Album Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona






In-between lockdowns the only good news is that at least this month and next is shaping up to be the busiest months in 2020 so far, with a significant rise in the number of releases. And so, just scratching the surface, I’ve picked out just a smattering of interesting and brilliant albums from the thousands that the Monolith Cocktail receives each month.

German contemporary electronic music pioneer Stefan Schwander under the Harmonious Thelonious title, creates a new sophisticated polygenesis dance album of itchy scratching no wave, the tribal and industrial for the Hamburg label Bureau B; a survey of various contemporary experimental artists come together for charity to interpret the amorphous Plague Score graphic score of Nick Gill; Japanese underground luminary Phew releases a sort of mixed compilation of new material and unreleased sessions from her 2017 album’s Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore for the Disciples imprint. Lurking in the jazz-fusion subterranean, a new project from classically leaning producer and guitarist Leo Abraham and jazz drummer Martin France and their ensemble of collaborators, is the latest release on Glitterbeat’s experimental instrumental imprint tak:til. Krononaut converges the avant-garde with post-rock, post-punk and krautrock. Sometime Roedelius foil Andrew Heath releases yet another understated ambient sound collage of the real and imaginary for the Disco Gecko label; the patient escapist ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’. The Israeli-Russian collective Staraya Derevnya release a treble album haul, though I’m concentrating on the marvellous culmination of improvised performances pieces and additional material avant-garde krautrock folk Inwards Opened The Floor.

Handling the pandemic and escalating divisive free fall with spite, energy and violence, there’s the new Map 71 album, Turn Back Metropolis, and a barricade breaching, loud and primal return for the Young Knives with their first full-on album in nearly seven years, Barbarians.


Young Knives ‘Barbarians’
(Gadzook) Album/4th September 2020


Hurtling back from a four-year hiatus with a barrage, the brothers Dartnall unleash an angry firestorm of a dystopian album; the first fully realised collision since 2013’s Sick Octave.

The now not so Young Knives have been busy sharpening their sonic disconsolations in all that time, ready to pounce with an attack on the senses; reappearing at a most depressingly divisive time. Not that there hasn’t been more than enough material to keep the Knives awake at night, but they’ve been inspired to light the fuse by reading up on the apocalyptic philosopher/writer John Gray’s resigned tract on the illusions (as he sees it) of self-determination, Straw Dogs, and the controversial professional man-hater Valerie Solanas and her patriarchal death-knell, the S.C.U.M. Manifesto (an abbreviation of the Society For Cutting Up Men). In what’s said to be their most “cathartic” and “noisy” release yet, the self-confessed nihilists and miserablists have channeled the Clockwork Orange borstal of primal savage human nature, as explored in Gray’s polarizing theorem, and Solanas’ (what some critics and commentators consider a clever parody, even satire of “the performance of patriarchal social order it refuses”; though attempting to murder Andy Warhol, and by association the American critic Maria Amaya, puts a damper on that suggestion) utopian pipe-dream to knock seven bells out of the indie-dance and post-post-punk blueprints.

Essentially, as the title makes clear, despite all our graces, technologic advances and awareness, humans have never lost their barbaric cruelty. Is this just part of our nature and makeup? And if so, how do we live with it? It’s a quandary that hasn’t diminished over time, and a fate amplified in the pressing destructive times of 2020; a cold war of ideals, divisive politics kindled by a raging pandemic. And so, you can expect an explosive despondency from the Knives as they tear up and skulk through the debris.





It starts by plowing into a sustained menacing buzzy and harassed krautrock like grooving thrust merger of Techno, Siouxsie’s Banshees and PiL (Henry Dartnall will use will Lydon’s signature cocky sneer and haranguing rage throughout this Molotov hurling album), and continues to caustically cut-up a barreling and marching rant of These New Puritans, Scary Monsters and Outside era Bowie, NIN, the Chemical Brothers, Death From Above 1979 and The Slits. There’s even, I might suggest, a hint of supernatural Alex Harvey, albeit jazzed-up with rollicking Bloc Party drums, on the creeping witchery ‘Jenny Haniver’. I’m not surprised it has a daemonic esoteric feel, as the title refers to the ghastly unnatural looking mummified carcasses of rays and skates that have been dried-out and modified to resemble fanciful creatures like dragons and demons.

Brutality is everywhere, with samples of audio from a bare-knuckle brawl on the tortuous fist-clenched whirlwind title-track, and a squall of harsh and heavy breakbeats and alarms constantly rattle the cerebral. Yet breaking the barbarous grind and bounce are moments of brief relief: the venerable and prayerful female chorus on the ‘Holy Name 68’’ vignette (a distorted calm from the past), and the milder relief of a vague brass band finale serenade on the previously Blurt honking post-punk ‘Slashed What I Saw’ curtain call.

Henry shouts that the “scum will inherit the earth” and other such sloganism, knowing full well his rage will inevitably dissipate as the barricades come tumbling down once more. A future hell on repeat, the Knives at least have a good go at firing up the audience; it’s a noise and row that has been largely missing in the music world, and proves the perfect poisoned tonic for these end times. It’s good to have them back.






Phew ‘Vertigo KO’
(Disciples) Album/4th September 2020





In case you haven’t been introduced to the avant-garde voice iterations and various drone landscaping experiments of the Japanese artist known as Phew, then this new and unique compilation of her personal sonic statements and moods is both an eye-opener and a good place to start.

Phew’s entry into this field started with the instigation of the Osaka psychedelic-punk group Aunt Sally in 1978, which she fronted until their brief but influential burnout just a couple of years later. During the next decade Phew would work with an enviable cast of experimental doyens including Ryuchi Sakamoto, Alex Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten fame and DAF’s Christo Haar, and also making an album with the illustrious Can pairing of Holgar Czukay and Jaki Leibzeit and legendary producer Conny Plank. Fast-forwarding to the noughties and the underground pioneer has performed live and recorded with The Raincoats’ Ana Da Silva, Jim O’Rourke and Ikue Mori and Yoshimi of the OOIOO/Boredoms/Saicobab arc of ensembles. Quite the providence, it’s a back catalogue that can be heard suffused throughout the latest collection of specially recorded new material, unreleased works from Phew’s two most recent solo album sessions (2017’s Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore) and a, removed from its original disjointed source, cover version.

Framed by the artist herself as “An unconscious sound sketch…” and as “personal documentary music”, Vertigo KO is a special kind of compilation. Forward thinking, progressive rather than looking back, the tracks on this album can’t be dated or easily linked back to those previous works. It sounds in fact like a new work entirely, made in the moment, all at the same conjuncture of creativity and thought. The label Disciples has already put out a limited edition cassette, Vertical Jamming, of Phew’s “long form drone work”, but this collection seems untethered, themeless concept wise and musically. Well that’s not entirely true, Phew states that her last two albums from which some of the martial has been lifted is personal and not an attempt at a “worldview”: the overall undercurrent and hidden message being “what a terrible world we live in, but let’s survive”. Phew seems to convey this survival by counterbalancing ascendant crystal rays of nature and heavenly with mysticism, otherworldliness and ominous Sci-fi: The skying drones and refractions that build towards a cathedral in the clouds on the opening ‘The Very Ears Of Morning’ evoke the beauty and enormity of nature’s first light. Yet by the second track Phew has transmogrified the loose post-punk slumbering Raincoats distress ‘The Void’; transporting the bare bones to a neon-futuristic industrial setting, ala Bladerunner.

Some of the more truly “out there” avant-garde moods involve various vocal repetitions and multi layering. These voices, intonations and peculiar annunciations can be in the form of obscured incantations (as they are on the vaporous hive humming consciousness mystery ‘Let’s Dance, Let’s Go’), vowel stretching (on the dial twisting ‘All That Vertigo’) or monastic (on the mystical Buddhist/Shinto call to prayer vacuum ‘Hearts And Flowers’). Sometimes it’s used as a rhythm, at other times as a lingering trace of yearning from the “void”.

Phew’s amorphous sonic sensibilities exist both in the metallic gauze of space and in more concentrated earthly reverence. A pioneer of the form, the Japanese icon of the underground continues to produce some of her strongest work as a new decade beckons, birthed in a pandemic. The signatures, reference points and mode will be familiar to those already well acquainted with the Phew’s varied catalogue, yet Vertigo KO offers some sublime and inventive surprises to be an essential edition to the collection. Those unfamiliar would do well to experience this set of suites and then work backwards.




Krononaut ‘Krononaut’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 4th September 2020





Out on the peripherals of identifiable jazz-fusion the newly assembled Krononaut ensemble conjure up a mysterious extemporize performance on their debut vision for Glitterbeat’s highly experimental instrumental imprint tak:til.

Instigated, led by producer and guitarist Leo Abraham (who’s contextual guitar lines can be heard on Eno’s sublime Small Craft On A Milk Sea LP) and drummer Martin France (who’s played with, amongst others, Nils Petter Molvaer and Evan Parker) but methodology wise a democratized unit that embraces the atmospherical leanings and peregrinations of its extended lineup of collaborators, Krononaut was created out of a musical disciplinary challenge: To converge Leo’s classical sensibilities and learning with Martin’s jazz background. The results of which linger, spiral and prowl in an abstract subterranean space of hybrid jazz, Jon Hassell’s possible musics, krautrock, post-punk, post-rock and, at least in part, are informed, inspired by the unique rhythms found in the Madoh Shamanic funeral music of Tajikistan.

Recorded in London last year over two sessions, the inaugural featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (from Tom Waits to Laurie Anderson) on bass, the follow-up, the enigmatic saxophonist Matana Roberts, Swedish trumpeter Arve Henriksen and on bass duties too, Tim Harries, the Krononaut album reimagines a musique concrete Miles Davis, Sam Rivers and Grachen Moncur III skulking a masked, mournful to a point, ether that once in a while floats into the ethereal (in evidence on the diaphanous aria veneration ‘Vision Of The Cross’).

Navigating dark recesses in a spidery probing with the bass on the shadowy ‘Location 14’, and evoking their label mates Pulled By Magnets on the semi-industrial, cavernous and falling ‘Power Law’, this ensemble creep into post-punk; sounding like a transmogrified deconstructive PiL. Yet despite this the Krononaut’s are never so disjointed, dark or brash as to raise the volume above the discordant or even delicate; nothing runs away or untethers itself completely from the musicians’ grip.

Vague bursts of Guru Guru, drifting Eastern horns and filmic qualities drift in and out of serialism vaporuos industrial soundscapes and odd primal lagoons. Sporadic fits of propulsive drummed rhythms materialize from these non-liner recordings, but for the most part we’re strung out in the stresses and entanglements of composed, sophisticated avant-garde explorers: jazz and those classical leanings only really play one of many parts to this conjuncture of elements.

Ponderous, stalking, lolloping, spiritual, fluctuating – an exercise in relearning and discovery in fact – the Krononaut album of fourth world like experiments is free of limitations. It’s a project that escapes, even defies, categorization; another congruous fit with the ethos of the tak:til label.






Harmonious Thelonious ‘Plong’
(Bureau B) 28th August 2020





Fitting congruously within the Bureau B label family, Stefan Schwander’s inaugural album of sophisticated minimalist dance music for the Hamburg platform chimes with its roster of German experimental electronic pioneers; from Zuckerzeit candy era Cluster to the deconstructive Populäre Mechanik and the more contemporary Pyrolator.

More or less ten years into his Harmonious Thelonious alter ego, Schwander now offers a more “industrial sound” made from concrete objects vision of his American “minimalism” convergence with African rhythms and European melodies signatures. Inspired in part by the iconic Basle club of Totentanz, where the German electronic artist spent some of his misspent youth catching performances by the no wave dance act Liquid Liquid, the Gun Club, Jonathan Richman and a very young Aztec Camera, the Plong album channels some of the atmosphere and nostalgic vibes of those formative years. The club is immortalized on the final track; a sort of tribal beat with a barely audible hooted dance track that could be described as “intelligent” techno for the soul. In fact, the Liquid Liquid reference, or at least that vibrant post-new wave dance sound that they excelled at, can be heard permeating tracks like ‘Höhlenmenschenmuzik’; a multi-textural bass pronounced no wave dance of Carl Craig and Kriedler, the title of which translates as “caveman music” and evokes atavistic cave daubings leaping off the dank walls and vibrating, dancing like a host of Keith Harring characters bouncing down a NYC boardwalk.

Elsewhere amongst the deep Detroit techno and house music the tubular and knocking mettalics, tight delayed electronic sequencing and cleverly layered kinetics and mirages of a mysterious Arabia can be detected on the opening desert sands ‘Original Member Of A Wedding Band’. An obscured xylophone or marimba somehow captures an air of Africa on the lightly malleted and translucent itching vibrant ‘Geistertrio Booking’, and the staccato clumsy motioned ‘The Roller’ features a quasi-bobbing West African rhythm.

The tribal is subtly transformed into a futuristic suspense; 80s electro and no wave dance is twinned with lurking industrial electronica; bubbling concoctions float across mechanical refractions on a meticulously constructed deep dance soundtrack of multiple interesting rhythms. Plong, which could be a title Harmonia/Cluster may very well have used, fits perfectly with the Bureau B vibe, yet cuts a clean polygenesis electronic dance sound of its own.




Various ‘Plague Song’
(Via Bandcamp) Album/14th August 2020





A plague has descended on all our houses it seems, with no corner of the globe left untouched by Covid-19. Yet not so much a plague in either the Biblical sense or even a 1000th as destructive as the Black Death that left populations decimated Covid-19 predicted effects and the measures being used to contain it and our civil liberties is proving more destructive and stressful. As lockdown lifts for some, only to be reintroduced as clusters break out in localized areas, and thoughts and anxieties can be translated, we’re seeing creatives release their cathartic impressions and traumas.

One such contextualization, instigated by the North Yorkshire based composer, multi-instrumentalist, solo artist and member of Fireworks Night and The Monroe Transfer ensemble, Nick Gill brings together a international cast of experimental artists and composers to interpret the project leader’s pencil-shaded abstract ‘Plague Song’ graphic score. Following in the footsteps of John Cage who first pioneered the concept, Gill sketches a roughly hewn amorphous score that offers a freehand to those invited to respond. With no instructions as to duration, instrumentation or performance style it’s entirely down to the artists to conjure up something evocative; a sonic representation from the elongated funnels and arched lines found beneath sharper cross-hatching scribbled noise. The author of that graphic score does offer his own interpretation however; offering a suitably atmospheric and watery composition of Craig Ward like multi-textural guitar reverberations.

Erring towards the perimeters of ambient, neo-classical and experimental music the guests on this charitable compilation (proceeds going towards Médecins sans Frontières) produce some searching visions of the present mood. Carrying on the imbued literary (Anthony Burgess to Joseph Heller) cross chatter and abstracted resonance of his many sonic adventures in India and Southeast Asia, Oxford polymath Seb Reynolds cuts-up and morphs a recurring “not as fatal” line with the sound of veiled Orient and tram clatter on his take of the score. Others, such as the renowned NYC stage, film and even opera composer Nico Muhly, produce something more sublime and trembling; the composer behind soundtracks for The Reader and Marnie glides towards a skying ascendance of rippling ambient beauty.

