REVIEWS ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona





As of writing this latest roundup of new music recommendations and curios, the lockdown restrictions that many of us in the UK have been under are erratically and confusingly being lifted (to some degree). Still, anxiety and uncertainty reigns, as the music industry (I’m thinking more the venues, small scale enterprises, self-made and the diy) is left pretty much high and dry with little in the way of finical help, or even solutions to the inevitable problems of a post-Covid, isolationist society.

Live music being the biggest casualty of this lockdown, it is indeed pretty worrying that one of the only revenue streams left open to artists to make any real money from is now so endangered. As we have all seen for ourselves or heard from an abundance of artists and labels, the so-called savior of streaming has been anything but beneficial for the majority of artists. And can hardly count as revenue at all – unless you are Kanye West or Justin Bieber.

We will of course need time however to see how physical sales will fare; though I bet many out there have baulked at buying vinyl, CDs, anguishing over the spread of the virus. Records stores have been forced to close down and move online of course, which may also affect sales: the browser in particular will be affected, as will many of us who enjoyed not only looking for records but just the company and chat with the shop owner, the chance of coming across something by chance or being recommended something. Spontaneity has gone out the window in that respect.

With all that in mind, I ask you to do what you can in supporting new music and the artists featured in this roundup. You can of course purchase many on Bandcamp and similar sites.

 

As ever this selection is an eclectic gander at artists and bands from around the world, cosmos and beyond. Bringing us beautiful, evocative bluegrass rooted traverses, Kentuckian born and imbued Myles Cochran delivers a new subtly unveiling EP of ambient and guitar experiments, My Own Devices; sonic navigator Alex Norelli, under the Fierro Ex Machina nom de plume, conjures up an album of heavy electro-acoustic imaginings; and painter/musician Marco Bernacchia, aka Above The Tree, produces a vivid soundtrack of ambiguous folkloric and synthesized mystery on the new album King Above. In the Techno field of experimentation, the ever-prolific Sad Man is at it again with another album; this time in lockdown and going for the kicks. Also, Etienne de la Sayette unleashes another pleasant polygenesis album of African and South East Asian grooves.

In the reissues in-tray this month, I have a special treat for fans of The Monochrome Set’s stalwart vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Bid and his noughties project of surrealist and eccentric escapism, Scarlet’s Well. Join me as I run through a new decade spanning collection of songs from the catalogue. I also run through the recent reissue of the Indonesian music legend and maverick Harry Roesli’s ambitious 1975 psych-soul-pop-funk-gamelan opus, ‘Titik Api’.

Headlining this latest roundup, two titans of the contemporary and spiritual jazz scene, Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray, join forces once more to lay down a righteous transportive performance on the ancestral with a modern pulse communion Spirit Groove.


LEAD REVIEW




Kahil El’ Zabar’s ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’
(Spiritmuse) LP/12th June 2020


Praise be to the healing arts of those contemporary jazz luminaries Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray. If ever there was a time when we all needed calm and a spiritual deliverance it’s right now. A service, a quasi-liturgy of spiritual jazz, the two American titans of their experimental forms have drawn on a wealth of providence and influences to once more join forces through El’ Zabar’s “spirit groove” of connectivity.

As a harmonious bedfellow to the Chicago drummer/percussionist’s lauded (especially be me) Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, this righteous groove communion with the tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro Murray “intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level.” And what a groove it is; a disarming rhythmic set of performances with a poignant, timely message, or, as El’ Zabar himself puts it, “This is the moment to rekindle the notion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change.”

The creative partners enact this change (or at least attempt it) by channeling both the ancients and jazz greats they’ve both been lucky enough to share stages with over the last fifty years. El’ Zabar for his part, learning the craft through the Chicago hothouse known as the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and by playing with or supporting such greats as Eddie Harris, Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Archie Shepp (the list goes on). Oakland born Grammy Award winner Murray meanwhile has recorded and performed with a no less impressive list of notable talents, including Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Murray was also a founding forefather of the horns and wind instruments lauded World Saxophone Quartet.

El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse spiritual soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.





Joining them on church service organ and cascading, accentuate piano is Chicago stalwart Justin Dillard, and on bowing soothed and more scuttling acoustic bass, the burgeoning talent Emma Dayhuff. This makes for an enviable solid act; a quartet of jazz apprentices from different generations that between them have connections to every great jazz pioneer of the last fifty plus years. But, nearly, all roads lead back to Coltrane in particular. Murray despite practicing and molding amore unique technique inspired by the triumvirate of old guard doyens Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves then what Coltrane preached, he’s paid various homages to the late great saxophone deity. ‘Trane’, a notion, encapsulation, nod to his universal influence pared down to just the second syllable of a name, is all that’s needed on the track that appears on this album as a tribute of sorts. The swing time ‘Trane In Mind’ is a mood, a sense of that style; a splashed poolside dash of Coltrane in his ascendance.

 

Faith though is the main driver of the groove and varied utterances that pour out of this erudite ensemble’s performances. The water-carrier trickled percussive opener, ‘In My House’, welcomes all to El’ Zabar’s titular sanctuary; a place to raise the spirits and soul. A prayer in the form of a primal gospel House music anthem, the jug pouring shuffler features El’ Zabar’s signature vocal exaltations, which sometimes negate words and lyrics for just hums, feelings and an essence of vocal expression. A frame for a freeform expansion of the mood, Dillard switches from subtle piano phrasing to venerable organ, whilst Dayhuff bobs around as Murray customarily catches shortened hooted breaths and longer sublime circular breathing squalls.

The power of faith in love is enshrined on the next dreamy flight, ‘Necktar’. Dedicated to not only Murray’s new wife Francesca but also true love itself, the quartet skiffle and swing to a liquid soul music groove that sets up a meeting between Gil Scott Heron, Bill Withers and Lester Bowie. Talking of dedications, El’ Zabar’s ancestral percussive, vocal cooing ‘Katon’ opus was written for his fourth oldest son. (El’ Zabar has quite the brood of children and grandchildren we’re told). A special bond and sentiment is conveyed over a magical meditative suite of music box mbira, deft piano, serenading and hooting tenor and dipped bass.

‘In The Spirit’ is, as the title says, another faith radiating communion. Bird like fluting floats over dusty brushed drums on this venerated shuffled version of the original, first performed by El’ Zabar in late 70s Germany. Another past composition, the low-key Savoy jazz like ‘Song Of Myself’ was part of El’ Zabar’s trio project with Murray and the late bassist Fred Hopkins. “An introspection of dancing in your mind”, this riff on that recital stands out on an album of ancestral percussive heavy spiritual jazz and stripped acoustic House music with its smoky, kept subdued almost downtempo, intimacy. Almost veiled even, toots, dusty drums, hints of the vibes and live lounge atmospherics take the listener off into a new thoughtful space.

Working in various forms together since the late 80s, a third composition – appearing on the lauded LP of the same name – ‘One World Family’ is framed as a sort of “theme song” for the partnership. Extending the original with a more expansive performed backing of woody-slapped rhythms (which near the end climax in an erratic display of pounding and punching), spiraling reedy fashioned free-flowing saxophone and soulful melody, the quartet flex and breathe across a earthy but skybound cycle.

