low-rent, lo fi bedsit synth Beauty Stab duo. In what is a convoluted historiography and rock family tree nightmare, and in what maybe seen as a case of ‘pop eating itself’ Meta, the neu- Vukovar inception actually cover one of Beauty Stab’s anthems, ‘O Eden’. Adding a certain gravitas and making a last supper out of the original, it now kind of makes sense as a Vukovar song that never was. Both versions are great it must be said, though the Stab’s was more Soft Cell, whilst this appropriation is more OMD misty march of yearned reverence; swaddled by a shapeless noise and opportune stabbed high piano notes: still bloody magnificent.

Followers of the blog may recognize the name of this latest waltz-at-the-end-of-time, The Great Immurement being also the title of Clarke’s voyeuristic supernatural peephole entombed book, which we serialized during the pandemic nightmare that was 2020. Though separate from the album’s themes and concepts, an illustration (etched by the celebrated Andrzej Klimowski; a great coup for Clarke and the band that was) from that sordid travail dons the cover – as it also did The Colossalist.

The Great Immurement, as the title suggests, denotesa certain sense, anxiety of confinement from which to break free. And so most of the album’s music seems to smoother, even overpower with an echo chamber of reverberated voices, malingering traces of spirits, competing opinions and fallen angels. There’s even a fallen ‘Icarus’ figure, trapped in multiple veils of sorrow, industrial fizz and vapours; with a searching, decried vocal attempting to escape the ether.

In the feted mode of spiritualism, Vukovar turn to the Psalms; another cry of freedom soundtracked by pleaded despair, communal deliverance and a brilliant stark but intimate voice that channels Ian Curtis, Ian McCulloch and Charlie Megira. An estranged linger of religion permeates the entire album in that kind of post-punk battle between haunted Catholic gilded guilt and alternative pathways of spiritual guidance, bordering on the occult. The sort of practice that Coil, Fritch and Current 93 had a kink for. It won’t come as a surprise to find out that Vukovar recorded a collaborative album with the Current’s Michael Cashmore (2018’s Monument), or that Coil, and the affiliated Tibet and Balance all prove an obvious inspiration. They even re-purpose Current 93’s ‘Rome For Douglas P’; turning the source into a vortex vision of Suicide on a quickened sordid rock ‘n’ roll charge with the renamed ‘When Rome Falls’: A real crushed but energetic industrial soul boy vocal is echoed in a backbeat tunnel, as the funeral pyre flames rise over a new Rome.

In the middle of this vacuum you might well hear the lingers and outright borrowing of a Siouxsie’s Banshees, early Cure, Christian Death, Talk Talk and even a less pompous Sisters Of Mercy. Yet Vukovar don’t do things the easy way; contorting, obscuring and vaporising the melodies, riffs and the niceties, even vocals as much as possible without losing the intrinsic value of their message and new romantic lament. True confessionals, aspirations and pained release caught up in a venerable maelstrom, Vukovar’s middle passage of ambitious anguished caustic industrial soul, experimentation and empire crumbling Cassandra oracles continue to impress; ringing even more inspiration from the macabre and mentally gruelling. We can only await the final piece of this fated triptych with baited breath.

The Vukovar Cannon As Featured On The Monolith Cocktail:

2020: Cement & Cerement  (here)

2020: The Colossalist’  (here)

2019: Cremator (here)

2018: Monument (here)

2018: Infinitum (here)

2017: Puritan (here)

2017: The Clockwork Dance  (here)

2017: Fornication  (here)

2015: Emperor  (here)

Also…

Rick Clarke’s The Great Immurement

Opening Chapters (here)

Parts 4-6 (here)

Parts 7-9 (here)

Parts 10-12 (here)

Parts 13-15 (here)

Parts 16-18 (here)

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.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Mazeppa ‘S/T’
February 10th 2021

Formed four years ago in the atavistic gateway city of Haifa in Israel, with all its connotations and history, the Mazeppa quartet channel both Middle Eastern mysticism and the intense lyrical verses and prose of the Bohemia-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke on their ambitious debut album. Led by the incredible diaphanous siren voice of Michal Pérez Noy, who both invokes a Kabbalah Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux, the band follow up on a string of Mazzy Star meets Byzantium incense burning psychedelic and shoegaze enriched singles (both of which, the rallying, enticing hypnotic esoteric ‘The Way In’, and paisley underground ‘Roses’ are included on this album) with an expansive soundtrack of cosmic grandeur.