In the quasi Sci-fi mood, electronic composer and performer Hainbach generates some strange off-world atmospheres and primal lunar threats with his interpretation: evoking, I think, Bernard Szajner’s Dune imagings. The spherical Canadian team-up of musician, activist and producer Rebecca Foon and Polaris Prize winning singer-songwriter, producer Patrick Watson prove a congruous pairing, offering up an almost cosmically heavenly searing soundtrack of voices obscured in the vapour.

The track list is numerous; too numerous to mention everyone, so I’ll just mention a few more highlights and standouts. Tiece beckon with a signature “witchery” and “smoky” trip-hop soulful jazzy vision that evokes a warped Four Tet, whilst vocalist, sound artist David Michael Curry goes for something more supernatural, strung-out, with his added locational cryptic post-rock bluesy “scene report from Somerville Masc.” And perhaps one of the oddest interpretations, double-bassist and organist composer, arranger Ben Summers takes the listener through shades of South America, jazzy cocktail hour club soiree and 60s Italian soundtracks: a million miles removed from the compilations leitmotif of shared mysterious ominous drones and recondite ambient carpeting.

Gill’s original graphics are lent a swathe of interpretations, some less somber than others, from a cosmology of contemporary composers. A survey of mood pieces, from science fiction augurs to introspective concentrations. Yet seldom does the soundtrack wallow in the darkness, or creep into nightmares, which considering the title seems both optimistic and a relief. Plague Song is a worthy embrace of the uncertain; a translation of abstract stress and danger given an expansive treatment.






Map 71 ‘Turn Back Metropolis’
(Foolproof Projects/Fourth Dimension Records) Album/4th September 2020





Just the sort of J.G Ballard and Anthony Burgess flavoured dystopian claustrophobia we need in these pandemic striven times; the estuary high-rise colliding duo of disillusioned poet and artist Lisa Jayne and pounding sonic foil Andy Pyne deliver a skulking barrage from the edges of the inner city and suburban wastelands. Under the Map 71 cover they release a fifth album sound-clash of post punk electronica, no wave, post Krautrock and tribal industrial music.

Turn Back Metropolis finds the urban-planners of derision and concrete hardened social realism back in the stairwells and landings of a decaying omnipresent city, dreaming of escapism: “The fields are in sight of the city, but there’s a curfew and the city waits for your return.”

Against the stench of this imposed backdrop of societal misdemeanors, the grime of everyday existence is lyrically and starkly drip-fed by Lisa over beating toms, slinking dub, sporadic drumming, alarmed synths, contorted metals and London swagger. Lisa channels a petulant Ari Up and Viv Albertine, whilst Andy, at any onetime, conjures up an accompaniment of Cabaret Voltaire, Fad Gadget, PiL, The Au Pairs, Lonelady, 80s Rick Rubin and The Classical.

Seething yet composed, they stalk their subjects like prey through the entrancing, spiraling and more cutting on a futuristic punk album of malcontent. Tracks such as the squalling, speed-shifting, arcade-fire over-surge ‘Highrise’ can induce vertigo, and the rattling ‘Stitches’ evokes a seedy switch-bladed administered trauma. Descriptively as livid as it is poetically brilliant, with a musically edgy, harrowing but crafted sonic accompaniment to match, Map 71 delivers another sinister violent architectural imposing shockwave.





Related posts from the Archives:

Map 71 ‘Sado-Technical-Exercise’ Review



Andrew Heath ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’
(Disco Gecko) Album/4th September 2020





Carrying the torch for the kind of ambient and neo-classical swathes and calmly evolving ruminations pioneered by such luminaries as Roedelius, Andrew Heath is a maestro of, what he calls, “small-case minimalism”. Lucky enough to work with the self-taught acolyte and co-founder of the electronic music and kosmsiche legends Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc, Heath has obviously picked up some ideas from the best in the field. The English composer of refined, understated evocations collaborated with Roedelius on both the Meeting The Magus and Triptych In Blue suites.

The “magus” pupil has become the “alchemist” on this latest exploration of minimalism, texture, tone and the “sonic detritus that litters our environment”. Using, as ever, a kind of English pastoral and esoteric poetry to reference moods and locations, as well as the sources of some of his field recordings, Heath counterbalances his naturalistic settings with delicately played (but deeply felt) piano, resonating electric guitar, and on the album’s title track the swan like and sonorous bass-clarinet of guest Bill Howgego, and of course the various apparatus that transmits those soft, veiled ambient tones and gossamer atmospheres. This translates into translucent compositions that merge the intercom chatter of a pilot’s radio with dropped bauble piano notes and stratospheric gliding, on the opening piece ‘Observers And Airmen’, and the squawk of a woodland menagerie and running water with Eno-esque pining scenic mystery and alien wiry quivers, on ‘Of Mill Leats And The Walter Meadows’.

Hints, traces of voice can be found throughout, but its Heath’s second guest, Romanian poet, writer and journalist Maria Stadnika, who offers the most fragile and emotional. Returning, after appearing on heath’s 2018 Evanfall album, Stadnika’s sighed wistful whispery ‘The Garden Reveals Itself’ receives a ‘Night Mix’ re-run. The senses of those waiting on the inevitable cycle of life and other such poignant chimes on the passing of time are soundtracked with an accentuated magical dreamy night garden score.

Recorded at his home in the Cotswolds’ earlier in the year, and framed as an album that provides a certain sense of calm and tranquility, Heath’s idyllic set piece is indeed rich with moments of stillness and contemplation. It all sounds serenely beautiful. From the announcer on the subway vignette ‘A Good Service,’ to the wooing undercurrents of ‘The Muse And Her Dreams’, both echoes of daily life blend with more mysterious surroundings in a superb sound collage. Ambient music it seems is in good hands, Heath’s seventh album for the Disco Gecko label is a sublime patient suite that offers a rest in these most troubling, intense times.





Archives:

Andrew Heath And Toby Marks ‘Motion’ Review

Andrew Heath ‘Soundings’ Review

Andrew Heath ‘Evenfall’ Review tof068



Staraya Derevnya ‘Inwards Opened The Floor’
(Raash Records) Album/4th September 2020





A culmination of Café OTO Project Space recorded performances from 2017 and additional material from that same year to 2019, the latest avant-garde inter-dimensional experiment from the Russian-Israeli straddling Staraya Derevnya is part of treble release schedule. Alongside the featured Inwards Opened The Floor there’s also a duo of improvisations recorded with Hans Grusel’s Kranken Kabinet entitled Still Life With Apples, released on cassette by Steep Gloss, and more live material under the OTO/Tusk title, released as a double CD spread by TQN-aut. A veritable bonanza of imaginative, much improvised albums from the St. Petersburg metro stop adorned group; though I’m going to concentrate on just the hallucinatory doors-of-perception opening opus, an expansive set of traverses, deconstructive marches and post-punk harangues built around lyrics inspired by the poems of Arthur Molev.

Expanding to accommodate up to twelve musicians, and an assemblage of musique concrete apparatus, radio waves, voices and more conventional instruments the Staraya Derevnya inhabit a shrouded soundscape of kosmische, post-punk and what can only be described as a kind of krautrock folk – think a meeting of The Faust Tapes and Can’s Unlimited scrapes and incipient windows in on cut short experiments but extended and more rhythmic.

Developing, magically entitled tracks such as ‘On How The Thorny Orbs Got Here’ drift off almost dreamily to a hushed narration and strung-out jazzy clarinet, brassy sonorous vibrations and short drum rolls, whilst the attic toy box clockwork march of ‘Chirik’ Is Heard From The Treetops’ chugs along at first like a wooden top Ballet Russes but then takes on a more traumatic force of industrial hooting and ripped, revved guitar: Russian folklore goes bananas.

Kazoos, rocking chairs, a not so “silent cello” help create a mysterious aura throughout: one that moves between the strained and distressed, the ambient and biting. For instance garroting wire cello and wooden tubular like percussion tangle with speed-shift space void effects and scrapes on the menacing ‘Hogweed Is Done With Buckwheat’, and on the almost swooning existential romance ‘Burning Bush And Apple Sauces’; soup plops, a radio broadcasted talky duet and a collage of piano and strings echo with hints of late Popul Vuh, OMD and the Pale Fountains.

The poetry is as whispery, haunting as it is erratic and harassed on these most probing clattery, screamed, rasped but equally fantastical tracks. I’m hooked. This is an astonishing set of cross-city amorphous urges, lingers and deconstructions like no other; an avant-garde wandering into the tapestry of Russian folklore and magic dream realism.




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.

REVIEWS/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Aua ‘I Don’t Want It Darker’
(Crazysane) Album/4th September 2020

I love this album. Should I just stop there and tell you to get your wallets out and buy it?! Or, should I give you reasons to do so?

Well if you have a penchant for Blur (when they are not being annoying and in an experimental frame of mind), or a love for the amazing Silver Apples this could well be the album to soundtrack these oncoming months of strangeness and wonder. There are even hints of Jean Michel Jarre, and I hate that cunt; but imagine if Jean Michel Jarre was good and wrote music with verve spirit and guile and been injected in the arse by whatever makes Can and Neu! so special, and if you can’t imagine that you need to buy this album anyway. And if that’s not reason enough it has a dark splendor I can imagine David Lynch standing and applauding. Another fine album to add to the list for the end of the year best.





Warped Freqs ‘Shifting Initiation’
(Wormhole) Album/24th April 2020


 

The sound of laid back wonky psychedelic rock has always been something I have enjoyed to varying degrees over the years and this ltd edition cd is a bit of a peach of a release; a psychedelic peach at that, the kind of peach Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine might have enjoyed; the kind of peach Stuart Maconie would suck on whilst hosting the Freak Zone in-between records dripping the juice down his Wigan rugby jersey giving it a hurrah of the 1967s. It also has a nice spaced out Saturday night at the movies feel about it that is as if the movie was featuring crimson pantalooned beauties who swung their hair as they slowly danced in the underground discotheque to the mellow becoming sounds of the Warped Freqs. You could have a wail of a time in a crochet hammock gently rocking to this, losing yourself in the looseness of the soft kisses this enigmatic little beauty supplies. There is a very ltd edition cd available so space cadets get one while you can.





Prize Pig ‘The Line’
Single/24th July 2020




The debut release from a new DIY bedroom pop prince in town, the wonderfully named Prize Pig; and what a lovely pop song it is to stomping drum machine a reverb guitar and a melody Andy Partridge would be proud of, and would fit on nicely on one of his Fuzzy Warbles albums. Yes it is that good, bathed in old English Pasture pop charm; certainly one to watch.





Tiger Mimic ‘Where The Fire Used to Be’
Single/14th August 2020




 

Tiger Mimic describe themselves as a band to watch and who on earth am I to disagree with such a statement. There is nothing wrong with being confident in your own music or otherwise what would be the point of making it. And I quite like this as it slightly has a strange amateur dramatics vocal quality about it, which you don’t normally hear in guitar indie rock. It also stops and breaks off into a “Be My baby” drum beat midway through, which is always an egg in my basket. I expect this to get lots of plays on radio x (but don’t let that put you off).


Nicky William ‘I Fell In Love With Her’
Single/Now




This is heartbreakingly beautiful, a song steeped in the romance and hurt that love inspires, a song that brings to mind the many fine moments of Smog and Lee Hazlewood, one that inspires a dark melancholy to fill the room, one that swirls with the mists of regret stumbling through the corridors of yearning and solitude and the loneliness of being in love with the prettiest girl you have ever seen but knowing every other fool also wants her, and all that captured in the magic of a three minute song: the true magic of music.





Shishi ‘Mafitishei’
Album/30th June 2020




If all girl post punk from Lithuania is your thing and by the sounds of it, it is indeed my thing, this could be for you; harmonious off kilter pop with angular surf guitar, the aroma of The Pixies in 45rpm splendor and early Fuzzbox surrounds the whole delightful surroundings. It also has the pop suss to have a song, ‘Nebesikalbam’, that sounds like the 60s beat classic ‘Fortune Teller’ and not everyone has the nous or spirit not only to blatantly do such a thing but have the panache to carry it off: the slight fuzz bass brings tears of joy to this old fools eyes; quite a wonderful track. And this LP has plenty of those. A quite poptastic album in a Lithuanian post punk pop kind of way.





Abel Cain and the Scrubs ‘Scrub This’
(Pigeon Cove Records) Album/28th July 2020




There is a touch of the Bob Dylan’s about this album that I very much approve of, but in a late 70s garage Stiff records kind of way, and at the same time it has a lovely 60s garage feel about it – I know, I will call it rock n roll and be done it with.

This is simple undiluted stripped-down basic rock n roll with all the magic it entails; fine melodies, decent lyrics played live in a cheap studio, the sound of blue-collar working-class poetry at its finest. I hear the glorious history of rock n roll laid out in these seven tracks, from Hank Williams via Dylan the beat bands of the 60s through to Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Clash, and right up to Green Day. It’s punk rock with a country bar band feel. It is simply a very wonderful timeless album, one I advise everyone should give a listen to.





Reardon Love  ‘Locked In The Panopticon’
Single/Now




It’s really lovely to see that there are young exciting bands taking the influences of 80s synth pop with all its glamour and sleaze and moulding it into modern fine pop songs. Alongside the wonderful Beauty Stab I can see Readon Love leading the charge and grabbing the ears and hearts of radio programmers and blog editors with their grasp of the glamour melodies and songwriting talent. Maybe in these dark times music may once again add the sparkle and escape we desperately need.





Keys ‘This Side Of Luv’
(Libertino) Single/17th August 2020




Let’s transport back in time to the golden days of 70’s pop, where the Bay City Rollers meets ELO in a mellow sunshine romp of Saturday summer days gone past. Very unusual and quite refreshing to hear actually, the lovely warmth the Keys emit, especially over the soulless dross I have just put my ears through, sometimes drawing on nostalgia for inspiration is a good thing indeed as this record so lovingly proves.



ROLES ‘Rinpoche’
Single/7th August 2020




This is sexy funky and unusual and I like it. This may have been what Transvision Vamp would have sounded like if they had got Brian Eno in to produce. It’s all glam guitar and wonky synths with a scientific edge about it; a pop song with an experimental undercurrent or an experimental track overcome with pop sexuality; either way a damn fine single.



SLONK ‘Postman’
(Breakfast Records) Single/7th August 2020




A song to capture the hearts and minds of all those who remember the off-kilter guitar pop of A House from the late 80s early 90s; a song that has everything one wants from a diy pop single, catchy chorus refrain, nice melodies and lyrics that are both heartfelt and heart-warming. Who did indeed not want to be a postman at some point in their life. I actually failed my interview; I don’t think they thought my love of the Cramps and inability to either drive or lack of bike riding panache made me an ideal candidate. But I’m going off the point, the point being that this is a fine three-minute pop single worthy of your attention; so much so I’m quite interested in hearing the forthcoming album.





REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





As usual, another international whirlwind of stopovers awaits reader, as I pick out choice and interesting new releases and reissues from across the globe. Channeling his traverses, mountain climbs and treks across the California wilderness into ambient peregrinations, Fran Dominguez as the Forest Robot, takes the listener out into the great outdoors, with his latest suite After Geography. An aural escape, a safe spatial plain, Dominguez creates an environment in which to take stock. A Finnish-American freeform jazz partnership is in vogue with Stanley J. Zappa’s new album for the Baltic coastal label We Jazz. Saxophonist and clarinetist Zappa (a nephew of the late Frank) and drummer/percussionist Simo Laihonen traverse British-Columbia and all points in-between on Muster Point. Creating the most hushed and diaphanous of cinematic dreampop, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski releases the Violent Flower album. I also take a look at the troubadour pianist John Howard, who from his Spanish studio home, ties in his latest adroit songbook To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection with the second part of his published memoirs, Illusions Of Happiness, this month. And in my reissues section there’s the first ever reissue of the West Java Yanti Bersaudara sisters honeyed soul and beat group psych exotic self-titled ’71 nugget. The Australian born, but bought up in a rural backwater of England troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe returns back to his roots with the expansive storybook, Ytown.

 

Towards the fantastical, though based in geological science, experimental dub unit Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones reimagine a lost continental bridge of shared deities and cultures on the new album Kafou In Avalonia. And finally, we have the new no-fi songbook of despondent poetic scorn and resignation from our very own Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, The King Of No-Fi’.

Zoe Polanski ‘Violent Flower’
(Youngbloods) Album/17th July 2020





Despite, at various times, living in one of the most contested dangerous spots on the global stage, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski transduces all the violence, danger and stresses into a most diaphanous, sometimes fantastical, synthesized musical haze. Her latest fully-realized shoegaze electronic swoon of an album – co produced and written with the Tel Aviv producer Aviad Zinemanas – is subtle but immersive, moody yet dreamy. Lit though by Polanski’s travails, a deep sense of sadness and sighed questioning lyricism permeates the wispy vaporous smoke machine pop production.

Beautiful throughout, hushed and fragile, Violent Flowers is a sweeping cinematic articulation of conflicted feelings. The title-track, and former single, draws upon the ongoing Israeli-Palestine tensions; which has taken on even more drama in recent months with the policy of planned Israeli annexations in the West Bank.

Channeling the Cocteau Twins and Chromatics, this gauzy serenade of blossoming synth-pop is a disarming evocation of lightness that features Polanski yearningly searching for a way back home amid the division. The album’s second single, ‘The Willows’, mourns not only the painful end of a “surreal” affair whilst travelling across the USA, but is also inspired by Polanski’s mixed feelings of empathy towards her Palestine neighbours with a longing to escape the rocket attacks that passed overhead when she lived in the atavistic port city of Jaffa, during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

Born in another ancient city port, Haifa, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Polanski escaped the tumult through music and cinema. After obligatory service with the IDF, the experimentally burgeoning musician, singer moved to the States; recording with the NYC band Katamine and enrolling on a summer course in cinematography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. The fruits of which can be heard evoking a kind of dream realism on this filmic scored album.

As it happens, on returning to Israel and settling in the liberal creative hothouse of Tel Aviv, Polanski started a new project of soaked-reverb “slow cinema verite” named after the renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Tarr’s actual cinematographer Fred Kelemen caught Polanski at a live show. So impressed, he invited her to score his own upcoming film.

This latest vision sees the visual-audio talent reach ethereal, almost apparitional scales of atmospheric beauty as she sings veiled lines over her creative foil Zinemanas’ mirror-y and airy synthesis of arpeggiator, sine waves and enervated percussion. Dream pop and neon lit electronica meets Israeli panoramas, mysterious island inlets, touches of Vangelis (on the glassy contoured ‘Humboldt Current’), soft bobbing beats and pulchritude waves of silk.

Gentle, enchanting with an aching depth, Zoe Polanski together with Zinemanas have created a refreshing vision of dreamwave electronic pop and filmic music; one that offers a different perspective and sumptuous mystery. Turmoil has seldom sounded so gossamer and hushed.







Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Zoe Polanski ‘Pharaoh’s Island’



Stanley J. Zappa ‘Muster Point’
(We Jazz) Album/7th August 2020




A regular stopover on my global tour of reviews, the Helsinki festival-label-store hub We Jazz are proving to be among the most prolific deliverers of quality contemporary and experimental jazz. Earlier this month the assured label put out albums from the Danish-Finn JAF Trio and Gothenburg saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. Their latest release pairs up two former acolytes of the Mitford Graves school of free jazz enterprise: the American tenor/soprano saxophonist and alto clarinetist Stanley J. Zappa (who’s name embellished this LP) and Finnish drummer, percussionist Simo Laihonen. The Queens-made drummer extraordinaire and teacher Graves is renowned for his avant-garde contributions working with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and the N.Y. Art Quartet; a reputation that is lapped up by his former students on this set of probing impulsive serialism recordings.

You may have guessed by the name, and yes Stanley is indeed a scion of the famous Zappa family tree: a nephew of the late rock-fusion genius Frank. Erring towards jazz, Stanley proves that old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; highly adroit and proficient in pushing at the foundations, able to switch between the spiritual and hard bop. His foil Laihonen, of the long-standing Black Motor trio, proves equally as talented, propelling in bursts and snaps or in an amorphous fashion hitting and reeling shapeless accents and meanderings.

Joining them on the odd radial exploration, bassist Ville Rauhala adds some stringy, rubber-band thrummed double-bass runs and bodywork thwacking: less rhythmic and traditional, more loose and wandering.

Muster Point, a reference heavy album of track title locations (much of which name check places in Stanley’s British Columbia Canadian home), was recorded both in the studio and out on the road. You can hear some of the live spontaneity and an appreciative applause on the flighty clarinet and looming bass, with sporadic drum breaks, avant-garde piece ‘Muster Point IV’. Split between shorter ambling and more energetic incipient Muster Point entitled flexes, and deeper, longer workouts this album strikes out towards Pharaoh Sanders’ Egypt on the opening suite to dishing out tougher, heavier breaks on the street map ‘538 E14th, City Of Piss, USA’.

Fluting, twirling and coiling over the tumbling drums, rumbling timpani and shaking percussion, Stanley’s vibrato sax hawks and spirals with both longer and shorter breaths. Often sailing at a counter speed to Laihonen’s quickened rolling patterns, that wondering instrument trills freely as light as air itself. Well, for the most part. Stanley can also toot rapidly and with force when the occasion arises.

From drawing on the ancestral (on the Kahil El’ Zabar watery percussive underflow ‘Pleasant Avenue’) to skitting across a NYC boardwalk, Muster Point plays hard and footloose with freeform jazz; dipping into the spiritual and rapidly evoking hard bop dashes. Yet again its another fruitful experiment and performance from the We Jazz label.




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


Forest Robot ‘After Geography’
Album/28th August 2020





With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez provides a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times. When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic; a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

With over 400 ascents and 6,000 odd miles of cross-country exploring under his belt, Dominguez tunes into those experiences when composing music under the Forest Robot title. Intuition, that main motivation and driver for the latest tonal contouring suite, After Geography, comes into practice after all the preparation in the world fails to allow for the variables that arise when climbing those magnificent rocky peaks. Though obviously a great title in itself and an encapsulation of the Forest Robot’s meditative semi-classical, semi-Kosmische maps, the inspiration behind it comes from Ringo Starr. As the anecdote from rock’s backpages goes, the bejeweled digit fingered Beatles drummer proposed it when the Fab Four were stumped for a title for their next album after Revolver. As a lighthearted chide at the rivals, The Rolling Stones, who’d just released Aftermath, Starr chimed in with “After Geography”. It seems highly appropriate in this context, and in this time.

An escapist survey that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, the album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. Track titles become descriptive reference points and wildlife moments experienced, on this aural map; a clue at times to the scenic inspirations that encouraged them. ‘Of Birds Migrating In The Distance’ is for example a winged patted dance and flutter across the ivory, and the marimba-like bobbing ‘Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor’ features crystalized icy notes and melting droplets: it’s almost as if Dominguez captures the sunlight gleaming off the slowly melting glacier. ‘Over The Drainage Divide’, which doesn’t exactly sound very inspiring, is surprisingly wondrous, even spiritual, with its choral ethereal waves and hints of ghostly visitations. An ascendant version of that choral spirit can also be heard on the soft droning, delayed and bouncing notes beauty ‘All Across The High Plain After The Storm’.

A mostly peaceable geography, Dominguez’s latest impressive suite offers the safety of a timeless rugged pristine panorama. A breath of fresh air; a sonic plain on which to gain some perspective, that intuitive methodology proves highly successful on a most pleasing, imaginative ambient experience.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




Following up on the impressive choral anthem ‘Good Lord’, which we premiered last month on the MC, the yearning troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe proves he has more than it takes to deliver the full emotionally stimulating package with his new, generous EP Ytown. Over seven tracks of similar beautifully realised rustic anthems and shorter mood passages, Campbell expands his themes of escaping the pastoral backwaters of small town life.

Both a travail down memory lane and pilgrimage, nature’s son returns from London to the town in which he spent those formative years, on the outskirts of Bristol, to mull over the past, but above all, as the Australian born songwriter/multi-instrumentalist set out to serenely on that ‘God Lord’ hymn, seeks to find himself amongst the humdrum scenery. Ytown could be many towns, any town, yet it proves evocative and creatively fertile enough to inspire this expansive songbook. The very essence of the place seeps into the music through field recordings and the sound of the local church’s pump organ – used very subtly as a sadly reverent undertow on the setting-sun curtain call ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 2’ a couplet to the EP’s only scenic twinkled if musing instrumental, The Shins like ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 1’.

Entirely self-produced and recorded from the bedroom of his youth, Ytown pays homage to innocence, to his childhood relationship with his ‘Father Carpenter’, and the unburdened freedoms of nature. The first of those is a powered-up Midlake country folk anthem, the latter, an achingly harmony rich longing to be as free and detached as the ‘Dandelion’.

Almost echoing an early Radiohead paired with the Fleet Foxes, the tender woven poetic ‘Pastel Porcelain’ seems to have stepped out of a medieval tapestry, and the opening dappled lit blossoming ‘The Sun Appeared’ shows an almost filmic and experimental quality to Campbell’s music.

A balance of acoustic naturalism and full on, climatic singles, Ytown is a great piece of expansive storytelling, a conceptual EP perfect in length, depth and heartfelt searching.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/16th August





The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

The idiosyncratic de facto leader of the long standing dysfunctional family legends The Bordellos, and the barely concealed instigator of the anti-Brit pop and plodding rock Idiot Blur Fanboy, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea (who I must also point out is a regular contributor to these very pages) follows up on his recent solo offerings, the Liverpool Hipster Scene EP and Boris Johnson Massacre single, with another album for the Aussie platform, Metal Postcard Records. Recorded during lockdown whilst growing tired at the lack of revolutionary zeal and wit in contemporary music, and the reliance upon of nostalgia, regurgitation in the industry (both musically and through blogs, publications, radio), Brian has penned a quite sincere collection of romanticized sufferings, regrets and love songs.

Making even Sparklehorse sound like ELO in comparison, the no-fi production values on offer are raw but never really coarse or discordant. No augmentation, filters, effects or sundry, just a bare accompaniment of rough’n’ready but melodious acoustic guitar and the whirling of a rudimental four-track; the click of the record button and, at the end of each performance, the stop button.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock’n’roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally falls on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.

Quite swooning in places, this is neither a plaintive nor angry songbook, but as I said before a sincere often humorous yearn from a maverick soul stuck in lockdown. The King is dead; long live the King.


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

The Bordellos ‘Will.I.Am You’re Really Nothing’



Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company) Album/19th June 2020





Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Developing out of a volcanic arc at the northern edges of the “supercontinent” Gondwana (we’re talking about 550 million years ago; when this leviathan contained one-fifth of all the planet’s land) but decoupling to form a drifting micro continent of its own, Avalonia, if it didn’t eventually breakup and collide with Pangea, would have bridged what is now the Atlantic Ocean. Crustal fragments underlie parts of Southwest England, Southern Ireland and the East Coast of America. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica.

Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar.

A reference heavy album, with various “Loa” (spirits) and divinities summoned and made offerings, the track titles name check a pantheon of the worshipped. The opening gabbling dub and primordial shrouded ethereal jug-poured ‘Oxûm Over Water’ pays homage to the Yoruba peoples river goddess, while the singing chorus and insect chirped trans-Europa rail momentum Kraftwerk meets Guru Guru ‘Oxalá Of The White Sky’ takes its name from the Brazilian “sky father” and creator of human beings. Elsewhere, Haiti’s spiritual ancestors are represented in the shape of the serpent creator of the cosmos, Damballa (the On-U-Sound dub prowling low frequency crumbled bass languorous ‘Damballah Of The Dark Sky’), and senior Petro visitation born from the heinous savagery and injustice of slavery, Ezilí Dantor (the lolloping Orb submersion ‘Ezilí Dantor Awake’). Incidentally, that last spirit especially took kindly too offerings of crème de cacao and jewelry, and on its birthday, a wild pig. It’s believed that one such feast in honor to Dantor preceded the infamous slave revolt of 1791.

Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. And that’s me saying this is a bloody great experimental dub album. Seek out now.




John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’
(UK John Howard/USA through Kool Kat Musik) Album/7th August 2020




Chiming with the second candid, sometimes wistful, chapter in the pianist raconteur’s memoirs, this latest fragrant songbook manages past regrets with wizened heartfelt balladry. With plenty of time, including the lockdown, to mull over the past, after writing two volumes of self-effacing recollections (part two, Illusions Of Happiness, is scheduled to tie in with this album, published on the 7th August) John Howard channels a lifetime of setbacks and learning through the philosophical and metaphorical.

Coming to terms and letting go in some respects, the fledging 70s star set back by a series of career mishaps and a traumatic accident (forced to make a fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared in Earl’s Court with some colourful Filipino gay characters, who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder) muses over breakups (the la la, almost Christmas seasonal, chiming mini anthem ‘I’m Over You’) and a broken friendship (the regretful heartache ‘Echoes Of Pauline’). The latter’s real life subject appears as a recurring figure of that regret in John’s work; the best friend from school losing touch since 1973 (as John admits, probably down to him and not Pauline) first pops up on ‘The Flame’ from the career launching Kid In A Big World showcase, and later on ‘Pauline’s Song’, which featured on the 2009 EP Songs For A Lifetime.

Pauline’s presence, companionship is much missed it seems, as John looks out from his Spanish home veranda on an uncertain, if scenic, world. Idyllic though it is, his life in the Southeastern Spanish town of Murcia can’t make up for the pining of his former Welsh home, and even further back, Lancashire. Moving across the seas to preempt Brexit, John recalls a Welsh pastoral bliss on the wistfully beautiful melodious ‘And Another Day’. Yet both lyrically and through his signature subtle minor key changes moves deftly into the sadness of leaving it all behind. The scented waltz-y ‘Illusions Of Happiness’ ambles through a perfumed garden of delights but also mournfully wades out into the sea; waiting on something, a ship, vessel, the final boat ride perhaps.

Old ghosts mingle with analogies of saviors, and the tropes of coming-to-terms with one’s decisions. This is all done with a most adroit touch of pastoral organ, Baroque chamber pop, gentle Dylan-esque harmonica, concertina and softened tambourine rattled crescendos: all of which is played by John. It’s a sound that is saved from the saccharine and pushed towards the yearning beauty of the early Bee Gees, late 60s Beach Boys and the Incredible String Band, whilst echoing the flourishes of John’s burgeoning pianist troubadour career in the 70s.