A reconnection, a spiritual bound partnership El’ Zabar and Murray appear from the tumult to capture a difficult to quantify feeling: a rage even. Quenching the soul with a “spirit groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times.





RECOMMENDATIONS


Etienne de la Sayette ‘Kobugi’
(Muju Records) LP/1st June 2020




As pleasantly inviting as the album’s sumptuous artwork, the highly active Etienne de la Sayette delivers another worldly traverse of Africa and South East Asian rhythms.

Channeling a wealth of his ever-expanding array of projects, from the Ethnio-groove imbued Akalé Wube to Bae Ho homage-inspired Baeshi Bang, and from Frix to an assortment of film scores, the Etienne de la Sayette platform pulls together the overspill. Put together in-between all these other commitments, but far from a secondary concern, the latest album to emerge from that project is a rich gentle flowing exotic affair. Played entirely by the intimate band of flexible drummer Stefano Lucchini, balafon maestro Lansiné Diabaté, and a small circle of guests, the undulating soundtrack is mostly devoid of technological interference: no virtual instruments or MIDI were used in the making of this record we’re told. Etienne for his part plays a mix of accentuate and hooted, relaxed honked saxophone and flighty flute throughout this borderless escape.

Embracing genres, especially in the rhythm department, the opening odyssey ‘Jajinmori’ takes a traditional Korean rhythm that Etienne discovered whilst collaborating with percussionists in Busan in 2016 and adds a softened Kuti Afrobeat vibe, Orlando Julius Afrojazz sax and the buoyant wooden bobs of the balafon. Riding over the top of this wavy fusion, Chicago rapper turn Parisian scenester RaceCaR lyrically flows with a stream of poetic consciousness that kicks back to the ancients. He gets to finish the album too, with a more political spit against the arms industry and the militarization of authority on the growled, scuzzed acid-metal-psych Deep Purple-esque monster riff ‘War Business’. Though spanning a two-year period, this “sawn-off shotgun” of a leap from the rest of the material proves the timeliest in light of recent events.

Second guest spot on this album goes to Cameroon troubadour Erik Aliana, who arrives from another compass point to rasp, growl and also lay down sweeter vocal charms on the rustic-folky village song ‘Safari Kames’.

Taking the guiding light of Afrobeat once more, the busier ‘LOULOU’ is as much influenced by Steve Reich ad chamber music as it is by Kuti and Tony Allen. There’s even a tone of Benin spotting organ and Hailu Mergia woven into the flashbacks. Diabaté’s balafon is almost watery, like a jug pouring out the droplets of bouncing notes. It’s “shamanic invocations” that rise from ‘Kobugi King’; another undulating fusion of the dreamy and soulful, taking in Muscle Shoals organ, oriental voodoo and impassioned talking-in-tongues utterances.

With slightly more buzz and rattle, the group channels the spindled resonance of the metal tine thumbed Kalimba, as played in the style of Konono #1, on the wilder exchange of organ and free-form drums tribune to the African and Caribbean god of knowledge of stories, ‘Anansi’. They also evoke a bit of the intense fuzz of Marc Ribot; his ‘Ceramic Dog’ being mentioned in the notes.

The only cover, Tegenu Balkew’s Ethnio cassette obscurity ‘Anchi Bale Game’ plays loose with the original’s magical spell drift towards the Orient. In another example of the free-travel music show, the group takes on a reggae gait with the church service suffused beachcomber ‘Tortoises’.

The most interesting thing about this album and the musicianship is the flow of ideas, and the weaving together of both African and Korean rhythms, as Etienne and his ensemble blend tastes of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and the Orient together in one track. Apart from a couple of numbers, Kobugi is a lilting, relaxed but deep listen; a cross-pollination of music synchronicity.





Myles Cochran ‘My Own Devices’
(9Ball Records) EP/19th June 2020




Regular readers and followers may remember that we premiered the experimental Kentuckian bluegrass, roots guitarist and composer Myles Cochran’s subtly evocative single, ‘It’s Like This’ last month on the Monolith Cocktail; a track that reverberated with the atmospherics and mood of a vaguely traced place on the outskirts of a recognizable American panorama. A hazy semblance of Cochran’s alternative Americana sound, that same single now forms one part of an extended version, ‘It’s Like This – It’s Like That’, on the new EP, My Own Devices. Expanded into a drifting Appalachian traverse with echoes of 75 Dollar Bill, and part rustically dreamy guitar, part lilted classical waned and bowing strings (the cello parts courtesy of Robert Curran), this couplet would make a great soundtrack to ambiguous horizons.

Recorded and put together between rural studios in France and the UK (where he now resides), much of this EP’s material wanes and sighs, breathes and pines across a sonorous prairie. The opening swooned, rhythmic shuffle ‘Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza’ merges reverberations of Myles Bluegrass signature trails with jazz, post-rock Mogwai and Daniel Lanois. As the title suggests, it is indeed a beautiful, and bowed mirage-y, instrumental.

Released a few months back, the ‘Early Dark’ peregrination blends more yearning sad and trembled strings with brushed drums, and the hint of a Mick Harvey soundtrack (there’s that word again, ‘soundtrack’). Though you can also confidently add shades of Ry Cooder, Robert Fripp, Warren Ellis and Steve Reich to both this ‘springtime mix’ and the rest of the EP’s material.

Plonking peaceably across the prairie, Cochran finishes up on a Bruce Langhorne meets Eno mosey ‘Churrito’; another drifter traverse of skiffle like rhythms, resonating guitar and spindly strings.

Almost just the tracings, lingering from behind the valley landscape, Cochran’s meditations and waning mood pieces are easy and quiet on the ear; shaped towards an alternative contemporary ambient vision of those bluegrass roots.

Myles will follow this latest EP up, we’re told, with an album entitled UNSUNG later this year.





Fierro Ex Machina ‘Processions’
LP/19th June 2020




The sensory sonic processed imaginings of Alex Norelli concentrate the mind on some foreboding sometimes creeping recondite worlds: Worlds that branch both the chthonian and alien.

From an apparatus of electro-acoustic, and what the L.A. based multi-instrumentalist and creative calls their “noise harp” – an assemblage of deconstructed electric versions of classical strings and dejected music equipment, which includes Alex’s Grandmother’s out-of-tune 1950s S1 Hammond Organ -, materializes a quartet of heavy studies in the experimental neo-classical, ambient, soundtrack and jazz fields. Yes, I did mean to include jazz; the kind that the American Nocturnal avant-garde saxophonist Andy Haas exudes on his various boundary-pushing peregrinations. But also a semblance of Ornette Coleman’s strung-out writhed, iron gate hinge waning saxophone can be heard enervated on the album’s opening mourned journey through the portal, ‘Praeter Nexus’. Unsettling as it slowly gains gravitas and a seething momentum that grows more mysterious, more unknown. The Nexus track demonstrates a frayed, fabric torn movement simultaneously as spatial as it is claustrophobic and dark.