Enraptured by the highly influential poetics of the widely travelled and sagacious Rilke, Michal and her musical partners Amir Noy (on drums), Elad Bardes (bass) and Asaf Koren (guitar) originally put the band together to incorporate his searching prose into song; prose that is often itself stirred by the many forms of European Christianity (from Lutheran to Orthodox) and by the vistas of his eventual home in Switzerland.

That source material now sits alongside the burgeoning lyrics of Michal and her band mates on an album of various atmospheric mini-opuses and shorter post-punk, C86, psychedelic, alt-country anthems. I say alt-country, but I mean something wholly in keeping with the band’s roots and home; a tremolo like sweeping evocation of the desert frontiers, with images conjured-up of wandering band members seeking spiritual answers, like Biblical characters under the stars in a mountainous, sandy and arid wilderness.

They keep up a richly, deep and entrancing spell throughout, with nothing labored or strained musically or vocally. In fact even in the crescendos, the moments of crashing dissonance, and even when Michal rouses a fighting shout, the playing is always melodious and controlled.

A magik and romantic wanton gravitas of the spiritual, dreamy and the Gothic, permeates this work of considered poise and wispy drifting. It’s a sound that weaves in and out of washes of the Black Angels, Siouxsie’s Banshees, The Velvet Underground, the Besnard Lakes and the more symphonic examples of 90s Britpop. As heavenly as it is steeped in eastern mysticism, Mazeppa’s debut expands the Israeli band’s scope and ambitions: which I say they’ve more than matched. A passionate, thoughtful but powerful esoteric and more earthly-bound songbook, Mazeppa is already among my highlights in 2021.   

Suggested Reading:

Mazeppa ‘Roses’

Mazeppa ‘The Way In’ 

  

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.


Review
Words: Dominic Valvona




Ammar 808 ‘Global Control/Invisible Invasion’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/18th September 2020


Previously amplifying and transforming both the traditional ritual and rhythms of the Bargou Valley region and the broader Maghreb, Tunisian producer Sofyann Ben Youssef now turns attention to the Hindu imbued sounds of Southern India for his latest captivating sonic acceleration. Following on from his Bargou 08 partnership with Nidhal Yahyaoui and debut Ammar 808 jolt of desert-style futurism, Sofyann dives into the traditions of Carnatic music whilst summoning up a cosmology of gods and deities on the immersive Global Control/Invisible Invasion experience.

Recorded and titled before the great pandemic, Global Control/Invisible Invasion refers to an “invasion” that “happens in brain” and the “the soul”. Sofyann explains: “We’re invaded without ever seeing it externally, and this system decrees our fate.” It’s a force that started at the beginning of time, sidetracked by a manifestation of religions, monetary systems, virtual economics, media and politics that are all constantly at odds with the individual. Deep indeed is the rhythm of life, the rhythm of freedom. You may actually hear it with this latest offering: a surprising harmonious if bombastic panoramic charge.

 

A logical, congruous expansion it seems to those North African fusions of sci-fi and the atavistic, the exonerations, paeans, yearnings and “mathematical” buoyant rhythms of Southern India are bombarded with the customary TR-808 drum machine ticks and clatter, warped effects and sonorous sub-bass in a way that unites the two cultures.