The 17th album proper in a career that has regularly stalled (mostly down to the mishandling of others), with gaping holes in which John turned his hand to A&R, the lyrical To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection follows on from last year’s brilliant Cut The Wire – just one album in a long line of such releases from arguably his most creatively prolific tenure. The poetically scene-setting songbook is a perfect accompaniment to those memoirs; a mature retrospection of a life well lived.








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

Yanti Bersaudara ‘ST’
(La Munai Records) Album/7th July 2020





A beautiful three-part harmony serenade drifting out of West Java, the much sought after 1971 album from the endearing Yanti sisters is finally being reissued for the first time ever. From Indonesian musical treasure hunters, La Munai Records, a befitting repackaged version of that original Bamboo Music magical Sundanese suffused treat.

Previous twee recordings, which swing between Merseybeat and enervated gospel soul, have made it digitally onto a number of platforms and compilations over the years, but the sisters’ later self-titled nugget has remained pretty elusive.

Released towards the end of their tenure, this beautifully cooed, lulled and charming harmony rich record seems oddly out of step with its time; though the strict regime in Indonesia had the gall to ban rock’n’roll, and so outpourings of fuzz-thrilled rebellion and salacious gyrating were kept to the minimum: more the early fab four’s ‘Tell Me Why’ or anything by The Tremeloes than the dirty scuzz and teasing of the Rolling Stones. That’s not to say the odd frizzle of psych and a coarse guitar twang or two doesn’t pop up here and there, but this early 70s songbook is mostly dreamy, heavenly even, and spiritual.

Whilst channeling the siblings (that’s Yani, Tina and Lin Hardjakusumah) West Javanese heritage of Bamboo Music, Gamelan and Jaipongan, you will also hear a constant sustained and fanning ray of church organ too. The lovely honeyed vocals even reach the ethereal heights, sounding like an Indonesian version of Dusty sings gospel.

The second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia, the Sundanese people (a name derived from the Sanskrit prefix “su”, which means “goodness”), of which the sisters belong, reside in a part of the country synonymous for its rich musical traditions. Soothed into an exotic dreamboat mix of angklung ringing and bamboo bobbing, reedy staccato surf guitar and ticking away drums those delicate ancestral chimes are propelled into the beat group era, and on the misty organ ghostly ‘Bulan Dagoan’, a spooked funhouse garage band era.

Coquettish, enticing, at other times like the 5th Dimension and choral rhyming, the girls vocal sound is sweetened; flourishing with yearned and exotic swooning.

For those of you wishing to enjoy a languorous dreamy slow boat to Java, with just enough fuzz thrills to pique the interest, let the Yanti sisters provide the hip accompaniment. If you’ve already been entertained by the trio, then you’ll find this ’71 release less saccharine and girl-group than previous albums; more magical and with more stained glass soul.






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.


Reviews/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea



Salem Trials ‘Do Something Dangerous’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/5th July 2020


This is the label debut LP from one of the bands of 2020 – a fact I’ve previously mentioned in reviewing their first two singles, both of which are featured on this wonderful album; the Captain Beefheart meets the Buzzcocks ‘Head On Rong’ and whip frenzy Wire like pop gem ‘Pictures Of Skin’. The rest of the tracks are no slouches either; mining their influences from late 70s early 80s post punk but without just being a post punk photo fit band, the influences are there but they add their own unique twist adding a beautiful wash of pop melody and some simply stunning guitar playing – especially on the beautifully dark but life enhancing ‘No Light Escapes’.

Andy Goz is one of the most inspiring guitarists I’ve heard in a very long time and is obviously not just an extremely talented musician but must also have a great knowledge and understanding of what makes great rock n roll as the pre punk spirit of the Stooges, MC5 and The Pink Fairies are not just captured but hoisted on flag stands and waived as a taunting warning to all the other many less inspired guitar bands that there are new kids on the block and this simply fine album is the benchmark that they probably have not a hope in hell of reaching. A simply stunning debut.

 






Japanese Television ‘Bee Cage’
(Tip Top Recordings) Single ahead of a new EP, released 4th September 2020




I like this, it’s a short blast of wonky keyboard organ led heavy bass Sci-fi surf frenzy: Just what one wants to pickle an egg. Dick Dale goes for a moonwalk with Joe Meek whilst wondering what goodness lies beneath the waves of yesterday. Summer sweet sensation, a joyride for the bequiffed buffoon that lies deep within all men of a certain age. A Deeley Bopper of a single.






Various ‘A Picture Of Good Health Compilations’
(Wormhole World) Albums/Volumes 3.1 & 3.2 14th July 2020




What we have here is the latest comps from the experimental Wormhole World Records; two albums full of experimental genre hopping music with something for everyone; from the beautiful almost David Lynch soundtrack like Goodparley to the experimental mellow dance sounds of Gnaarf and DXII, to the crazy mad world of Toxic Chicken, to the poetic Crumpsall Riddle, and any fans collectors of 80s synth pop will be interested to find a new track by Blancmange – the beautiful synth instrumental ‘This Is The Moment I Have Been Waiting For’.

In all, this is a massive musical project and all tracks believe me are worthy of investigation: a great way to soundtrack a Sunday afternoon as I’ve discovered to my great pleasure.

There are in all thirty-nine tracks spread over two limited edition CDs 3.1 and 3.2 or two downloads from the Wormhole Bandcamp and is well worth a explore; and if you buy both CDs at the same time you save yourself a £1, so go and treat yourself.






Twisted Ankle ‘A Bag of Pasta’
(Breakfast Records) Single/19th June 2020




A bag of fall and Captain Beefheart discordance shaken up and let lose to breed and corrupt the inner workings of a Daily Mail readers fan club convention; a disconcerting eyelash flutter at the conventional tale of Siegfried and his lust for finding the ideal companion for apple bobbin. Yes a loose cannon of a single.






The Top Boost ‘Tell Me That Your Mine’
(You Are The Cosmos Records) Single/22nd June 2020




The sound of the Byrds going through their country phase is brought to mind with this fine blast of summer jangle. At the moment there seems to be a lot of jangle about and that cannot be a bad thing when it is performed with such style and panache. Two more tracks of 60s influenced guitar pop for you dear readers to soundtrack you sunning yourselves with.






Renaissance Grrl ‘Happy When I’m Sad’
Single/5th June 2020




This is a lovely sad well-performed song of melancholy by the 18-year-old Alannah Jackson. Alone with her guitar, nothing more nothing less, just a simple moment of purity, which should be cherished and held close; proving once again that keeping it simple is sometimes best especially when you are blessed with such a fine voice and songwriting talent.






The Icebergs ‘Add Vice’
(Imaginator Records) Album/17th July 2020




Beautifully strange is the only way to describe this marvelous album of pure poetic bliss. What grabs me from the off are the wonderful lyrics (an art form much ignored in the music biz today). Lyrical streams of them flowing weaving beautiful, frightening heart-breaking images throughout, bringing the early works of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey in a mellow mood to mind and musically reminding me of Nick Cave’s band of merry men the Bad Seeds rockabilly, folk, the Velvet’s guitar pop and the sounds of late Seventies no-wave, all merging to form a canvas for the poet Jane LeCroy to paint beautifully vivid pictures with her wonderful prose and wonderful voice.






bigflower ‘hunneh’
Single/27th June 2020




The Monolith Cocktail continue in their quest of promoting the under-the-radar beguiling guitar power of bigflower, who once again releases a beautiful sublime slab of free to download aural magic with this wondrous instrumental. When oh when will a record label get their act together and compile an album of the wonders bigflower is releasing on a monthly basis?






Spam Javelin ‘Fuck You/Cogged Off’
Single/20th June 2020




This is a double jab in the eye of pure punk rock old style; two tracks that both last around the 1 min 30 mark and come charging into your life, rattles a few of your remaining brain cells and then pisses off again: which all good punk rock songs should do. Both have rather marvelous guitar riffs especially ‘Cogged Off ‘, which has a wonderful Fall like guitar riff running throughout.






Beaulieu Porch ‘Vivit Sumus’
(Carmite Records) Album/7th June 2020




The lonely world of home-recorded psych can be a beautiful cathartic thing. It can be a thing filled with beauty, magic and soul, and the music of Beaulieu Porch has all three of those ingredients. Mid 70s Lennon and the wayward beauty of the Flaming Lips and the lost music of late 60s early 70s psych folk and Baroque pop collide in a thrilling mismatch of wanton musical adventure. Beaulieu Porch make such beautiful music it deserves to be heard by all instead of by the lucky few in the know; yes once again a musical underground musical maverick who deserves more is becoming quite a feature in these review round ups nowadays, so if you have not heard the music of Beaulieu Porch before do yourself a huge favour and give this fine album a listen; and if you have heard them no doubt this cd will already be in your collection. One of the undergrounds finest.






The Vapour Trails ‘Golden Sunshine’
(Futureman Records) Album/19th June 2020




Sometimes a bit of 60s inspired guitar jangle is what one needs in their life. And if you need that dose of sunshine in your life currently, one could do a lot worse than give this album a listen.

Hailing from Scotland The Vapour Trails are yet another band who wear their love of all things guitar very much on their sleeves: although I’m very sure The Teenage Fanclub influence is there it’s not as prominent as a lot of bands I have been sent music to review over the last 18 months. The opening track ‘Golden Sunshine’ had me thinking of the excellent and much underrated Spirea X [remember them] and a few tracks on this album have the early 90s guitar band feel of The La’s [especially on ‘Different Girl’] and the Cotton Mather; but that comes with them in turn having the same 60s influences (Beatles Byrds and such), and I’m sure the Shack’s masterpiece Waterpistol had more than a few airings in The Vapour Trails rehearsal space.

This is a fine album full of melody catchy guitar lines and is steeped in an obvious love and understanding of what makes great 60s inspired guitar music and what makes 60s inspired guitar music great.






Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations

Reviews Special/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.



Cosse ‘Nothing Belongs To Anything’
(À Tant Rêver du Roi/Grabuge Records) EP/12 June 2020



This EP has a certain moody dark grey charm about it: all Slint atmospherics and Jeff Buckley carefree smiles, a place where angst and beauty collide to make the soundtrack of a unmade 90’s road movie. Snarling feedback guitars and beautifully screamed whispers from both males and females slowly strips the layers of dust and heartache to leave the naked throbbing of the stripped down decaying heart of a future yesterday memory.






8 Floors Up ‘Roman Bones Make Good Glue’
Single/26th June 2020



Ah is this going to take us back to the wonderful summer of 89 when baggy ruled the airwaves. This is quite a magical groove that reminds one of the golden days of the Mondays and Roses a song I can see doing very well radio play wise in the months ahead. And for once, a song that will be worthy of such an honour; a track that is lying in the stars staring at the gutter.






Cathedral Bells ‘Undertow’
Single/29th May 2020



This is quite a lovely thing indeed, Johnny Marr ‘These Things Take Time’ guitar and the swooning like Cocteau Twins vocals merge into a blissful just under three minute pop rush of pure indie perfection: a song to be listened to on repeat with your favourite person by your side smiling along.






Inglourious Basterds ‘Something In the Air’
Single/3rd June 2020



A cover of the old Thunderclap Newman classic you’re asking yourselves? And the answer is yes. Covering a well known and overplayed radio fave is always a risky move unless you are willing to take the track and reinterpret it in a completely different way, making the song sound like your own; and to a certain extent The Inglourious Basterds succeed. The first part of the track just being drums and a fine vocal that brings out the beauty and meaning of the wonderful lyrics highlighting again the fine melody of the original and then it explodes into a Sonic Youth meets Dinosaur Jnr. guitar duel, where both parties are left beaten to a pulp by the tracks end and the winner being you the listener. It’s free to download from Bandcamp.






National Treasure ‘Come And Go’
(Keep Me In Your Heart) Single/19th June 2020



This track reminds me of a school project to make a pop single that’s to be sung by a saucy maths teacher. It has that slightly seedy feel which is a good thing. It also has a looseness and throwaway pop fluff feel to it too. The song is about faking an orgasm so maybe this sounding like a school project faking a pop single is what they were going for.






HighSchool ‘Frosting’
Video Single/8th June 2020



Joy Division keyboards, early Cure matching bass and guitar lines and sub Ian Curtis vocals: yes it’s another how much we loved indie in the 80s release. And this is a jolly enough affair. And if you like the indie sound you will like this as it is done very well, and is their debut release so good luck to them.







Aimee Steven ‘Darling’
(Jacaranda Records) Single/15th May 2020



I quite like how this sounds like Chicory Tip, not an influence you hear everyday it must be said but this is a catchy little ditty that goes around in a riff shaped circle, which for those who do not know what shape that is should listen to this lovely piece of guitar pop. I can imagine Mickie Most giving this a thumbs up on New Faces; and do you know what? The old chap would be right.





The Rubettes ‘Glamnezia’
Single/12th June 2020



I really wanted to love this, I really did. I loved The Rubettes in the 70s; them alongside Mud and Alvin Stardust and Gary Glitter sound tracked my infant and junior school days: I remember being sat in front of the TV every Thursday transfixed by the magic of Top Of The Pops. But sadly this song I listened to over and over again trying to decide as whether it was a joke or not, the lyrics really are so bad they are laughable, it has even to my mind surpassed Oasis’s song ‘Little James’ as the worst song written by a grown up. In fact I have to tip my hat to them for their guts to release it. “It does not get much easier in fact it gets much sleazier when you have amnesia”, even Jack Black would not succumb to such depths with his unfunny homages to hard rock; this track does in a cartoon overblown way, with the guitar turned up to eleven and the torturous vocals [yes torturous to listen to]. I bet the singer could eat three shredded wheat and I’m sure the producer must have had shredded wheat rammed down his ears to get through the recording session. But saying that, I’m looking forward to the album.



Guts Club ‘Song For Carm’
Single/29th May 2020



Since I’m the only person in this world who has never watched The Sopranos I have nothing to compare this to, as this is a cover of the theme song. Saying that, I like this; it sounds like a drunk mumbling down a well which is a lot better than a lot of the aural shit I have ploughed through this afternoon believe me.






Chris Cech ‘Sloth’
Album/8th May 2020



I know nothing of Chris Cech apart from the fact he recorded this wonderful album in his mother’s basement and it’s available to download from his Bandcamp site, which I advise you to do, as it recalls the manic pop thrills of the four great guitar ‘bs – Big Star, Beatles, Buzzcocks and Big Star again – without actually sounding like any of them. Actually it has more of a feel of the great Alex Chilton’s solo work and the early Go Betweens, but anyway it is brillant guitar music and has melodies aplenty and Chris has that rare pop nouse to make quite timeless gems sound like quite timeless gems, and this album is full of the little blighters. A very fine album indeedy.






Reviews/Brian ‘Bordellos’ Shea





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and, under the guises of the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it. We urge you all to keeping supporting; to keep listening.