Ominous nocturnal movements follow with the spherical shifting ‘The Shadows Of Plants At Night’. Metronome counted ripples tick away in the night garden as a ghostly-like voiced sound and permutations of Donny McCaslin’s sax waft by. Those plants sound more like concrete planetary leviathans chiding and scraping together. The lamentable entitled ‘Do You Know The Sorrow Of The Horses’, which sounds like the opening from a particularly harrowing plaint from beyond the ether features howls of a kind from wolves of some sort prowling the borders. This wispy invocation, as a scion of Cage and Nam June Paik, trundles across the inner workings and mechanisms of a grand piano: or so sounds.

‘A Sail Of All Tears’ finds a trace of melody and even a rhythm amongst the circling uncertainty and the chills. Turning over in the darkness, dawdling bass guitar and electric guitar notes act as guidance through the enormity of the elementals.

There’s a dark majesty and gravity to all four of these heavy evocations. The dissonance is nowhere to be found however, and so even in the abyss each one of Norelli’s visceral statements remain in a sort of ominous building harmony; a synthesis of sonorous emotion, journeying towards the void: A soundtrack for our frightening times.



Sad Man ‘Daddy Biscuits’
LP/5th June 2020




Despite the alter ego moniker of garden shed electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman’s most prolific incarnation yet, the Sad Man in lockdown is anything but as anxious and plaintive as the name might suggest. The latest (must be millionth, or something like that, release from Andrew now) experiments-in-motion album is in fact quite playful: a laugh even. Euphemisms, innuendo aside, Daddy Biscuits has a more uninterrupted flow of rhythms and progresses in a less agitated, ennui fashion than most of Andrew’s output.

Set loose with a trick noise making apparatus, the Sad Man goes for the kicks, transmogrifying House music and Techno for a staccato dancefloor. Jolted Djax Techno gets warped and bashed with shocks of Mike Dred, galloping 808s and mischievous Ed Banger electro funk on an album in which you can hear the cogs moving around in the artist’s noodle: where to go next? What about this, zap-bang-clatter-wobble-drill!! A Sad Man track seldom ends where it began.

God knows what the titles indicate half the time either. The titular cyber wilderness track alone goes through Luke Slater, Juan Atkins, Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers. The track ‘Sleeper’ is anything but somnolent, running as it does through a bastardize version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’, 16-bit computer game coin-up prizes and hints of M-Plant Rob Hood and a crystalline dream magic. For me though, I love the strange curio ‘House Work’ (definitely a tune that would improve the chores no end). It sounds like Major Force mashed with Wagon Christ and Les Rita Mitsouko; a sort of electro-operatic funk.

For kicks then, Andrew eyes up the groove on a collection of both panel-beater workshop beats and modulated weirdness; an album for lovers of Warp, Leaf, early Jeff Mills and House Of Tapes. Lockdown proves a fertile environment for the conceptual artist and sonic maverick. I like this subtle change. Pass round the magic biscuits selection again in the future please.





Above The Tree ‘King Above’
(Hukot Disc/Plug In The Gear/Krimzkramz Sub Post) LP/Available Now




Dropped into some alternative futuristic pastoral world in the aftermath of an unexplained event – or that’s at least what it feels and sounds like to me -, visual artist and amorphous sonic sculptor Marco Bernacchia creates a visionary traced soundscape of haunting holy and esoteric materializations from out of the ether on his latest vivid soundtrack, King Above. A soundtrack, as it turns out, for an as yet unreleased documentary, this regal entitled suite of passages, renderings and lingerings would suit a mysterious theme with its signs of the ominous, exotic, and in some cases, supernatural.

Gravitating around the so-called “Italian occult psychedelic” scene, a catch-all term coined in the early noughties to describe the emerging esoteric and out-there sound being made by bands such as Comaneci and Father Murphy (both of whom feature in various ways on this album), Bernacchia practices a sort of ever-evolving vision of “outsider music”. Far too knowing and technically proficient and learned to be the musical equivalent of the usually naïve outsider art, his Above The Tree moniker mapped abstractions have a depth and knowledge that betrays an eclectic, studied palette of influences.

Blessed and doomed in equal measure, the Urbino Academy of Fine Arts alumni paints a both unsettling and pretty atmosphere. In between his professional practice (reaching the heights of exhibiting at the Venice Biennale; which is one way to say you’ve made it in the contemporary conceptual art world), the painter has learnt an assortment of instruments, from saxophone to guitar, the Malian harp-like Kamalengoni to the Russian variant of the Jew’s harp, the Vargan. All of which appear throughout the various dreamy drifts and Kosmische stirrings.

All these instruments and influences are filtered through a gauze of the gossamer, wispy and misty, with the bewitching chimes set against distant echoes of voices, messages and Medieval leftfield folk: think Faust at their most atavistic meets Sproatly Smith. Something like the courtly, rustic reverberations of a past epoch drift in and out of a vaporous bed of drones, ambience and exotic swathes of an unearthly realm. The plucked brushed tremulous guitar phrases often evoke Ry Cooder and (sharing this particular roundup) Myles Cochran.

Nature is always present no matter where Bernacchia guides us. There’s even a sort of nature meditation codex at the end of this fourteen-track oeuvre; the sound of birdsong and an ambiguous great scenic outdoors is permeated by the waning gravitas building accompaniment of bowed strings and the barest undulations of the synthesized. Icy blows, vortexes, cylindrical metallic and ghostly visitations merge with the pastoral and at times the revenant.

With permission from his already mentioned compatriots, Father Murphy, a sample from the group’s 2018 esoteric blessed ‘Communion’ – which featured on the Rising. A Requiem LP – features on the cooed cloisters score ‘Merci On Us’. The original song’s venerated choral atmospherics are woven into the lulled dreamy renaissance treatment.

“Donating” lyrics and voice to a couple of tracks, Francesca Amati of the Comaneci duo offers up a strange repeated breathy mantra on the open couplet ‘Windows Soul’, and utters soliloquy like phrases on the title-track. Amati sounds like a weird space-age narrator on the latter; her statements fragmented, almost disjointed.

Those utterances offer another layer of mystique to an album steeped in the abstract. Tangible instruments exist with the unmistakable tremolo of a guitar, gabbling of the ngoni and spring of a vargen, yet it’s the obscured textural hints of imagined places and spaces that win out. Bernacchia has embraced a history, myriad of emotive forces and atmospheres, the organic and synthesized, and transduced it all into this suffused empirical soundtrack of sublime outsider folk. I thoroughly recommend you seek it out.






REISSUES

Harry Roesli ‘Titik Api’
(Lamunai/Groovyrecord) LP/2nd June 2020




It may sound surprising to many of you dear readers to find that someone as switched-on as me hasn’t come across, until now, the Javanese Temple psychedelic funk of the Indonesian maverick Harry Roesli. Submitted by the kind folks at the Lamunai/Groovyrecord hub, a reissue version of the celebrated artist’s iconic mid 70s concept opus Titik Api has piqued my interest.

Providence wise first, Roesli was born in the bastion of Gamelan, on the island of Java in 1951. In what could be described as a privileged upbringing, Roesli’s father was a major general in the Indonesian army, his mother a doctor; both positions offering a relative security in a country ruled by the quasi-dictator Suharto – a leader with a tightening grip, who managed to keep hold of power for four decades, from 1967 to 1998.