This though is a return for Sofyann who, at the age of twenty, studied in Delhi for a time learning the sitar and tabla whilst absorbing everything the country had to offer. As part of his own search and understanding of identity in the wake of the Arab Spring, the burgeoning beat-provider, keyboardist journeyed back years later to the country to record what would be this transformative hybrid. Aiding him in this venture, fellow producer and studio owner Paul Jacobs was tasked with finding the cast of collaborating Indian musicians, who’s sound is transformed by Sofyann’s production and sonics; a cast that includes, amongst others, the enchanting, stirring melodious voice of Susha and galloping, rattling percussion of Thanjai Nayandi Melam.





These elements are vibrated, ramped-up and exaggerated in an almost continuous assault on the senses; a sonic language of counterbalanced extremes fed into a percussive, breakbeat driven gatecrash of Indian mountain region weddings, rituals and conversations with gods. The last of those comes in the for of the album’s reverberated Bhangra battling ‘Ey Paavi’, which pitches the boasting death destruction ratcheting of Bhima and Duryodhana with flipped beats, sub-bass buzzing R&B vocal effects and a frisson of percussion. One of many names for the Hindu god Ganesha, ‘Mahaganapatim’, lends both communal chanted blessings and an increasingly inter-layered bombast of percussive breaks to this spiritual futuristic dance music. Flipping, bounding and propulsive, tracks such as the rotor oscillating ‘Pahi Jagajjanai’ send ethereal Indian song towards the Techno of Jeff Mills or Basic Channel. The shivered cymbal and trinkets scraping desert trance ‘Arrisothari Yen Devi’ adds a lo-rider vocal detuned hip-hop effect to the original shrouded echo-y vocals.

At times this overdrive sounds more like a dance music set; a remix vision of traditional Southern India and contemporary African EDM, yet really Sofyann pushes way beyond that into new exciting horizons. The Ammar 808 project once more crosses generations and geography to dynamically invigorate and drive forward those cross-pollinations; in so doing, the North African beat provider finds a common cause in two very different cultures.






See also:

Ammar 808 ‘Marivere Gati (featuring SUSHA )’

Maghreb United’ LP Review

Bargou 08 ‘Targ’ LP Review

Glitterbeat Records 5th Anniversary Special

Review/Dominic Valvona




Various ‘Door To The Cosmos’
(On The Corner) Album/18th September 2020


The celebrated polygenesis label On The Corner go all out to mark the release of their tenth mind-expanding record, Door To The Cosmos. Every bit as cosmological as that title suggests – borrowed from Saturn’s jazz messenger envoy Sun-Ra: “dare to knock at the door of the cosmos” – this eclectic experimental dance compilation brings together a representative showcase of both label stalwarts and the fresh intake of burgeoning signings. All of which share the practice of fusing sounds and sonics from various global cultures to create a more exotic, denser and layered vision of dance music, fit for the 21st century.

Not that you can easily separate into tangible categories of influence or genre, but for the benefit of this run-through, and to make my task easier, I’m going to at least attempt to break these 24-tracks down into genres of a kind. In the jazz sphere we’re offered both a combination of ensemble pieces and treatments from soloists alike. The first of which straight away falls outside of those perimeters with Black Classical floating to a jazzy evoked deep-bass and spiritually voiced hybrid of trip-hop and Low End Theory A Tribe Called Quest soundings on his ‘Sisters Brew’. Luminary of the Glasgow club and blossoming, thriving, jazz scene Rebecca Vasmant appears both as a soloist producer-composer with the disco glistened Afro-jazz-soul mover ‘Teen Town’, and, in the role of remixer, subtly taking a dip in the spoken-word conscious day-spar tranquility of Tenesha The Wordsmith and Tamar ‘Collocutor’ Osborn’s disarming fluty ‘Yemya’ collaboration. Composer and saxophonist Osborn furnishes this collection with a trio of tracks; appearing with a full troupe of modal style jazz musicians on the spiralling horns, amorphous swamp-jazz turn Miles Davis galactic funk implosion ‘Everywhere Live At TRC’ – which is further sent off into that heralded cosmos by Black Classical on “speed” mix duties -, and swirling around in a moody jumble of erratic breaks, prodded sax and vaporuos flute on ‘Lost And Found’ – another treated version, this time with Afrikan Sciences behind the transformation.