The Legless Crabs ‘Be A Sadist’
LP/Available Now


If you remember a few weeks ago I reviewed a single from The Legless Crabs declaring them the future of rock n roll. Well they have just compiled a free to download LP of all their singles and EPs, and released it as a free to download compilation.

Essential is the word dear readers, essential! The early Mary Chain meets the Shaggs with a touch of Daniel Johnson and Pussy Galore thrown in, it’s dark and it has guts and a do not give a fuck attitude. It is a shambolic noisy stew of noise but with wonderfully written melodies and lyrics. The best band to come from the USA since the Banana Splits: no doubt about it.





No Exits ‘No Exists EP’
Available Now




The 80s post punk sound really is making a bit of a re-emergence, and why not, as when it’s done well it’s a fine thing indeed: and No Exits do it very well indeed.

Their music takes me back and has me thinking of very early Dead Or Alive and Theatre Of Hate with a touch of Soft Cell, and something about it really reminds me of Theatre Of Sheep (maybe its their guitar sound), but very entertaining nonetheless. So if the 80s post punk swirl is your thing you should really enjoy this fine EP.





The Loungs ‘Hey Brain’
(Fresh Hair Records) Single/Available Now




It’s nice to have those St Helens Psych Monkees The Loungs back after a far too long a layoff since their gem of a third LP, the 2015 baroque flavoured Short Circuit. And this little beauty carries on where that fine album left off. ‘Hey Brain’ being a quirky short stroll through the Summery psych of one’s past, recalling the woozy delights of the Super Furry Animals with a hint of the Zombies and Cat Stevens, but with a charm of their very own. A true delight, which could of only been better if it was called, “Hey Brian”.





DeathDeathDeath ft. Lomi MC ‘Love Is A Construct’
(Numavi Records) Single/Available Now




I love this. It’s rather quite beautiful and whoever says they don’t make pop music as quite magical as they used to do should be made to listen to this on repeat until they admit they are wrong. It has a wonderful warm quality about it that takes my aging mind back to the wonderful music of Jane and Barton. A soft summer aural seduction that I advise music lovers of all ages should allow themselves to be seduced by. They won’t be sorry.





Graham Domain ‘Waking World’
(Metal Postcard Records) EP/Available Now




What we have here is another EP from one of Manchester’s greatest hidden musical secrets. Yes, there is something quite engrossing about the music of Graham Domain, a certain quiet dignified subtle madness that completely beguiles. It has a dark seductive charm from the tinkling piano and synth strings and jazz bass that lures you into the textured dream of the songs, and as it pulls you in and you begin to lose yourself in the magic you then notice the beauty of the lyrics and the phrasing: nobody quite sings like Graham Domain anymore. I’m sure that somewhere along the line the quiet genius of his music will find a audience and hopefully the large one it deserves, plus on the track ‘What Love Means’ there is the best crazy synth solo one can ever hope to hear.





Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
LP/Available now




If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love, she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer. Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.





Drew Davies ‘Drew Davies’
(AD1) LP/Available now




Is the good old 80s the new 60s? I wonder as I’m getting sent a load of music that is so influenced by the decade. This LP by Drew Davies could have easily been released in that decade – if I hadn’t known better I would have thought this was a reissue of some album that slipped under the radar at the time.

Drew Davies obviously worships at the altar of David Bowie, which indeed is no bad thing. He could have worshiped at the altar of Stefan Denis, and do we really need that. Instead we are treated to the kind of album a major label would have released in the 80s pretending that it was an indie. It has the same polished Alt rock glamour and choruses that has the audience punching the sky while keeping one eye for the queue at the bar to thin out so you can send your girlfriend. It is in no way the greatest LP you will hear this year or any year from the 80s but you will certainly hear worse, and any fans of Billy Idol or 80s Bowie or even John Moores Expressway [remember them] will certainly enjoy this album as I did, as melodies and glamour do not age.





Dog Paper Submarine ‘Slippery Satellites’
(Small Bear) Album/Available Now




So we finally get the final LP by Dog Paper Submarine, two years after it was recorded, and it was indeed worth the wait as it is as always fine indie rock: part dEUS part Pixies, but all Dog Paper Submarine.

Clattering guitars, instrumental surf basslines, melodies that prod and gouge and caress are all one wants from their indie rock. To be honest I’m not a huge indie rock fan, I find it incredibly dull mostly these days, which again from a personal point of view makes this album and Dog Paper Submarine even more impressive, as this is a album I will play and enjoy, and that should be enough for any music lover.





Salem Trial ‘Head On Rong’
(Metal Postcard Records) Single/Available Now




I love this. From the start the explosive wall of Thin Lizzy like double lead guitars leap out at you and joyfully throttle you ears to death in the nicest possible way, whilst Beefheart like vocals and a melody catchy enough to hook yourself make for a whopper. It’s a song that has me yearning for the wild and drunken nights at the Royal Alfred in the late 80s, while being entertained by the wonderful local band The Volunteers, who made one mini album of sublime Beefheart frenzy called Bladder Of Life. This song reminds me of those days. That’s high praise indeed believe me. ‘Head On Rong’ is a must have for music lovers old and young alike.





It’s Karma It’s Cool ‘Woke Up In Hollywood’
Album/Available Now




If your thing is music with sparkling guitars and joy filled melodies then this album is for you. At times recalling Lloyd Cole with his Commotions and maybe a poppy REM after overdosing on the sun, songs shimmer and cast shadows of one string Rickenbacker guitar solos, the kind that The Bangles would embrace and comb their hair to whilst kissing posters of Gene Clark.

Woke Up In Hollywood is an album that exists to take one back to the golden days of the California sounds from the mid 60s through to power pop of the early 80s; from The Byrds to The Tremblers, even at times reminding me of the English Beat.

If you like, this is an album that should come with a large cut-out sun to hoist up into your room as the heat and pure light emerges from your stereo or laptop.





Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona




Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown – though many of our international followers, and those across the border in England, are tentatively coming out of isolation – join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

This week’s roundup takes on an unplanned devotional vibe, with many of the featured albums/EPs inspired or imbued by religious music and themes. The cellist, composer Simon McCorry is a case in point, his latest ambient drone soundscape The Light Only Blinds is guided in part by the Catholic liturgy of a Requiem Mass; though drifts and expands into the universal and space itself. Equally the stirring hushed beatific new EP from Swedish artist David Åhlén, ‘My Face Will Shine’, is also (among other things) inspired by Christian liturgy: especially the Biblical Psalms. Meanwhile, Bhajan Bhoy, the alter ego of Ajay Saggar, proves a transcendence of spiritual, talking to Yogi, style Kosmische and post-punk reverence. A strange performative alchemy is struck up between the collaborative union of Valentina Magaletti and Marlene Ribeiro on their mysterious, primal ‘tropical concrete’ communion Due Matte.

Not so spiritual, and untouched by the afflatus, Daniel J. Gregory (and his Carnivorous Plants) composes and assembles a ambient and lingering post-rock blues soundscape to the images he captured on a old Soviet camera, Fela Kuti disciples Les Frères Smith pack a punch on their explosive Afrobeat imbued new LP, Mutation. Love-Songs release their inaugural convolution of the organic and synthesized, Nicht Nicht, for the Hamburg label Bureau B. And finally, there’s the inaugural album from Carey Mercer’s new project Soft Plastics; an extraordinary, ambitious album at that.


Les Frères Smith ‘Mutation’
(Amour et Son) LP/22nd May 2020




Adepts of the Fela Kuti patois, the self-described musical ‘smugglers’ Les Frères Smith not only emulate their inspiration but even feature the Afrobeat progenitor’s youngest scion Seun Kuti on the group’s latest, and third, infectious bustle, Mutation.

Speaking Kuti fluently this eleven-strong group doesn’t just imitate the sun-bleached heralded horns, Tony Allen shuffles and entrancing grooves of the Nigerian superstar’s music but also channel his loosely delivered vocal protestations too. Always keeping it funky and suffused with a sauntered jostle even in the face of ever-growing tensions, the threat of increasingly hostile nationalism and the rise of populism the political slogans are liberally peppered or soulfully woven into the tapestry by the group’s rallying flanked singers and motivators Swala Emati and Prosper Nya. Les Frères Smith fill-in for Seun’s Egypt 80 on the splashed drum and Clav frills ‘No Waiting’: An impatient message of African unity rides over a signature nimble Afrobeat performance that has Seun deliver a usually cool vocal and swinging saxophone.

Of course these sonic contraband handlers of the faith will find their politics, freedom of movement even harder to evangelize in the current miasma of epidemic lockdown. For now, we’ll just have to let them musically take us on a backpack tour of riches. Because they don’t just fly Air Lagos but make stopovers in Cameroon (check out those basslines), Ghana, Guinea and on the shimmery fluted desert escape ‘Arouah’, Arabian North Africa. What they call the “Afrikanbeat” is a smooth merger of all these geographic scenes. Throw in some nitty, nifty Congolese guitar licks, some Orlando Julius lilted Afrojazz, reminisces of The Sweet Talks and Ebo Taylor, and then from across the seas, add a pinch of stateside soul sister Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, some Stevie Wonder and even a touch of The Brand New Heavies to find all the sunshine hustle grooves you could want.

Bedeviled, limbering, relaxed, Les Frères Smith lend a Gauloise flair to the Afrobeat blueprint on an album of bustled liberating energy.





Soft Plastics ‘5 Dreams’
(Paper Bag Records) LP/5th June 2020




From the embers of Frog Eyes rises Carey Mercer’s vivid dreamology, the Soft Plastics; an extraordinary-voiced inhabited vision, playful, untethered yet also intense. With partner and creative foil Mel Campbell at his side and an intimate circle of musicians – many of which are from the ranks of fellow Canadian scenesters Destroyer – Mercer’s abstract dreams are channeled into a magical, if often sad, songbook of lyrical symbolism, metaphor and passages of trauma.

Everyone is probably aware of the idiosyncratic songwriter’s travails, coming out the other side of throat cancer years ago; the very best outcome an affect on his music career and obviously his already unique bellowed, sibilant, fluctuating, weaving vocals. Though free from a cohesive theme as such, amongst the recurring lyrics of “swirling”, allusions to a green miasma, “wyld thyngs” and an actor’s diorama there’s the constant presence of “angels”: guardians perhaps. But it’s the album’s references (again, perhaps) to Mercer’s most dramatic episode on ‘The Party’s Still On’ that evocatively alludes to that diagnosis: “Knocked on the roof of my mouth, and said “shelter me in warmth”.

With some visions weighing heavier than others, and some darker, the inaugural LP under the Soft Plastics furnishing uses the imagery and lucid recall of Mercer’s dreams. These “remembrances” were sent to soundboard Joshua Wells (just one of the Destroyer cast that feature and help facilitate this album) as a foundation for, what is, a visceral journey through the musician/vocalist’s imaginings and augurs. It’s an ambitious world – not many albums come with a contextual-style essay. 5 Dreams “exists in a land that is deeply wet, dark, flooded” we’re told. The dank dampness is however broken by the occasional “gilded sun-beam” that “comes out of nowhere”, at which point “the song just stops and stares in bloody awe at what we are given, what we might see.”

Almost theatrical, the musical stage is expansive and deep; a counterbalance between the darkness and light. Sins, the omnipresence of a nuclear threat (of the winter, and family stasis kind), the pains of loss, and the biblical feature heavily on a soundtrack that omnivorously feeds on elements of lilted mariachi horns, industrial post-punk, ragged soul, new wave, shoegaze, pop, indie-dance, funk and Mercer’s back catalogue (Frog Eyes, Swan Lake). This means wandering hints of Blixa Bargeld, Talk Talk, Alex Harvey, Wolf Parade, The Mekons, New Pornographers and The Rapture. With a vocal freedom, between the languidly winding and more intense falsetto, the pathway traverses wildly imagined southern borderlands; a virtual dystopia where the hangman’s rope looms as a warning; a place where fascism lurks in the small towns. There’s something not quite right with this scene however; an artificial construct, peopled by willing (or unwilling) actors, playing the part of Mercer’s vivid dreamscapes and actions.

Mercer’s dream weaving evocations are, as I’ve already said, extraordinary on this ambitious, mesmeric album suite. Cryptic and charged, wondrous and yet dark, the Soft Plastics go further and deeper into the psyche to fathom the unfathomable. 5 Dreams warrants a place in every choice and best of the year lists at the end of this anxious, epidemic ravaged year. It really is that good.





Bhajan Bhoy ‘Bless Bless’
(Wormer Bros. Records)   LP/5th June 2020




Veiled in swathes of reverence and an afterglow of Gothic shoegaze, post-punk and the kosmische Ajay Saggar turns his fanned, flange reverberating guitar towards the transcendental on his first solo outing. Recently appearing in my January roundup as part of the Deutsche Ashram collaboration with Merinde Verbeck, Saggar extends that duo’s vaporous spiritual waves and dreamy translucence on this six-string led Eastern cosmology.

In case you missed the “blessed” anointed direction of this heavenly – if just as moodily mysterious and full of trepidation – panoramic opus, the alter ego “Bhajan” of this incarnation’s name refers to the amorphous devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. Synonymous with Hinduism, but also Jainism, this melodic raga form of worship has no set rules, and so fits in well with Saggar’s formless framework of layered melting guitar phrases, gossamer radiance, space-echo unit delay and ripples in the cosmic fabric atmospheres. Bhajan can be translated as “revere”, but also can be read as “sharing” too, and that’s what Saggar does: sharing his spiritual oeuvre of the esoteric and meditative.

We’re “welcomed” to this service with a brassy vibrating mantra: an introduction set-up for what’s to follow. The pouring guitar washes of Manuel Gottsching’s Ash Ra Temple permeate the album’s first long wave devotion ‘Strung Out’, which also features the Washington artist Prana Crafter as congruous communal collaborator. Those lingering six-string explorations increase with intensity as the traverse goes on; bending and craning with fuzz and scuzzy sustain in a Gunter Schickert fashion. Second guest spot goes to Holly Habstritt Gaal; her lulling siren coos beckon from the ether on the ethereal post-punk free-falling embrace ‘Cascade’.

On a pilgrimage of the magick and Indian mysticism, Saggar aligns wisps of Popol Vuh mantra otherworldliness with cause winds on the strangely titled ‘Stuck In A Barrel’, and casts a pulsing prodded synthesized spell of Roedelius arpeggiator and the Tangerine Dream on ‘Magicho’.

Whether drifting off after trekking the ‘King’s Mountain’, or circumnavigating the Kush interior, Saggar finds enlightenment in a cosmic vacuum. Sensory glides, harmonic rings, creepier growls, the twinkled and dub-y all merge on this ebbing tide of devotional music. Emerging from this isolation with a spirit of wonderment, Bhajan Bhoy reimagines a kosmische version of The Mission; a space rock Slowdive on an expansive multilayered guitar meditation.






Love-Songs ‘Nicht Nicht’
(Bureau B) LP/22nd May 2020




It shouldn’t come as a surprise to find the visceral electro-acoustic trio from Hamburg gravitating towards that incubator of Kosmische and expletory German electronica, the Bureau B label: A label that’s ranks include not just the second (or third) generation of Germany’s electronic and experimental music revolution but also some of the progenitors that started it, from surviving members of Faust to Roedelius.