Obviously a talented musician from a young age, Roesli actually decided to study engineering instead of music. It was during those formative years that the creatively minded bohemian was turned on to political activism – a story retold in more detail in the album’s liner notes. To be glib and race through the details, he became an active member of the 70s Tradisi Baru Movement. Translating as “New Tradition” this growing political and creative movement were committed to experimenting with Indonesian traditions such as gamelan. Critical of the regime however, it soon became too dangerous for student activists such as Roesli to evade the authorities iron fist. In one such crackdown, Roesli found himself imprisoned. Luckily for him, a Dutch member of Amnesty International was on the case; gaining an escape route for Roesli through the promise of a scholarship, studying percussion in Holland.

To cut a long story very short, this gave the burgeoning talent another layer of musicianship and host of new influences, which he eventually would take back to his native home. The music of Indonesia was now fused with prog rock, psych, acid rock, pop, enervated funk, soul and even the more complicated rock experiments of Zappa. All of which you can hear on the ambitious 1975 concept album, Titik Api: a kind of Indonesian drama set to music, with ‘prologs’ and ‘epilogs’ and a quasi-overture, a work of art from a hip-international minded cat. It’s nothing short of a Southeast Asian panorama of atavistic mysticism, romance and spiritual yearning.

The first cut from this double album alone, ‘Sekar Jepon’, moves from a gamelan Goblin to Bolero, whilst maintaining the signature zappy effects, sizzled fuzz and chiming percussion that permeates this entire opus. Those prog rock influences get harder on the hypnotizing temple rock ‘Jangga Wareng’: almost Sabbath heavy. The fluty thirteen-minute epic ‘Lembe Lembe’, features both shades of Jethro Tull and ‘Revolution’ era Jefferson Airplane. Slicker, leaning towards soul music, the romantic-sounding female lulled harmonies, sun-anointed ‘Merak’ fans out towards a lilting Brazilia. In a similar vein, another lengthy opus, ‘Kebo Jiro’, switches from soft funky soul and pop to fantasy boat ride, then snake-charming prog and rattling conga solo. ‘Curah Hujan’ takes a scenic route in an Alfa Spider convertible, as the radio blasts out a quasi-Bossa Italo love theme.

It seems Roesli wasn’t shy in throwing everything into his musical fantasy; Latin dreamy troubadour on the first of two ‘epilogs’, proto-disco on ‘Dinding Tolan, and Samba-rock on ‘Bunga Surga’.

From seductive slumbers to golden temple spiritualism and mirage-y trinkets and tubular tolls, Titik Api is an adventurous psychedelic vision from a fertile, expansive mind. An alternative Javanese dimension, invigorated by contemporary late 60s and 70s influences this is an all-encompassing epic from the Indonesian maverick. Don’t worry if like me you missed it first, second even third time around, this new reissue will serve crate-diggers and psychedelic fans alike well enough. Take a punt, dig it out and be introduced to a whole new rabbit hole of Southeast Asian music.





Scarlet’s Well ‘Magic (Selections From 1999 – 2010)’
(Tapete Records) LP/26th June 2020




The saga of the Monochrome Set spans five decades and umpteen break-ups. Blossoming at the fag end of the punk epoch, and continuing to produce music even to this day, the revered group has disbanded at least three times during a checkered history. The second those breakups, in 1998, proved a fertile escape for the Set’s stalwart singer, guitarist and songwriter Bid, who plowed his fantastical and whimsical inventions into a new band, Scarlet’s Well: a band that would, in one form or another last until the third incarnation of the Set in 2010.

 

A congruous bedfellow to Bid’s former group, Scarlet’s Well not only featured the Set’s 90s period keyboardist Orson Presence and producer Toby Robinson, but also transformed some of the unfinished material. Though it wasn’t just a place to crash for former Set members, the evolving, changing lineup would after a few albums expand to include Alice Healey on vocals.

Conceived as an “atmosphere” rather than a band, Bid conjured up a surrealist village diorama and cast of bawdy rouges, lost supernatural characters and monsters, explorers and pining cowboys/cowgirls to build an evocative storybook. Coming to life over seven albums of varying quality, this strange but disarming set location and its vague geographical tributaries (“somewhere east of the Azores and only slightly north of the Styx”) offers a magical encapsulation of all life’s woes, tribulations and physiological defects. It’s an adventure in which some of the salty sea dog inhabitants take the listener on a voyage to various atolls and exotic river ways; sailing into a range of both suffused and fleeting musical ports-of-call. Even the means of nautical travel differ, from a junk to galleon, a skiff to Pugwash shambolic pirate ship.

Receiving an appraisal a decade on from the Well’s final swansong, this oeuvre brings together a (almost) chronological collection of idiosyncratic pastoral whimsy and deeper, darker metaphors. “Bless my barnacles”, the rightly titled Magic collection opens with a couplet of alternative pop sea-shanties from the Well’s 2006 LP, Unreal: A year that proved very productive, with the band uncharacteristically releasing a duo of albums that year. ‘Sweetmeat’, which despite its alluded title sails on a junk to the gentle tones of a lullaby, has Bid channel Scott Walker and Roy Orbison on this beautiful sayonara caress. ‘Willy Whispers’ – no sniggering at the back – features the harmonizing sweet tones of Healey; who by this time was now a prominent member of the band. An example of that diverse range of influences and instrumentation, this spindled beauty simultaneously evokes Westerns, a punt down the Neva and the charming psychedelic storytelling of Pete Dello.

The debut album, Strange Letters, which now puts the songbook back in linear order, is represented by the solitary oompah-tuba ‘The Captain’s Song’. Reimagining a Brecht version of The Yellow Submarine, Bid’s put-on seadog baritone croons a veritable feast of sea-lovers Bonzo lyricism. Both comical and violent, he comes across like Blixa Bildgard early era Bad Seeds.

The first album of a new decade, 2000’s Les Baxter-esque The Isle Of Blue Flowers is represented by a trio of Spanish and concertinaed songs. Maybe a consequence of being signed to the Spanish label Siesta Records, there’s a dalliance with the host’s Flamenco and Latin spirit in the form of the castanet cantina ‘Lord Fish Garlic’s Last Expedition’: a song that fantasizes about a Suzanne Vega senorita fronting Fairport Convention during the Mexican war with America –imagine that! From the same album there’s the Franco-paradise Edwyn Collins-goes-surfing bendy title-track and the South Pacific meets Creole lala ‘Dark Dreams Aboard The Hesperus’.

Lewis Carroll’s literary and psychedelic totem heroine inspires the Well’s next album in the sequence, 2002’s Alice In The Underworld. A castaway choice of songs reflects the album’s use, again, of certain Spanish motifs and flairs. The exotic ‘Night Of The Macaw’ wafts lazily in a Caribbean bay; soft marimba and a lulling spiritual organ drift in the background of this beachcomber sway. ‘The Ballad Of Johnny Freak’ is another story entirely; a metaphorical tale of acceptance from Monsterism Island that puts Healey center-stage of a Hispanic lilted lament.

Moving forwards another two-years, The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse album features another of the band’s characteristic musical embraces: a kind of transcendent mosey form of Americana. The title-track, a trotting on the trial cowboy song, and ‘Big Dipper On The Spearman’s Floor’, a waylaid Hawaiian cowboy amongst the rock pools serenade, are chosen to fit the unfolding travelogue compilation.