Another jazz, be it futuristic and eclectic in inspirations, combo turns in a celestial jam for the compilation in the guise of the Nathan ‘Tugg’ Curran led flexing Edrikz Puzzle, who produce a hard-bop in free fall with ‘Jonny Buck Buck’. Snozzled sax and double bass meets with a more harassed Jaki Liebeziet splurge of drum rolls and bounces on this peregrination.

In the Afro-futurist and transformative indigenous cultures mode, “new spirit” producer Azu Tiwaline opens this survey with the tubular percussive Arabian space mirage ‘Violent Curves’. Featuring also Cinna Peyghamy as foil, this shrouded desert drift mines Azu’s southwestern Tunisian roots to produce something moody and sophisticated: a submersive camel trail across sand dunes. Gazing towards the Indian sub-continent, another producer Abdellah M. Hassak as the alter ego Guedra Guedra adds a deep House bass, metallic pulses and vaporous throbs to the brassy resonance of Indian instrumentation and voices on ‘Couscous Curtain’. South American head mask mystifiers Dengue Dengue Dengue (also known in these circles as the shortened DNGDNGDNG) get three goes at enticing the listeners into their tropical ether. Firstly with the spooked lunar vision of Colombian and Cumbia ‘Hiperborea’, then the hooted-House Peruvian pan-pipe (as reimagined by a 90s Harthouse label) ‘Semillero’, and finally, the hand drum ancestral chant and percussive shaken ‘Amnative’.
L.A. producer and DJ Jose Marquez uses his Latin roots and influences whilst also evoking New Orleans on his sassy Muscle Shores studio organ voodoo House track ‘La Negra Lorenza’.





Fitting only into categories of his own imaginations, Don Korta offers up a couple of ‘samosa beat’ shorts; the first, a shuffled gumbo, the second, a Madlib style loop of hand drumming breaks. And from the valleys of Welsh-futurism, Petwo Evans transports the vales’ mists and ethereal spirits to a vague African headland of spindled and wooden bobbing beats.

In what I can discern as House, Techno and Deep Bass culture, we have the data language low bass and rattling ‘Sorry’ from the Italian “Afro-Futurist” beat-shaker Raffaele Costantino, aka Khalab; the Basic Channel and electro pop sax honked ‘Agyapong’ by AJD Twitch; and DJAX Up-Beats wobbly lunar (almost dubby in places) ‘City’s Dead (Wrapped In Plastic)’ by Copenhagen talent Uffe.

It’s save to say that all of the label’s roster of DJ-producers, composers and jazz-heavy explorers pull club sounds in some imaginative and, sometimes, unique directions over the course of this new compilation. So expect to hear the spirit of Detroit and Chicago rubbing up against sub-bass waveforms, sophisticated itching electrified percussion, densely crafted effects, polyrhythms and real instruments on a compilation that spans both earthly and cosmological boundaries. On The Corner don’t just knock on that Sun-Ra eluded door but open it into an expanding sonic universe of jazz, Afro-Futurism, Arabian, tropical and worldly inspired dance music. It’s remarkable that this marks only the label’s tenth release; such is the breadth and quality. Better line up your copy soon, as this is going to fly out the proverbial door.






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.