Love-Songs inaugural convolution of the organic and defined for the label absorbs much of that pioneering providence, especially the Kosmische and the quasi-tribal, quasi-ceremonial wood-rim-clatter drums of Faust’s Zappi Diermaier.

A mysterious, sometimes Byzantium, invocation of the improvised, the synthesized and the acoustic, Nicht Nicht is a veiled world of amorphous resonance. There’s the use of Chinese cymbals that hints towards Tibetan and East Asian mysticism, what sounds like a clarinet or oud offers Egyptian fantasy, and the cattle bells evoke mountain cowherds of the Steppes. Add to this the utterances and chanted cadence of Love-Song’s vocalist Thomas Korf, which aren’t so much sung as lyrically described as they occupy the gauzy space. Korf’s lyrics are described as ‘Surrealist’, ‘Dada’, though I’d have no idea as he sings in German throughout.

Electronically sonic wise, pulsating bass throbs echo throughout this labyrinth alongside carefully, dare say sophisticated, arpeggiators, dark wave undercurrents and, when it really gets going, cybernetic techno beats. Suffused and vibrating with that air of mystery, Love-Songs create a stirring environment of reverberated tubular synthesized evaporations and both naturalistic scuttled rhythms and percussive trinkets. Nicht Nicht finds a balance between the two on a most experimental fusion of Kosmische, Techno and the mystical; an album that finds the trio pushing the boundaries further than ever.





Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro ‘Due Matte’
(Commando Vanessa) LP/11th June 2020




A communion of sonic forebode and untethered visions of the universal, the collaborative Due Matte performance ascension brings together Valentina Magaletti (of Vanishing Twins fame) and her foil Marlene Ribeiro (of both Gnod and Negra Brancia) to forge an uninterrupted exploration of what the artistic partnership has coined “tropical concrete”. A counterbalance of the improvised and form, the natural and augmented, synthesized effects and the acoustic, this tropical concrete soundscape weaves recognizable instrumentation with (as the ‘concrete’ of that term would suggest) a masked assemblage of found objects and utensils. And so, an ever-present tolled, processional frame drum patters out a repetitive beat as the trinkets of tapped bottles, scrapped tin and other metallic objects trickle or scratch across a mysterious alchemy of Latin esotericism and an ever-shifting echoed soundbed of filters.

Metal bucketing, the circled ringing of bowls, brushes across the surface of a drum skin, water-carriers, revolving mechanisms, rasps and rustling noises and sounds are all the more mysterious as they spiral or spindle on this magic-reality soundtrack. In a fluxes between the supernatural and dreamy, the lucid and hypnotizing reverberations of an ambiguous world, cast adrift of its moorings, stirs up various references: whether intentional or by happenstance – a spell of South East Asia one moment, the Nile and even an atavistic Iberia the next.

Cooing voices and obscured talking add another layer of mystique to the serial Gothic, religious and fantastical elementals.

This, the third release on the burgeoning Italian ‘boutique label’ Commando Vanessa, was originally performed as part of Francisca Marques’ curated project Hysteria; a result of the collaborators artistic residency at Sonoscopia in Porto, a project conceived to ‘offer a look at female production and creation in today’s musical universe, creating new bridges between creators and audiences.’ The fruits of this strange, mostly uncalculated vision of artistic freedom traverse a mirror-y, occasionally primal, world of abstracted death knolls and rituals, under a killing moon. Let’s hope there’s more to come from this congruous union in the future.






Simon McCorry ‘The Light Only Blinds’
(Herhalen Recordings) EP/14th May 2020




Proving prolific in this year of anxious isolation and lockdown misery, composer, artist and adroit cellist of renown Simon McCorry is once more conjuring up evocative soundscapes, both introspective and universal, on his latest ambient suite The Light Only Blinds. After two recent Monolith Cocktail premieres of McCorry standalone singles – the minimalist Acid Techno imbibed ‘Pieces Of Mind’ last month, and the stirring atonal ‘The Nothing That Is’ in February –, and following in the wake of the fully-realized escapist, haunted environments and materialized spaces of the ambiguous atmosphere-building Border Land LP, McCorry offers a trio of light inspired meditations on the power, immensity and light-giving properties of the Sun.

Veiled, longing and at times inhabiting the awe and mystery of Kubrick’s cinematic visions of space, the arid lunarscapes and terrains of this lightened sonic escapism are both magisterial and daunting. Though alien in parts, with passing leviathans and gauzy metallic gleams, saws and waves suffused throughout, the EP is not just bathed in the rays of the Sun but also loosely imbued by the themes (hence the Latin liturgy titles, ‘Sanctus’, ‘Benedictus’ etc.) of the Catholic Requiem Mass. Instead of the David Axlerod route, McCorry gravitates towards the almost supernatural Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Aventures suites of revered composer György Ligeti; all of which of course featured in Kubrick’s 2001AD, A Space Odyssey opus.

But this sacred wonderment at the Sun was also developed from the sound design work for a play that the ambient and neoclassical composer worked on in early March. “The theatre we were working in closed around us and the play only went as far as the first dress rehearsal. I’d been experimenting with a couple of analogue monosynths and liked the idea of using these as the sole source of sound design material. They have an unpredictable organic nature and paradoxically sound unnatural and alien. The play, Born Bad written by Debbie Tucker Green, is an intense family drama with a lot not said or on the verge of being said, it is an exercise in a slow build of tension that never quite overwhelms but threatens too as more and more is revealed. I wanted the sound design to be as if it is was the space, the hum of the electric appliances, lighting and heating, occasionally clawing it self into consciousness from a bed of churning chaos that lies behind everything.

The prevailing bed of those hums, undulations and waves sit under a synthesis of universal secrets, as enervated solar winds blow across the moonscapes and interiors, and shrouded movements trigger unearthly stirrings and shooting stars fly by in the night sky. An escapist soundtrack, McCorry’s subtle enlightened contemplations prove atmospherically evocative, another quality suite of minimalist gravity.






David Åhlén ‘My Face Will Shine’
(Jivvär) EP/15th May 2020




You may remember we premiered the Swedish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Åhlén’s moving hymnal ‘If I Have You’ single, recently on the Monolith Cocktail. A whispery diaphanous veiled plaint that’s informed and inspired by the artist’s study of mystical Judeo-Christian texts on the Swedish Island of Gotland, and his own personal faith, this most beatific and angelic of songs also features on the new release, the devotional My Face Will Shine EP.

Though faith has once more concentrated the minds of many during this epidemic – you could say there’s been a resurgence -, society in general still casts a cynical derision of suspicion at those who practice religion. A lot of Christian music is of course dire, especially the modern happy-clappy sort. Åhlén though has found a gossamer balance between the choral-backed worship lament of tradition and a breathtakingly heart aching form of chamber pop.

Particularly moved by the Biblical Psalms, lyrics from the first single – lines such as “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waters” – are directly inspired by Psalm 42, as David explains: “Many of the lyrics for the EP are about the mystery of our soul speaking to God and the longing that follows”. Musically steeped in this traditional influence and spiritual yearning, ‘If I Have You’ like the rest of the music on this EP are elevated further towards the heavenly by the inclusion of the holy tones of The Boy’s Choir Of Gotland and a an attentive, sympathetic chamber ensemble.

Åhlén’s hushed and cooed falsetto softly ascends the Cloisters atmosphere like a yearning, robed, Antony Hegarty taking communion. The reverence is suffused across all four spiritual elevations, from the beautifully wooed and bowed longing string accompanied stunner ‘My Face Will Shine’, through to the ethereal Biblical cosmology ‘Shamayim’ (the Hebrew word for “heaven”).

My Face Will Shine offers a full immersion into the devotional and longing; a connection to a higher calling you could say; a step away from our own preoccupations into the moody chamber pop of holy reverence. Aside from the spiritual leanings, many will find this an incredibly constructed heartfelt and beautiful record.




Daniel J. Gregory & Carnivorous Plants ‘Dusty Starlight’
(Kirigirisu Recordings) LP/Available Now




From rifling through workshop drawers like a sound burglar, to lending the most lingering traces of post-rock and blues-y guitar to attuned radio/TV broadcasts from an unspecified European geography, Daniel J. Gregory’s minimal sonic collage for the Japan-based Kirigirisu label is an album of channeled refracted landscapes. From mountains to coastlines and cities, Gregory’s serial synthesis of guitar and textured drones and winding mechanisms soundscapes give a sound and visceral life to pictures taken on an ‘old Soviet camera’.

A photo album given an assemblage of ambient resonate waveforms and more noisy musique-concrète, Dusty Starlight passes through ‘Blue Holland’ colour palette waterways and scrapped contours of a vague landscape. Foreign transmissions intermittently crackle and spark into action but offer only more mystery. You can even hear the artist himself counting in, or, in soliloquy style mumbling under his breath on the rummaging ‘V’.

Over various hums, signals, static, chains, clicks, camera loading and caustic interference Gregory plays various electric guitar renderings. Played with a light touch, these sometimes reverberating, often rippled and drifting trails linger between touches of Craig Ward, Spaceman 3 era Jason Pierce and Raül Refree. On the album’s final Roman numeric entitled ‘VII’ there’s even a hint of a more enervated, less dark, Sunn O))). But this could be framed as a kind of post-rock blues; a style not too dissimilar to the label boss Neil Debnam’s very own Broken Shoulder/Flying Kites alter egos.

A soundtrack in many ways that offers a strange collage of found, usable object manipulations and tremulous experimental guitar, the Dusty Starlight album looks through a removed lens at a scarred, displaced landscape. One that’s more mysterious and subtly stirring than dystopian or even haunting. This old Soviet tech offers another angle on ambient experimentation.






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.

REVIEWS/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and, under the guises of the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it. We urge you all to keeping supporting; to keep listening.

Princess Thailand  ‘And We Shine’
(À Tant Rêver du Roi and Luik Records)  Album/Available Now


If the swooning sound of post punk is the thing that swings your swinger then this fine album by Princess Thailand is the thing for you. Siouxsie and The Banshees attitude and early Cure like darkness melts over the proceedings like a black-hearted vamp of loneliness offering you one last grasp of togetherness. Guitars and sultry vocals merge with the feeling and memories of 80s post punk and, dare I say it, Goth to bring together an enjoyable flange filled half hour or so of dark sparkle angst.






Sir Robert Orange Peel  ‘Are You Mod Enough’
(Metal Postcard Records)  Single/Available Now




Welcome to another musical history lesson from Sir Robert Orange Peel; this time teaching us all about the mod culture fashions from the 60s: myself being too young to remember such a thing, but old enough to remember the late 70s revival. The joys of being a rockabilly in the early 80s, leather jacket winklepicker boots and huge Stray Cats like quiff surrounded by the be-parkered ones at a early 80s Kinks gig: and what a gig it was.

This is a joyful hipster swing of a track; one you could imagine Michael Cain sipping on a whisky and coke to, wearing horn rimmed glasses whilst watching the mini skirted beauties shaking their tail feather and there long lank hair swaying to this organ led beat happening at the London groovy discotheque.







Sir Bobby Jukebox  ‘Friendship Gift’
(Already Dead Records)  Album/22nd May 2020




Is there anyone out there old enough to remember the early 90’s and the wonderful joyful happy sounds of the Frank And Walters, who mastered in releasing catchy indie pop with melodies that caressed all the parts you wanted caressing by joyful indie music whilst hiding the dark underbelly of sadness.

Well if you do, this could well be for you. It has the same magical qualities but with the added spice of diy everything but kitchen sink woozy psychedelia, the injection of a “nah nah” chorus rush frenzies, and the Postcard era jangle of guitars – especially on ‘the has Edwyn entered the room’ ‘You Only Dance’. A joyful sugar rush of an album.






Bigflower  ‘Hold You In Place’
Single/Available Now




Another day in lockdown and another slice of dark wonderful distorted searing guitar from the equally wonderful bigflower, an artist that should be celebrated not ignored: if this was the 90s when people still gave a shit about new music bigflower would be all over late night radio and in the serious music press. As this is Monolith Cocktail, and one of the only remaining serious music blogs still standing [no clickbait 10 songs about making tea from us] it is our duty to review and to publicize such a serious talent.

If dark beautiful guitar music that you can dive into and totally submerge yourself in is your thing, bigflower is certainly the man/artist/band for you. Get downloading: it’s free. And tell your guitar loving friends to do the same.







Palavas  ‘Centerpiece’
(Wormhole World) Album/Available Now




Discordant noise merges with electro soundscapes that paint a sweeping aural picture of dark beauty, sometimes verging on the slightly psychedelic industrial sound that Throbbing Gristle used to thrive in producing; and I would advise any fans of Throbbing Gristle to give this festival of noise [noise in the best way] a go as I think they could well enjoy and be intrigued by this sound wash of danger. Once again Wormhole World Records produce the goods.






Salvatore Baglio ‘Sonic Doom: A Lo- Fi Home Companion’
Album/Available Now




Lo-fi is what I do best musically, so when I’m introduced to a 25-track album of such lo-fi beauties I’m indeed like a pig in muck. Recorded in various places on various recording equipment over the last 20 years by Salvatore Baglio, and compiled into this gem of a release.

Songs that makes one think of XTC, Guided By Voices, Cleaners From Venus, Clinic, and The Beach Boys at their crazy best amongst many other, what these songs have are invention, melody and tongue in cheek humour, and a great amount of songwriting talent.

There is the wonderful warmth that one gets from using cassette tapes to record that this album and these songs benefit greatly from; the warmth most of these songs, if not all of these songs, couldn’t be improved upon by using a state of the art 64 track studio, for what people do not quite grasp is that to succeed in making truly great lo-fi music you have to be a hugely talented songwriter with a inventive mind as you cannot hide behind 32 tracks of synths or millions of overdubs and get some producer to cover up some of your weaker tracks with studio trickery, and this album really does not have any weak tracks.

From the experimental instrumentals to stunning guitar pop all are polished gems. Some achievement that over the 25 tracks one does not find their minds wandering or wanting to skip songs. This really is a album all music lovers need to dive into and lose themselves in; a truly wonderful album and a masterclass in songwriting.







Nightingales  ‘Four Against Fate’
(Ting Global Productions)  LP/22nd May 2020




The Robert Lloyd warble is a thing of punk and post punk beauty, and here we are still in 2020 still enjoying the lyrical dexterity and humour of the great man: and long may it continue. As always songs of post punk verve leap from the speakers drenching you in memories of late night glories of listening to the much-missed John Peel; it really is like the last 35 years have not happened.

This album is simply timeless guitars jangling and twisting and distorting – as all great post punk guitars should do. Melodies reach out and throttle you while gently pulling on your heart strings reminding you no matter how bad things seem to be getting their are wonderful bands and characters like the Nightingales making enjoyable discordant pop songs full of wit adventure and wonder.





Xqui  ‘Microchasm’
(Wormhole World)  LP/15th May 2020




Found sounds or found zounds if you want to be funky, and I’m in a funky mood, the kind of mood where I feel like listening to cut up sounds welded together to make music with or without melody, the kind of thing you may find attractive whilst cutting a garden hedge or two. You can imagine Fred Astaire walking down a staircase whilst surrounded by beauties in fine gowns in black and white photos, whilst some guy is annoyingly recording the clip clop of his feet and making a strange trance like dance track from the aftertaste of the be-swathed one.