The second album from 2006, Black Tulip Wings, goes all noir on us. The Bad Seeds rub shoulders with an enervated B52s, ‘Savage’ even goes into lounge swing halfway through its tremolo and Theremin-like wobbles. It’s show time on the album’s title-track as Brecht is brought to the Hollywood detective paperback.

Once more on the lonesome cowboy/cowgirl trial, the next two albums, 2008’s Gatekeeper and 2010’s Society Of Figurines reimagines the Western and country music cannons. On the first of these albums, Bid and his ensemble traverse The Mekons rebel country signature on the sweetly laced, springy desert key metaphor themed ‘Golden, It Is, Beautiful’. From the same record, ‘My Little Doll’ is a little more upbeat in comparison; a shuffling vision of The Bluebells round the campfire with the Frank And Walters. From the porcelain supernatural cast second of these two albums, it’s a strange combo of garage band with elements of the Inspiral Carpets baggy version of Tex Mex beat that underpins ‘Supernatural Services’. From that same record and drawing this decade spanning collection to a close, ‘The Vampire’s Song’ pitches Nosferatu in Nashville; the bloodsucker’s wandering song is a most lonesome pining affair.

Ambiguous throughout, Bid’s microcosm of mavericks, illusionists, rum miscreants and the plain misunderstood is an escape into the fantastical; a wealth of cryptic, surrealist psychedelic and cartoon outsider storytelling and art transduced into a disarming songbook of posy, shanties, ballads, cantas and pop. If you enjoy that long English tradition of eccentric songwriting, then this marvelous collection will quench your soul, heart and mind.




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

ALBUM 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.

This month’s spread of featured bands and artists dreams of more exotic and mysterious places, but hail from Europe. From Germany with the new impressive filmic chthonian Techno suite there’s Die Wilde Jagd, from Sweden the collective noise welders, Orchestra Of Constant Distress, and from Finland the debut LP from renowned jazz bassist and now bandleader, Antti Lötjönen.

Back in the UK there’s a new ambitious classical experimental suite from iyatra Quartet and ambient and electronic music releases from Ryan Bissett’s – under the Halftribe title –and ennui composer Sad Man.

I do however leave the borders of Europe with a short stopover in Ghana, with Santrofi’s debut revamped Highlife special, and Madagascar, with a compilation of early cuts from Damily.


Santrofi   ‘Alewa’
(Outhere Records)   24th April 2020


 

A love letter to Ghana’s golden age status as an incubator for some of the Africa’s greatest performers and bands in the 1960s and 70s; home of the, arguably, most influential music style to emerge from the continent in the 20th century, Highlife; Accra-based fusion Santrofi enthusiastically bridge past glories with a contemporary generation who’ve all but forgotten their roots. A reintroduction to Ghana at a time when its reputation as a hothouse for talent was at its nadir – when luminaries like Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela and Orlando Julius came looking for a new sound, eager to sup liberally from the explosive scene – the band’s debut album Alewa champions the sunny-disposition Highlife style whilst adding some modern licks and on-trend dances – the Nigerian hip-hop dance Shaku Shaku and South African street dance Gwara Gwara, created by DJ Bonge – to the mix.

A result of a merger of show and marching bands, dancehall jazz and homegrown influences Highlife evolved to absorb all manner of styles and instruments over time, including soul and funk, but maintained it’s sunshine bleached heralded horns, thinly spindled polyrhythm guitars and lilted but infectious grooves. Kuti would merge it most famously with the blazing R&B, soul and funk sound from across the Atlantic to invent Afrobeat, others would ‘up’ the jazz elements or inject it with some psychedelic rock.

Santrofi bandleader and bassist Emmanuel Ofori knows more than most how important this legacy is having rose up the ranks performing with legends like Ebo Taylor and Pat Thomas and the Kwashibu Area Band. Yet his eight-piece collective – who’ve toured with Gyedu Blay Ambolley, the mighty Osibisa, and George Darko – have a reputation for backing the pop sensation Sarkodie and the Nigerian “superstar” 2Face Idibia in recent years. Now though they return to the roots, channeling the heritage not just musically but the etymology and myth. The band name Santrofi itself derives from the mythology of the Akan – a meta-ethnicity of people living in the southern parts of Ghana, but also found in the Ivory Coast -, and refers to the rare, precious bird that brings bad luck to those that hunt or entrap it: a caged bird style analogy. The debut album title refers to the popular black and white striped sweet; used in this case as a symbolic metaphor for racial unity and cohesion.

Ebo Taylor and his peers can be heard throughout this swimmingly soulful and gorgeous sounding showcase. It’s unmistakable when listening to the sweetened swinging lullaby-like title-track, and golden, softly blown horn blasting funky ‘Kwaa Kwaa’. The opening ‘Kokroko’ however kicks off the album with an earthy tribal rhythm and live party feel that includes whistles and call-and-response. It also features fellow Ghanaian, the poet/author/MC Fapempong setting the mood; holding court on a groove that’s part gabbled dance, partly hymn. The re-tuned radio “United States Of Africa” speech – first propounded by Marcus Garvey in his 1924 poem – ‘Africa’ has a more bluesy rock feel, whilst its an imaginary Stax revue backed by Al Green that’s evoked on the organ humming sultry R&B ‘Mobo’.

A refreshing homage to the Highlife phenomenon (unfairly overshadowed by its Afrobeat scion), Alewa may channel past triumphs, yet this isn’t just a straight-up tribute act, but a modern fusion that proves its relevance and enduring soul-power. Let the sunshine in: Highlife is here to stay.




Die Wilde Jagd   ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)   17th April 2020

Birthed into another chthonian landscape of incipient stirrings, Sebastian Lee Philipp’s third such ambitious experimental suite continues where the previous eerie 2018 LP, Uhrwald Orange, left off: Lurking, stalking and disappearing into a recondite mystery of esoteric electronica and Techno. Earthy then, with evocations of a wild, veiled terrain populated by the whispering bewitched, strange rituals and metaphysical forces, Haut is a brilliantly realized slow-burning expansive supernatural soundtrack imbued with elements of Krautrock, Kosmische, the psychedelic, avant-garde, industrial and atavistic.

Once more joined by co-producer foil Ralf Beck – absent on Phillipp’s more or less solo outing, Uhrwald Orange – and live performance drummer Ran Levari, Die Wilde Jagd’s instigator songwriter/producer channels notions of memory, premonition and birth into a filmic quartet of drawn-out chapters. The opening minor-opus ‘Empfang’, which translates as “reception”, takes its time to emerge from the undergrowth; four minutes of ambient throbs, finger cymbal chimes and daemonic slithers before the first signs of Levari’s drum kit kicks in and takes off like a communion of Daniel Lanois and the Chemical Brothers. All the while sounds from the wilderness – like a crow’s croak and a regular occurring cold wind – encroach on the live instrumentation and sonic bed of synthesized pulses and motions. By the end of this thirteen-minute offering the magical Germanic-folk song of special guest vocalist Nina Siegler pricks the ominous chills to bleed over into the album’s, and project’s, only duet, ‘Himmelfahrten’.