ALBUM REVIEW/MATT OLIVER




Elian Gray ‘Awkward Awe’
Album/14th August 2020


“We got blogs to tell us how journalism lost its essence/and Urban Outfitters are hosting ayahuasca sessions” 

 

Dystopian is too convenient a sonic description. Claustrophobia is a given. Conspiracy theorist is a bit on the nose. But there’s no doubt Elian Gray is revelling in a no man’s land just shy of pitch black. At various points referencing The Lasso, Aesop Rock, Acyde, Tinie Tempah, Ed Scissor, Riz Ahmed and Ghostpoet, Awkward Awe is music for the fibre optic generation trapped in a tangle of their own wires, relaying scenes seen through CCTV that have its lookout warning that you’re still not seeing the whole picture. It’s all-knowing, antiestablishment, reality too skewed to become fantasy, hip-hop/grime from someone with the world in the palm of his hands, whose attitude means he’s likelier to toss it back and chuckle villainously upon its implosion. His sometime involvement with the DefDFires crew makes sense as well, given the days of reckoning permanently ringed on that particular outfit’s calendar.

A dry, beady-eyed delivery made spiteful when at full speed/spiked by microphone distortion, is further enhanced when it drops down into skulking, night vision reportage (the aromatic ‘Mango Lassi’) and mounts a throne while predicting death by screen burn with a quiet relish. ‘Haters Will Say Its Photoshop’ proclaims, without a hint of irony, “with this access to boundless information/I’m sat in my pants, on my phone, judging strangers”. Gray’s occasional, intentional running into dead ends nicely sums up society’s mindset of misaligning deeds and thoughts. Thing is, some of his rhymes are so biting that they sound ideal for a hipster to scrawl across an overpriced tote bag. Maybe Gray has been burned by the lifestyle he now admonishes, or is inexplicably trying to bring civilisation down from the inside while the oblivious keep calm and carries on. Virtually praying by candlelight on ‘Awe’ while fallen angels read their own last rites, Gray is dismissive of the vulnerability he can show (“I’ve been so afraid of love it’s made me bitter inside”) – the world order will flippantly take care of that particular caveat anyway, citing the fact that everyone’s made their bed, so all’s left is to lie in it.

 

“It’s no secret the world’s outgrown its own leaders/yet I can’t help feeling our defects might go deeper” 

 

Interrupted beats, of broken, backfiring connections to trip hop, are all digital oil drum fires and London wastelands with irregular electronic heartbeats, infrequently flashing back to slick moments in time akin to a black box recorder spewing out something pertinent. The thoroughfare ‘Mary J Poppins’ allocates time to get your head together, and ‘Meanwhile’ surprises with its bursts of glam rock guitar. The restored glamour of ‘High Art’, and ‘Leonards Got Bars’, occupy life at the sharp end – or at least live with the idea of doing so – the latter in particular nut-shelling the fallout of high def beats and alternations between the balance of ignorance and bliss. ‘Another T Shirt’, trap booms grappling with blinking 8-bit neon and a lone songstress wailing, is Gray developing an Infinite Livez incision, but burying the slapstick with a cold stare and trigger temper, cultivated and remaining coiled since the rooftop shouts of opening track ‘Awkward’ give a momentary impression of just another loudmouth shooting their five minute shot.

In these current times – and that includes the stick-to-the-sheets temperatures of late – there’s no better soundtrack, and Awkward Awe becomes more and more a perfect description of Gray’s caustic detailing. Throughout he is undeniably passionate and articulate, but as on ‘Pisces’, able to tear down the façade of life, the universe and everything without breaking stride, not looking to gain constituents and not particularly caring whether you take his word as gospel. It’s hard to argue with the logic that “once the lie detector detected itself lying/the polygraph it seems is not without a sense of irony”. And with the world showing no signs of doing anything other than going through the motions, Gray won’t be short of work anytime soon.

His is an inner circle operating as a force field keeping out the rabble, so good luck trying to offer your admiration: even his most amplified call-to-arms, ‘Come Down with Me’, isn’t an entirely convincing statement of brotherly love. Sharpen the scalpel for repeated dissection of Gray’s 50 shades of antipathy.



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!




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Half Free LP Review

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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





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