Found Zounds as I am now fond of calling them are something to be admired and beholden in a fashion not known by man, or men depending how many there are, or women even – let’s not be sexist about this. If you want to start and experiment into making found zounds you could not do worse than giving this a listen and losing yourself in the found zound wizardry of Xqui.






Simon Klein ‘Cat’
(Gare Du Nord) Single/Video/15th May 2020




Ah at last I was just beginning to despair of finding something I liked enough to be kind to in a review when this bountiful in bounce beauty came into my email box; a song that flounces with a fine subtle rockabilly beat, the kind of song that one twists to in their kitchen whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. And did you notice I wrote song and not track for it has lyrics and melody and everything. It is a song you can both dance to and stroke your chin to: hurrah!






ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

As international as ever, this month’s revue includes not one but two releases from the wellspring of Highlife music, Ghana – though only one of these is contemporary, and only one could be considered a link to that signature sound. First, the sixth volume in Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series is, as its title may suggest, a more elegiac-framed affair of rustic processional performances: Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’. The second, Edikanfo’s The Pace Setters is the first ever reissue of an iconic 80s album from the Afrodsico troupe, produced, with the lightest of touches, by Brian Eno. From South America, the ever-changing Miguel Sosa (formerly of The Strumpets and IH8 Camera) releases another album under a new alias and with a new sound, Plano Remoto. Japan-based polymath Paul Thomas Kirk, under his Akatombo alias, is granted a (almost) twenty-year spanning highlights collection of discordant gloom industrial dance music by the Japanese label So I Buried Records. From Haiti, we have the collaborative voodoo communion between the locals Chouk Bwa and the Belgium dub electronica duo The Ångströmers, Vodou Alé. And from Kenya, guitarist Fadhilee Itulya releases his debut album fusion of Omutibo music.

Closer to home, though imagining all kinds of cosmological and spiritual visions, Sebastian Reynolds releases a ‘universal’ escapist EP of peregrinations, and Austrian saxophonist Muriel Grossman is granted a showcase of her spiritual jazz suites from the Jazzman label.

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)   LP/22nd May 2020





Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. A hybrid of roots music tradition, the voodoo ceremony enchantments brought over to the Island from the Congo, the folkloric and rock and roll, mizik rasin has been made famous in more recent decades by Richard A. Morse’s acronym Haiti collective RAM, who have in turn welcomed curious acts such as Arcade Fire and tUnE-yArDs to its propulsive rhythm. The late Afrobeat rhythm king Tony Allen also spent time there working with local musicians on the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra project in 2017. It’s easy to see why; the invigorating lively, often locked-in rhythms and spiritual call prove intense and inviting: to dance music artists especially.

The synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica on this collaboration proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized. The furious, rushing hand-drumming is subtly reinforced and layered up for the most part with pulsating and throbbing undulations, atmospherics, phaser, echo and reverb reversal effects; all of which are used sparingly and wisely, and even sensitively.

A yearning plaintive procession of voices, both earthly and soulfully, emerge from the swirled vapours to lament Haiti’s tragic run of ecological disasters; the lead single ‘More Tan’ a bobbing and clattery beat with sonorous fuzzy bass lends a moving tribute to all those unfortunate souls affected by a quartet of devastating hurricanes and the Armageddon earthquake of 2010, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, at the mercy of the elements, disease and a destabilized authority.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this collaborative union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.






Muriel Grossmann  ‘Elevation’
(Jazzman)  LP/15th May 2020





Many jazz greats have of course attempted it, the ‘elevation’ of not just the form but consciousness itself. The Egyptologist anointed Pharoah Sanders even named an album after it; an ascendance at a time when jazz was embracing its spiritual roots and historical gravitas: a return to the source in Africa.

The supremely talented saxophonist bandleader Muriel Grossmann, imbued with that same spirit of vague conscious mysticism and experimentation, has now named one of her own impressive Afrojazz odysseys after that totem of an influential album. It won’t come as any surprise to find that the Pharaoh just happens to be one of Grossmann’s influences, alongside such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Lester Young and Eric Dolphy; all of which permeate throughout this survey of the European jazz star’s recent(ish) work.

A sort of introduction for those unfamiliar with an artist who’s spent the last two decades on the European scene, playing with the likes of Joachim and Rolf Kühn, Wolfgang Reisinges and Thomas Heidepriem, the impeccable Jazzman label have chosen to represent Grossmann’s catalogue with suites from the 2016 Natural Time and 2017 Momentum albums; a moiety almost of complimentary records.

In all a quintet of congruous traverses, from a duo of albums, Grossman’s own Elevation seems a fully realised, interconnected and flowing oeuvre that could have been recorded all at the same session, only yesterday. An adventure across desert contours, on the caravan trail in search of enlightenment and jazz nirvana; the impressively invocative saxophonist and her troupe of regulars turn in a fantastical panoramic opus.

We start with the latter of those albums and a trio of pyramid backdrop numbers that pay homage to the Coltranes (especially Alice), the Pharaoh, Archie Shepp and Greenwich-hip era Albert Ayler. That guiding light title-track is a ten-minute plus extravaganza of splashing drums, oozing and swaddled sax and mini plucked out guitar solos. It sounds like the group is on an opulent trinket laden barge. At first lingering, trembling and stirring in milder Nile waters, the action hot’s up as the river becomes more animated and choppy. Grossmann literally spirals towards the stars; giddily blowing so fast that her trademark instrument turns into a clarinet at one point. Almost easing into the shimmery resonating ‘Rising’, the quartet sumptuously treads further along a mysterious pathway. Uros Stamenkovic brushes the sand off his flighty drum kit, and Radomir Milojkovic bends and picks out a dizzying frill of notes on guitar as Grossmann flitters and flutters on another of these conscious trips.

Still gliding or walking that same North African jazz geography, both ‘Your Peace’ and ‘Peace For All’ may very well have furnished another album, but embrace and breath the same spiritual to experimental jazz air. Shifting sands move underfoot on the first of those dusky shufflers, whilst Eastern mystical chimes and serenity make way for progressive soulful sax, successions of deft guitar licks and burnished drums on the second of those mirages.

Hardly a slavish attempt at reproducing Grossmann’s inspirations, Elevation is an impressive, evocative continuation of those forbearers blueprint. A showcase of exploratory jazz left free to follow those same forbearers by a group of European avant-gardists.



Edikanfo  ‘The Pace Setters’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/8th May 2020





Depending on who you listen to, inventive leftfield, ambient music doyen Brian Eno and his part in propelling the Ghanaian troupers Edikanfo to international attention (if for only the briefest of moments), off the back of their dynamic rich bustling debut album, was either merely down to “endorsement” or more to do with his key production skills. The fact that his indelible mark is light, if almost hidden, would suggest a less than fleeting relationship with the eight-piece Afrodisco group. Yet stage-manage the production of this Highlife funk fusion he did.

That endorsement, usually a sign of quality and importance, is shared by self-appointed one-man Ghanaian music industry mover-and-shaker Faisal Helwani. A forceful character in a time when you had to be forward and sometimes ungracious in getting results, Helwani was responsible in kick-starting the modern Ghana scene; setting up the now legendary Napoleon Club complex in the capital of Accra. Club, casino, restaurant and studio – Accra’s first professional recording studio; known as the less than imaginary but history cementing Studio One – all in one, the Napoleon became a lively exchange hub of activity and a hothouse for both emerging and established talent, inside the region and outside of it. With a finger in every conceivable pie, from running the studio to managing, publicizing and contracting bands, Helwani’s grip was strong and nebulous. As Eno – who offers linear notes insight on what is the very first reissue of Edikanfo’s influential and justifiably entitled The Pace Setters album – divulges: ‘Although undoubtedly an important figure in the African music scene he was quite a possessive man. There was a fair amount of grumbling going on among the musicians, who had pretty poor lives. After some of their appearances the band ended up actually owing Faisal money since he owned their equipment and hired it out to them for shows.’

Eno hit upon a novel way of sending the band some money as a thank you, fearing it wouldn’t reach them unless it fell directly into their hands: ‘All the musicians liked the beret I wore at the time, so I had the idea to send one to each of them as a gift – which would be a kind of Trojan horse for the real gift. Back in New York my girlfriend Alex, who had come to Accra with me, carefully sewed a few hundred dollar bills into the rim of each beret and somehow I got a message to them which said ‘DON’T OPEN THE BERETS WHEN FARISAL’S AROUND!!’ It worked…one of the musicians later told me he’d bought a small farm in Central Ghana with his hat-money.’

Helwani had initially approached Eno as a publicity coup after reading about his fostering interest in African music. The impresario invited him as ‘international observer’ to the biennial Festival Of African Song And Dance. It didn’t take long to leap from that to producing Helwani’s recent upcoming electric signing. Staying for around a month, Eno spent time and effort with Edikanfo, who’s live, busy sound proved problematic for the studio manipulator, unaccustomed as he was to recording a live band all at once. Without nearly enough mics for the task at hand, Eno was forced to think on his feet and to eventually just let the performances happen with as little interference as possible. Upon returning to NYC – Eno’s base at the time in the later 70s and early 80s – he released upon listening back to these electric sessions that, for once, his post-production magic as redundant. And so The Pace Setters is a relatively pure, unburdened sound without augmentation; closer to capturing the group’s famed live performances: the sweat and all.

Formed just a couple of years before; Edikanfo would quickly build a momentum after colliding with Eno’s ascended star. His brand soon shone a light that very quickly went out. Brought to an international stage, the octet rose just as their native country was plunged once more into political tumult. A second coup by the military leader-politician Jerry John Rawlings at the end of 1981 removed the civilian government he initially put in place – set up after Rawling’s original junta-led coup in 1979. Ghana had been relatively lucky, having escaped such violent upheaval up until then. Concentrating the mind somewhat and pushing Rawlings into action, the soon-to-be leader was on the former governing power of General Fred Akuffa’s execution list. When he did take over, Rawlings implemented a spot of his own ‘house-cleaning’ of former officials and supporters. The shock of which led to demonstrations, which in turn led to elections; though Rawlings would still win, being re-elected again and again, staying in power until 2001. The early days of power would be severe however, with curfews that soon ‘gutted’ not only the economy but also the live music scene. Restrictions and harassment proved so bad that Edikanfo were forced to part company, scattering overseas.

Now though, almost four decades after their spotlight burned most bright, bandleader, bass player and songwriter Gilbert Amarty Amar and those band mates that survived are back with a new tour prompted by the reissue of their seminal debut. In what can only be described as a laser beam reflective mirror ball of Afrodisco and Highlife funk, The Pace Setters is a humid fusion of sweetened lullaby serenades and busier sunburst dances. A shared effort with near enough each member of the troupe offering up a track, there’s a mix of timings, themes and rhythms. Tracks like the opener ‘Nka Bom’ celebrate “togetherness” with sun-blessed horns, dappled electric piano and open hi-hat bustle, whilst the elastic bass noodling, springy and Orlando Julius loose jazz swaddled ‘Gbenta’ is both peaceable and relaxed. Hints of Osibisa can be found on the lulled hymn like vocal beauty ‘Moonlight Africa’, which puts a faster hustle of drums and bass underneath the twinkled organ caressed chorus of sweetly laced voices. At all times (well nearly) the bounce of refracted laser disco beams ricochet off the brass and rafters.

What a great album: true to its name, setting a sometimes blazing, and others, a sometimes-sashaying pace. Forget the fact it’s now forty years old, turn the mother up and shake-off the woes and weight of life in lockdown. Edikanfo’s 1981 classic is still alive and magical in the here and now; sending us with verve towards the summer: even if that summer is very different to any most of us have ever experienced. Enjoy this most worthy repress.




Fadhilee Itulya   ‘Kwetu’
(Naxos World)   LP/8th May 2020





Though the Kenyan guitarist turn frontman has been around for a decade the Kwetu album of belonging and questioning, released via a re-invigorated Naxos World, is Fadhilee Itulya’s debut.

Channeling what sounds like a lifetime into that inaugural record, Fadhilee combines his Kenyan roots with more contemporary rock, soul, blues, and on the album’s one and only attempt at a celebratory sun-praised club mix, Balearic dance music. Creating a bridge between the more earthy, unspoiled authenticity of tradition and more polished pop production of a modern studio, Fadhilee draws on the Luhya and Isukha peoples of Western Kenya and their ancestral dances, ceremonies and instruments. This includes the duel guitar and empty incessantly tapped soda bottle accompanied chanted Omutibo, and the Isukuti drums of the celebratory dances performed amongst the latter of those communities. The driving syncopated rhythms of Omutibo were developed during the 1950s, into the 60s, before falling out of favour in the 70s. It forms a foundation on the Swahili entitled ‘Kwetu’ song; a title-track that translates as “home”, but carries more weight in what Fadhilee encapsulates as, “a place where I am welcome.” That could be anywhere, not just his homeland, as this is an album as much about international unity and liberation as a songbook that passes commentary on the closer-to-home social and political problems in Kenya.

Language is another constant theme, with Fadhilee switching effortlessly from Swahili to English to the chanted Luhya.

Sprinkled throughout this generous album, the rustic tapped bottle ringing, hand drum propulsed rhythms and chorus of dusty-soul chanting and more enthusiastic female trilling traditions sit alongside smoother, finessed performances: though it all feels like a intimate live session. The album opens with the reedy and flighty “prayer” of ‘‘Afirika’; an opening salvo that sets up the smooth reggae and jazzy-rock sound of Fadhilee’s lilted guitar and the accompanying backing of a rich harmony chorus. It also introduces us to the folksy flute-heavy collaboration of guest musician Adam Adiarra, who’s instrument flutters, weaves and floats throughout that opening introduction. More sauntering rhythms beckon on the spiritually lulled, twinkled piano tribute to women and motherhood ‘Mama’. Whilst the electric sunny funk ‘Tabasm’, which translates as “smile”, works up a fusion of flange-rock and gospel.

Despite moments of intensity and urgency, wilder electric guitar frills and the untethered breaks of tribal ceremonial passion, Kwetu is a mostly gentle, soulful affair. A peaceable showcase for an artist honed on tradition but pushing forward. A commercial album of smooth Kenyan fusions with some rougher edges, Fadhilee’s debut shows an artist as comfortable with the modern studio as he is with the in-situ rustic roots of the Kenyan grasslands.



Akatombo  ‘Discordia: 2003-2020’
(So I Buried Records)   Album/25th May 2020





From a label synonymous for unleashing the sludge-dread rock of those ominous bearers of doom, Qujaku, comes a sort of ‘best of’ collection of similarly caustic menace from the Scottish post-punker turn industrial electronic composer Paul Thomas Kirk. As it turns out, a logical creatively successful leap for the one-time band member of the 80s punk agitators The Actives, Kirk’s magnetic-charged Akatombo avatar fuses, fries and beats-into-shape remnants of that post-punk past. Based in Hiroshima the musician, producer, filmmaker, photographer and label boss has released a quintet of albums, all but one of them under his own Hand-Held Recordings imprint, since 2003. Collected together here is a smattering of buzzy dissonance and growling electronic transmissions from each of the album’s, plus one previously unreleased track, ‘Oblique & Fearless’: a cause metallic evocation of techno punk and Reznor chained industrial dread.