Not so much a change in scenery as a mantra Whicker Man maypole entanglement between the Maid of Orleans and Philipp, the ‘ascent’ – as it translates into English – is part ritual, part ceremonial procession. Owl totems hoot on a hypnotic sweet chorus conjunction that invokes the Velvet Underground, GOAT, Acid Mothers Temple and Perpetuum Mobile period Einsturzende Neubauten.

‘Gondel’ – which doesn’t the lexicon to work out means “gondola” -, with its toiled, less rhythmic drumming reminded me of Jean-Hervé Perron and Zappi Diermaier’s more modern Faust partnership. A percussive rich mystery, echoes of operatic voices linger in what sounds like a very windy passage way.

There’s a pendulous motion to the album’s abstracted finale, ‘Sankt Damin’ – which I think is St. Damian, one half of the canonized Arab twin physicians who plied their trade for free on the Syrian coastline; two of the earliest Christian martyrs. Somewhere between courtly Medieval and the more ancient, there’s a whiff of the Dead Skeletons and the Velvets Byzantium vapours on this wispy blown stark wandering.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on the Die Wilde Jagd’s third grandiose experiment. One that takes a breather, holding back on the beats and kicks for a more expansive and creeping sound production; those anticipated reveals kept on a tight rein. A sign of real quality and patience, Haut marks both a continuation but slight change in the dynamics as Philipp and Beck further erode and stretch the perimeters of Techno and electronic music.




Orchestra Of Constant Distress   ‘Live At Roadburn 2019’
(Riot Season Records)   10th April 2020


 

An unholy alliance of Scandinavian extreme dissonance, the caustic noisy Orchestra of Constant Distress unleashes another solid wall of sonic experimentalism on an already anxious public in lockdown. Well not entirely on solid lump, because despite the squalling feedback, heavy, heavy sustain, grinding wanes and monolithic density the collective sound is not always so daemonic and unwieldy that snatches of rhythm and even splinters of lightness can’t be found in the seething menace.

Pulling together fuzz freaks and industrial welders from miscreant scenesters The Skull Defekts and Brain Bombs, the Orchestra’s latest live release – taken from a performance at the Roadburn Festival in Holland, in 2019 – is a near tumult of black magik, space rock, propulsive post-punk, chthonian drones and heavy metal. Sawing through pylons, squealing towards the primal, the repetitive distress of this mortuary malady reimagines a heftier, drum snapping Sunn O))), or, Boris with a rhythm, or, a Mogadon induced Death From Above. At times, despite the discordant violence, they sound positively psychedelic.

A pulsating, ghoulish and stirring noise, the Orchestra bends the squall and noise to their will on a warped oscillation generator of uncomfortable energy.





Halftribe  ‘Archipelago’
(Sound In Silence)   16th March 2020


 

Another understated ambient suite from the purveyors of unobtrusive experimental soundscapes, Sound In Silence, the latest deep cut on the label’s roster is a lightly touched pulsation of geographical and mysterious soundtracks by the Manchester-based producer/DJ Ryan Bissett.

Under the Halftribe title, Bissett’s fifth long-player Archipelago subtly layers resonated hums, drones, throbs, glimmers and metallic tubular sounds with refracted suggestions of light and various imagined atmospheres. Though most of the titles allude to descriptive actions and contemplative thoughts of the enormity of it all, there’s always a sense of movement and environment to be found. The opening long fade ‘Exposed’, with its gleams and submerged washes, evokes a tropical location, and the angelic and monastery-like ghostly choral drifting title-track goes beyond the earthly towards the celestial.

Whilst transportive, what sounds like swells of new age gamelan can be heard on both the veiled wafting ‘Fader’ and lost transmission from the tropics ‘Drops’. Avant-classical elements, such as a low bowed cello sound and floated piano, quiver and plonk amongst Kosmische entrancing improvised instruments and pond-like ripples and hollowed-out bass-y wooden reverb on an ambiguous album of the haunting and serene; the masked and spacious.

Bissett reminds us that we’re all ‘Just Dust’. Which may be, yet what a contemplative musical conjuring we humans can produce in light of that lamentable certainty. This Archipelago is a small testament to that.






Sad Man  ‘Indigenous Mix 3’
1st April 2020


 

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Coventry’s avant-garde garden shed boffin Andrew Spackman has produced his best electronic music indulgences under the resigned Sad Man moniker. His most prolific incarnation, the former Duchamp favoured Nimzo Indian defense chess move sonic explorer has balanced an ennui for chaos with a passion for Techno rhythms and beats: even if all semblances of anything musically consistent are bombarded with constantly warped manipulations and curveballs.

Following in the wake of this year’s fully realized The King Of Beasts album is the third in the Sad Man series of radical reworks, Indigenous Mix 3. Essentially a transmogrified remix of that same LP; the original Beast tracks shimmer, burble, twist, shift and flex to a new ever-changing treatment.

Often these new mixes prove more flowing, even grooving: some could even be described as spasmodic dance music. ‘Teleprompter’ gets the party off to a twisted start; Tibetan reverberations meet woody mechanics, acid licks, Aphex girders of polygon light and dreamy iterations. The following tetchy beat generator ‘Trespass’ has some nice touches, and even reminded me of Wagon Christ at his most fucked-up. As the title suggests, and keeping at least a lingering trace of that city’s exotic atmosphere, ‘Marrakesh’ channels Orbital and LFO into a industrial spindled mooning otherworldly enigma. It’s the late and much-missed Andrew Weatherall that pops up on the mirror-y dub, Mogadon time-lapse ‘Carbonated’.

Elsewhere Chicago House rubs up against air-y wonked weirdness on ‘Kalafornia’, and A Guy Called Gerald goes into meltdown on the broken-up ‘The Physician’.

An unconscious stream of ideas and tinkering’s; remodeling hints of Warp, Ninja Tunes, Leaf, acid and breakbeat, Spackman let’s loose once more with another cracking volume of mixes. This series is proving to be amongst some of his best work yet.





iyatraQuartet   ‘Break The Dawn’
24th April 2020


 

A veritable escapist odyssey that connects past with the contemporary, the latest timeless concerto from the multifaceted instrumental UK quartet transports the listener to both poetically stirring histories and landscapes.

Imbibed by individually strong and impressive classical CVs and a shared experience of study at the Royal Academy Of Music, the iyatraQuartet merge a penchant for India and Arabia with closer-to-home influences. The latest album’s opening bowed, sustained tremulous theater sea-shanty, ‘Black Sea’, for example is inspired by the former poet laureate (1930-1967) John Masefield’s tumultuous Sea Fever poem. Encouraging many classical homages before them, iyatraQuartet’s take on this classic travels on the mud banks of a hardy landscape with an attentive score of earthy sawing violin and cello, and skimmed and pattered frame drum; yet as with many of the tracks on this LP, they somehow manage to also evoke Eastern European folk music too. ‘Dompe’ goes much further back historically, to the Tudor epoch of Henry VIII, taking one of the earliest surviving “renaissance” keyboard manuscripts – the author composer of which remains unknown – ‘My Lady Carey’s Dompe’ as a foundation, they at first spindly and daintily walk through a dewy pastoral tapestry of float-y clarinet, glistened cobwebbed percussion and quill-etched mournful violin before evoking a hint of the Balkans. This is also the first suite to include a leitmotif of mantra like chants; a unison of choral voices emerging from the veils. ‘Alpine Flowers’ meanwhile, takes its inspiration from memorial plaques displayed at Oxford’s Somerville College Chapel, commemorating ‘significant’ women from the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Almost jazzy and smoky in feel, there’s a hint of a mysterious geography that errs towards the Native Indian.

Gravitating towards India, both musically and religiously, the rebirth celebratory rejoice themed title-track weaves countless personal connections into a number of tunes. The group’s name, pronounced “ey-at-ra”, is even taken from the Hindu expression for travel, “yatra”. Mostly obvious the morning Raga transformation ‘Bhairav’, refers to the many contrasting aspects of Bhairava (a manifestation of Shiva), who created and then dissolved the three stages of life. That trio of universality is mirrored by a quiet incipient moody bowed, droning and strummed section, followed by quivered wails, clarinet honks and scrapes and busy tablas. It helps that the quartet’s co-founder and violinist maestro (to name just one instrument among her repertoire) Alice Barron studied South Indian violin techniques with the country’s star turn duo, the Mysore Brothers.

Continuing that thread, the joyful classical meets Swami ‘Chandra’ was originally written for the Indian sire of the title, Chandra Chakraborty, in 2017. The swayed, swan-like melody is based on, of all things, a medieval plainchant, woven into a Raga Yaman. It’s a dusky beauty of a fusion, with ascendant violin and airy clarinet: gracious in fact.

Sweeping across musical panoramas, the quartet reach out towards the Middle East with the sand dune contoured ‘Lama Bada’. Born out of a fruitful meeting with Basel and Mohammed ‘Taim’ Saleh of the Orchestra Of Syrian Musicians that turned into the 2018 touring The Songs Of Syria project, this atmospheric romantic piece utilizes Arabian love stories for a reverent camel ride.

Impressive in scope with instruments from folksy Ireland, rootsy Africa, mystical Tibet and of course pan-Europe, Break The Dawn is an ambitious reading of experimental classical music that doesn’t easily take to defining. Reminding me of the escapist Balkan trio Širom, but with chamber strings, the iyatraQuartet conjure up an imaginative time-spanning sound; performed with assured skill and an open mind.




Antti Lötjönen  ‘Quintet East’
(We Jazz)  17th April 2020


 

Highly active as a bassist on the flourishing Finnish jazz scene with such notable groups as The Five Corners Quintet, 3TM and the Aki Rissanen Trio, Antti Lötjönen now steps out as bandleader on his debut longplayer, Quintet East. Bringing with him a whole host of “hard hitters” Antti leads 3TM band mate and saxophonist Jussi Kannaste, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, drummer Joonas Rippa and Koma Saxo supergroup saxophonist Mikko Innanen on a free-jazz, hard bop and serenaded jazz exploration.

Released just a day before his 40th birthday milestone, this debut offering is a culmination of all that experience and learning. And so you’re just as likely to hear echoes of Sonny Clark and Wayne Shorter as you are the Arild Andersen Quartet and the avant-garde.

The bassist’s signature instrument however, though always present, is never overbearing, and seldom brought to the front. Whilst highly articulate, sometimes physical, the double bass in this instance offers a constant bowed rhythm and sense of depth. Occasional elasticated noodling and skips are always great to hear when the rhythm picks up, but soloist style showcases are kept to a couple of ‘Monograph’ series vignettes: The introductory ‘Monograph I’ features a quietly plucked and flexing bass, spring and meandering; ‘Monograph II’, a sort of tuning exercise in which the bass takes on the characteristics of a cello.

There’s plenty of nicely untethered, if never too loose, performances from Antti’s ensemble. ‘Erzeben Strasse’ has a European title but finds the quintet traversing Bernstein, Be Bop and Lalo Schifrin on a journey that sets out with a breezy rhythm, swaddling sax, spiraling Miles Davis style trumpet and a laid back bounce but ends on a much busier dampened drumming off-kilter skip. Alluding to the mid to late 70s satirical soap opera of the same name, ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’ is another evolving instrumental piece; starting out with snuggled romantic sax, fluting trumpet and a flitting meander, the track then gets going with some big band theme tune vigor. ‘Pocket Yoga’ (is that a euphuism?) has some nice runs and nozzled horns and drums that just keep on moving, and the spiritual jazz leaning, increasingly erratic honked ‘Oblique’ evokes Electric Byrd. ‘La Petit Lactaire’, as the title may suggest, is a wholly Euro-jazz serenade; the mood set to a snuggly scene on the Left Bank.

Swaddled between the experimental and familiar warmth of American jazz in the late 50s and 60s, Antti has bridged the decades to produce a musical showcase as meandrous as it is intense and busy; as traditional as it is modern. A great start as a bandleader, but Quintet East also extolls the talents of an extraordinary proficient and prolific Finnish jazz scene.





Damily   ‘Early Years: Madagascar Cassette Archives’
(Bongo Joe)   24th April 2020


 

As worldly as I am, I have to level with you. Until this attest discovery from the crate-digging folks at Bongo Joe arrived, the frenzied, ceremonial and ritual rooted sound of Madagascan ‘Tsapiky’ had completely passed me by. This handy little collection however proves an inviting introduction to not only this unusual busy music but also one of its most celebrated proponents, Damily.

Hailing from the southwestern region of the Island, where tsapiky is prevalent, Damily has molded the foundations laid down in the 1970s to create a idiosyncratic fusion of blistering bluesy rock guitar, innocent sounding high-pitched vocals, lo fi tech and galloping, on the move, percussive rhythms. This compilation hones in on the early years, picking through the tape archives to highlight Damily’s burgeoning beginnings: This is the Madagascar star unfiltered if you like.

Originally, as so many of his peers and forbearers did, learning to play as a poor kid on the most rudimentary of knocked-together, nylon-stringed guitars, and despite lacking the length in his small fingers to reach the low strings, Damily flourished. Giving the music a unique characteristic initially, he developed a technique of releasing the two bass strings as his other fingers were hitting the higher strings – other guitarist with similar disadvantages, or because they just preferred it, just moved the lowest string completely. The results gave a more aggressive attacking sound that was soon adopted by a host of artists; so many in fact that it has become a signature of this electrified genre ever since.

Sung in the Island’s Malagasy dialect, the racing fusion of lilted sweetened gospel soul, spindly and flicked electric guitar, jostling and skiffle like percussion has echoes of South Africa township polyrhythm rock and Afropop. Almost childlike vocals joyfully skit across patted, skipping padded drums – the sticks made from the pelts of the humped Zebu cattle – and what sounds like a pan-pipped melody on the opener ‘Zaho Va’; and you can hear, what sounds like, Casio presets and splashes of cymbal on the delightfully scrappy ‘Mangebakbake’.

Threatening to collapse or trip over itself throughout, the diy produced trotting rhythms somehow keep going. And Damily’s reedy guitar runs, phrases and trills nearly overload the system at one point, staying just the right side of discord, and staying just about in tune.