Going back to the beginning, 2003’s inaugural augury Trace Elements – released via the SWIM label – is represented by the Japanese trip-hop Western soundtrack ‘Humid’, the rough UNKLE trip-breaks with snarling bass ‘Overheat’, and dub-y reverb spiraling ‘Ponderlust’. Six years later Kirk would release the Unconfirmed Reports album under his own label. Taking the sonic exploration further towards the experimental, the frizzled distortion and Aphex Twin clattering of ‘A Prior Disengagement’ and Barry Adamson spy thriller tremolo with DJ Shadow drum breaks ‘SSRI’ mark that album’s evolving range and scope. 2011’s False Positives lends the Basic Channel tuned unfolding Kitchen-sink drama ‘Kleptocrat’ and cylindrical, muffled voiced ‘Precariat’ to this compilation.

The prize of opening this Discordia falls to the ominous moist chamber atmospheric ‘Click/Bate’, taken from the 2015 album Sometime, Never. Both lurking in the dark web subterranean yet also communicating with orbital space waves, this bleak vision reimagines The Orb on a downer. Reaching further into the esoteric sound, most recent album Tensile Strength is represented by a trio of industrial, ringing noisy visitations and broadcasts: ‘Debug. Injector’ is a churning vortex of the haunted, whilst the album’s title-track is full of punk snarls.

Veering between the heavy dance music of The Chemical Brothers and the sonorous metal machine music of Emptyset, and between the steaming razor breaks of UNKLE and the industrial wilding of Einsturzende Neubauten, Kirk’s Akatombo manifestation is channeled into a pretty decisive collection of highlights. Too driven to be classed as ‘mood music’ or dark soundtracks, the dystopian discord of Kirk’s sonic augurs and emotions could even be considered dance music: albeit on the fringes of a doomed dancefloor. A great showcase anyway for an electronic artist working in the gloom.






Sebastian Reynolds   ‘The Universe Remembers’
(Faith & Industry)  EP/22nd May 2020





Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds has finally found the time in his prolific schedule of collaborations, remixes, session work and productions to create his very own solo soundtrack of various eschatology inspired peregrinations. The Universe Remembers EP’s quintet of traverses drifts and wafts across an ambiguous, often vaporous, soundscape of neo-classical composition, retro futurist production, swanned Tibetan mystical jazz, both languid and accelerated running breakbeats, and ghostly visitations – haunted narrated extracts from T.S. Eliot’s all-encompassing philosophical, religious and metaphysical Holy Grail purview The Wasteland can be heard in a fuzzy echo on the EP’s title-track and single.

A cosmological junction of dystopian literature and the Buddhist/Daoism, The Universe Remembers is, as you might expect from a composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s created music as varied as the transcendent Southeast Asian Manīmekhalā score that accompanied the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama and the visceral chamber pieces of his collaboration with the pan-European Solo Collective trio, a mix of evocations simultaneously as dreamy as they are ominous and mysterious; and as contemplative as they are resigned to the fates.

Framed as a distillation of previous incarnations, namely the Keyboard Choir and Braindead Collective, the sound and sonic landscape channels the peaks and descending remembrance of a musical lifetime, with some of the material taken from various periods over the years, transformed and attuned for a concept of Theology; the part that’s concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind: Not too big a concept then.

Previously premiered on the Monolith Cocktail the guest produced title track features the attentive skills of Capitol K (who’s label is also facilitating the release of this EP) guiding a musical odyssey of twinkled trembled cascaded piano, slow beats and the mystical fluttering, spiraling and drifting clarinet of guest contributor Rachel Coombes. Featuring Seb’s penchant for the glitch-y piano resonance of Susumu Yokota and a most strangely sourced sample of the revered writer Anthony Burgess purchasing a Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, this magical escapist suite wafts between the snake charmer bazaars of Egypt and Calcutta, the Hitchcockian and avant-garde. It must be emphasized at this point that Burgess’ dystopian visions have had a profound effect on Seb; especially his most famous slim novel A Clockwork Orange. Seb has previously performed at the Burgess Foundation with the Solo Collective and even (in the last week) written a guest post for their website. Not that anything on this EP is even close to aping the synonymous ominous switched-on Bach of Wendy Carlos’ score for the Kubrick vision of that most famous futuristic nightmare.

Opening reverberating vapour ‘Amoniker’ builds a suffused trilled melodic swathe of pastoral merry evocations from a past epoch, smatterings of jazz, and distant masked break-beats around an increasingly echoing and delayed layered counting iteration. Doing what he does best, Seb finds and then takes original samples to explorative new soundscapes and worlds on the EP’s curtain call, ‘You Are Forgotten’. The Oxford polymath uses the baritone like resigned mooning vocal from the track of the same name by Desmond Chancer & The Long Memories as a foundation for a suffused saxophone swaddled and pining (courtesy of Adam Davy) slice of retro-futurist electronica. Spiritual manna phrases like “no memory”, ”no legacy” and “universal” drift into focus from a constructed ether to echo dramatically over the mysterious and masked invocations.

Keeping to the holy mountain of awe footpath, the totem of endurance, mysticism, beauty and immensity ‘Everest’ once more features those Tibetan evoking horns and cosmic awakenings. It also features not so much guitar performances as the essence of lingering notes and wanes (attributed to collaborators James Maund and Andrew Warne) on an ascendant score of both the celestial and peaceable.

If you love your trance, esoteric mysticism, trip-hop, the new age, satellite jazz and the poetic, then stick on The Universe Remembers and be transported to wondrous and meditative planes.




Plano Remoto  ‘Plano Remoto’
(Jezus Factory)  LP/11th May 2020





Whether its ennui or a conscious decision to keep critics, and his audience, on their toes the Argentine maverick Miguel Sosa once more changes direction on his latest album for the marvelous cottage-industry label, Jezus Factory. Sosa’s previous peregrination, Bermudas, was an analogue patchbay cosmic psychogeography of the infamous Bermuda Triangle region; filed under yet another alter ego, the Moog and ARP soundtrack homage Cassini Division. Prior to that the Jezus Factory stalwart had spent a tenure living in Antwerp, instigating or joining all manner of Belgian bands, from IH8 Camera to Strumpets and Parallels. The Strumpets would mutate into Angels Die Hard when Sosa had to return back home.

His latest venture, Plano Remoto, ropes in bass player/singer Mike Young, old pal and the owner of the TDR Studio in Buenos Aires Lucas Becerra, on drums, and Nico Courreges on double-bass. The results of two years of studio jamming and a build-up of Tascam recordings, this informal set-up’s self-titled debut (though it could easily be the first and only LP from this incarnation) is a right old mix of styles and ideas. A return, of sorts, to songwriting it starts with a day dreamy Gilberto Brasilia sandy lull of “la las” and pop with the strangely entitled ‘Bossa Zombie’ – the first part of that title is obvious, the second…not so much. Sosa and friends go on to jangle through removed versions of Bad Finger meets The Olivia Tremor Control balladry, harmony power pop (‘Leona’), Jeff Lynne “ahing” psychedelic anthems (‘Mel’), early 60s European new wave cinematic spell casting circus scene-set jazz lullaby (‘Fantasma’), and Baroque retro-futurist galactic love (‘Sandra’).

You may very well also pick up moments of Alex Harvey showmanship prog, soft rock furnishings and what sounds like an ominous Clockwork Orange space march on an album both simultaneously odd but also essentially pop. It’s a form of songwriting slightly askew and novel, yet pleasant, melodic and comfortable to the ear. God knows where Sosa will take us next.






Fra Fra   ‘Funeral Songs’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/24th April 2020





No stranger to this site, Grammy Award winning producer, author and peacemaker Ian Brennan has appeared countless times; namely as the in-situ producer on a myriad of unfiltered and direct performances and as the subject of an interview in 2016. Continuing his collaboration with Glitterbeat Records, Brennan is back with another chapter in the global expletory label’s Hidden Musics adventure; a series that unearths performances from ad-hoc musicians, located in some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track, environments.

The sixth volume in this collection follows on from excursions to Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mali, landing somewhere on a dusty road outside the northern Ghana hub of Tamale. Brennan once more entices a captivating set of recordings with as little interference as possible. Those previous records, whether it was capturing the evocative war-scarred yearns of both survivors of the Vietnam War or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge apocalypse, or lending a voice to the suffering plight of the Abatwa people in the border regions of a post-genocide Rwanda, all adhere to the American producer’s signature technique of less is more. As Brennan himself put it in his How Music Dies (or Lives) book in 2016: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage.’

Brennan is not in the business of earnest backslapping or ethnography, rather, he wishes to just make what he calls ‘candid and new punk and dusty records.’ Forget Lomax and company, Hidden Musics is less an exercise in preservation and archiving, and more a trailblazing exposure of relatively unburdened magic outside the confines and restrictions of Western music.   Responsible for all but one of the series – that being Paul Chandler’s Every Song Has Its End sonic dispatch from Mali survey -, Brennan focuses once again on the extremely localized sounds of his destination.

Fra Fra, the colonial name given to this particular tribe found in the northern part of Ghana, is a convenient name for just a trio of musicians who perform the funeral songs, plaints and paeans traditions of the country. A reversal of the north/south divide, it is northern Ghana that is synonymous for its wellspring of blues. That roots lament can be heard in the rustic, rudimental and springy performances of this group of locals. Led by the appropriately named Small, ‘a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack of’, this trio proved difficult to capture. In part this was down to the processional manner of their playing style delivery; a manner that has more than a passing resemblance to New Orleans marching bands, which isn’t hard to figure when you consider the enforced enslavement of Ghanaians who passed through or made their home in the burgeoning port. So Brennan was forced to go for ‘coverage’ instead of precision, as Small and his wingmen gyrated in circles on the gravel floor.

Playing better (so they’d have us believe) when drunk on the production’s beer quota, inebriation seems to have lubricated proceedings for the better. With just the poor imitation of a guitar – the two-string Kologo – and its rusty percussive jangle of dog-tags that hang around the neck, and the tiny boned mouth flutes – which the Fra Fra call ‘horns’ – the funeral laments on this record are a grieving plea between the earthy and hidden spiritual forces. Primal, hypnotic with various sung utterances, call-outs, hums and gabbled streams of despondent sorrow the personable process of grief is opened up to a new audience. Not as mournful however as I’ve described, the cadence of voices, the scraped tremulous rhythms are often energetically poetic and bluesy: albeit far removed from what most people would recognize as the blues.

A chorus and a twang-y, hollowed-out and sporadic accompaniment of serial instrumentation deliver fatalistic subject matters, such as the destiny of orphans and the pining for loved ones.

Sadly we will hear a lot more funeral music before this Covid-19 epidemic ends, which is yet, and we hope it won’t, to hit Africa on the scale that it has in Europe and North America. For those in lockdown discovering music in its purest forms, the sixth showcase in the Hidden Musics series is another essential, unique taste of the sonic road less travelled. A record in which Brennan remains merely the ghostly facilitator.






The Monolith Cocktail needs your support more than ever:

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.


REVIEWS/Brian ‘Shea’ Bordello





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and, under the guises of the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it. We urge you all to keeping supporting; to keep listening.

Chris Church  ‘Backwards Compatible’
Album/Now


Power pop is an art form that not many critics takes seriously; quite often frowned upon and belittled. Why is it such a bad thing for songs to have catchy melodies and harmonies and a feel good factor. Is it wrong to be influenced by McCartney led Beatles and Big Star; to love the crunchy guitars of Cheap Trick; to have melodies so sharp that they could shave off your eyebrows if you got too close. Of course not all critics are arseholes who eat what they are fed, who will accept anything as long as it’s wrapped in the latest hip design [me using the phrase hip design proves I’m no critic and certainly not a fashion led one]. I’m a music lover. I love pop music. I love harmonies. I love songs with a feel good factor, and yes McCartney is my favourite Beatle.

If you are like myself a pop music lover this LP is certainly for you as it has all the above mentioned and more. If you love Matthew Sweet and Brendan Benson, or even quite like them, you really need to hear this LP. If you’ve never heard of either I would advise you do, but first give this fine album a blast. I’m pretty sure it will not get the attention or the radio play it deserves and that is a bit of a sin as this album was born to be played on the radio.



Yakima  ‘Go Virtually’
EP/20th March 2020




Scottish bands like Big Star and Bad Finger it seems. That’s what we have here: another band soaking up the melodies of the past and releasing them forth to hopefully inspire more bands to like Big Star, which in itself is a worthy cause, because you cannot really have too many bands releasing warm catchy pop music, and this EP’s six tracks of warm catchy guitar pop is just that. It’s like the aural equivalent of your cat nesting in your favorite old jumper, in a cardboard box; no matter how many times you see it, it still makes you smile and warm inside.



So Beast  ‘Super Black’
EP/27th April 2020




If I remember correctly (Editor: yes you did) I reviewed an EP (Fit Unformal) by So Beast last year and was very impressed. Well nothing has changed, as this is equally as impressive.

Once again bringing a dark sultry post punk sound that reminds me of a semi electro Bow Wow Wow; chanted, whispered talked vocals backed by backward drum machines, the bleeps and chimes of the electronic kind twanging guitars and a warm dark hush of their art causing expectant ripples in the part of your mind where you fold away stars and memories of unkempt kisses and elicit sexual acts you performed, or, wished you had. An EP of sultry dark wonders.




Geese   ‘Bottle’
Single/Available Now




Geese are a band or a group [as I’m old fashioned] or, a flock even, from New York and this is their second single to date [I think it is anyway; I could be wrong, and not for the first time]. And what we have here is a fine slice of indie rock; chiming, almost a prog like guitar matched with dark melodic harmonies that bathe in the nostalgia that has me spinning back to the days when people with guitars mattered. Well worth lending your ears to.



Tangled Headphones  ‘Death By Misadventure’
Single/1st April 2020




I really love this. Tangled Headphones describe themselves as anti pop, which I have to disagree with, as this is a fine pop single. It’s certainly lo-fi, which you should know by now is something I adore. It also has a great psych eastern feeling to it – again something I love. Imagine if you will, a Psych Beat Happening; maybe one of my personal favorite tracks of the year so far. Great stuff indeed.




Aimée Steven ‘Hell Is A Teenage Girl’
(Jacaranda Records)  Single/6th March 2020




I think I may just stop reading press releases because on the whole they make me not want to actually listen to the song, as it nearly did with this delight of a pop single by Aimée Steven. And I’m glad I overlooked the bad hype “ripping up rule books ” and such nonsense, because what we have here is a fine PJ Harvey like song injected with the pop fun of The Monkees: guitars that jangle and fizz and a melody that would easily pass the old grey whistle test. One to watch yet again.




Pabst   ‘Skyline’
(Ketchup Tracks / The Orchard)   Single/Now




I was, once again, not expecting to like this as I always look on the bright side, as you know. But I actually did! I like the post grunge with a touch of old fashioned Glam rock feel to it: imagine Suede with beards and holes in their jeans. It’s once again a well written song with decent lyrics a fine melody and with a head-banging inducing chorus, which those with youth on their side I would advise, as it is good exercise [I am led to believe].



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