Back to the foundations, with a smattering of tracks from ’95 to 2020, the Early Years is a refreshing collection of an artist in development: finding his style. You don’t need all the baggage or investigation to appreciate it, better still enjoy the distinctive sound. Just open your ears, sit back and be taken to new thrilling musical escapes: Yeah, that’s the sound of a recommendation.






You can now support the Monolith Cocktail via the micro-funding platform Ko-Fi:

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

PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona/Brian Shea/Matt Oliver





The behemoth Quarterly Playlist Revue is now more! With a massive increase in submissions month-on-month, we’ve decided to go monthly in 2020. The February playlist carries on from where the popular quarterly left off; picking out the choice tracks that represent the Monolith Cocktail’s eclectic output. New releases and the best of reissues have been chosen by me, Dominic Valvona, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Matt Oliver.



The full track list is as follows:

A Journey of Giraffes  ‘Into The Open Air’
Graham Costello’s Strata  ‘Cygnus (Edit)’
Calibro 35 ft. MEI  ‘Black Moon’
The Four Owls  ‘Honour Codes’
Juga-Naut  ‘Jackson Pollock’
Chassol  ‘Rollercoaster Pt.2’
Dream Parade  ‘Adderall’
U.S. Girls  ‘4 American Dollars’
Piney Gir  ‘Puppy Love’
November Bees  ‘Pot Called Pan’
Joss Cope  ‘Indefinite Particles’
Slift  ‘Hyperion’
Martin Mansson Sjostrand Trio  ‘Overkilghetsflykten’
Bob Destiny  ‘Wang Dang’
Dueling Experts  ‘Dark Ninjas’
TrueMendous  ‘That Don’t Mean’
Confucuis MC  ‘Look Deeper’
Lewps Hekla  ‘Rose Gold Ruger Pose’
Pulled By Magnets  ‘Gold Regime People Die’
The Dream Syndicate  ‘The Regulator (Single Edit)’
Mai Mai Mai ft. Maria Violenza  ‘Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie’
Sad Man  ‘Door’
Pongo  ‘Quem Manda No Mic’
Ranil  ‘Cumbia Sin Nombre’
Nordine Staifi  ‘Zine Ezzinet’
Adebukonla Ajao And Her Group  ‘Aboyin Ile’
Mazzi & Tac  ‘Brackets’
Dillion & Batsauce  ‘Self Medicated’
Elaquent & Chester Watson  ‘Airwalk’
A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Poet’s Muse’
Jimi Tenor  ‘Lassi Laggi’
Seu Jorge & Roge  ‘Sarava’
John Howard  ‘It’s Not All Over Yet’
Birgitta Alida  ‘Closely’
Anytime Cowboy  ‘Story Of Skin Island’
King Krule  ‘Comet Face’
Brian Bordello  ‘Liverpool Hipster Set’
Postcards  ‘Dead End’
Zinn  ‘Diogenes’
Mazeppa  ‘The Way In’
Vivienne Eastwood  ‘Hanging Gardens’
Village Of The Sun, Binker & Moses  ‘Village Of The Sun’
Simon McCorry  ‘The Nothing That Is’

ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





Welcome to the inaugural reviews roundup of 2020 by Dominic Valvona; a cosmopolitan, expansive roundup of interesting albums and oddities.

For your discerning ears this month we have Verona’s caustic dancing punks, Hallelujah. The group pawn their guitars for a synth on the new album, Wanna Dance. The vortex dreamers Deutsche Ashram release their second LP, Whisper Om – club beats meet shoegaze, post-punk and dream wave in one intoxicating vacuum. Glitterbeat’s impressive tactile instrumental imprint tak:til continues to deliver the goods with a re-release of John Hassell and his West African foils Farafina 1987 “possible musics” collaboration, Flash Of The Spirit.

I stomp and roll down Alex Molica’s (the Seattle Stomp) garage-punk-country-blues-slacker on the lo fi acoustic rhythm guitar maverick’s debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein return with an anthemic epic, the band’s first album in years, Burn The Branches. And Mike Gale releases the first volume of B, C, D Sides.

Electronica wise we have the highly prolific electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman, who starts the New Year with his bestial spew of the weird and ennui, releasing yet another techno maverick LP under the lamentable Sad Man nom de plume. Debut wise, Chinese born and now London-based, sound sculptor Li Yilei releases a synthesis of the evanescent and tactile with her upcoming inspired ambient LP Unabled Form.

Deutsche Ashram  ‘Whisper Om’
(Wormer Bros. Records)  LP/24th January 2020


 

Brought to my attention just as the dream wave vortex duo grow more “spacious and immersive” with their second album, Whisper Om, the Deutsche Ashram have surprised me with their vaporous, druggy-hazed and intense qualities: And for that matter, their sheer audacity. You can’t mistake Ajay Saggar’s reverberating-heavy flange, phaser and resonating guitar chimes nor Merinde Verbeck’s wispy and ethereal vocals, but throughout this mixtape collage of gauze-y tunneling produced tracks you hear shades of Siouxsie And The Banshees, My Bloody Valentine, Strawberry Switchblade, New Order, Adult Net, Moon Duo, Grimes and even Jah Wobble. It’s psychedelic. It’s post-punk. It’s shoegaze. It’s C86. It’s all of these.

Saggar bends and wanes, sounding like a spindly Keith Lavene one minute, a tremolo-fanned Johnny Marr the next, whilst Verbeck’s lingering like tones of love, loss and desire, echo between the breathless, mysterious and ominous candy-pop mirages.

The opening ‘Stumbleweed’ sees the Ashram place a scatter-club beat beneath a shoegaze hallucination, but the majority of this album is an accentuate intoxicating neo-pop vacuum of veiled brilliance; a successful experiment in the “spacious and immersive” that is every bit as melodically dreamy as it is intense.




Li Yilei  ‘Unabled Form’
(LTR Records)  LP/28th February 2020


 

In her synthesis of the evanescent and tactile, the London-based (via sojourns in Tokyo and Vienna) sonic sculptor Li Yilei finds stimulation in the most transient and concrete on her debut album, Unabled Form. From the field recordings of recondite conversations on public transport to, what sounds to me like, the creaking of a metal gate swinging in the breeze, Yilei’s sounds flow in a natural motion through a serialism of both searing and understated ambient soundscapes. These are all of variations oscillations, tidal waves and vapours; piqued and shot through with more static buzzes, clangs, pulses and the barest of incipient humming beats.

Mixing real sounds with synthesized electronics, the familiar (even if removed from its source) with the mysterious and industrial, these atmospheric experiences are imbued with Yilei’s embrace of Buddhism and its values. The daughter of a Buddhist nun, the Chinese born artist embodies that belief’s concepts and ruminations of “emptiness” and “impermanence” (the state of fact of lasting for only a limited time, and the philosophical problems of change) on an album of amorphous, evocative immersions.

Track titles sometimes offer a vague sense of reference and mood, especially ‘A Star Without Guidance’, which fizzles and sizzles in the afterglow of a strange cosmos, and ‘A Filed Of Social Tensions’ – a much more chaotic matrix of warping and tape spool speed shifting that threatens to unwind itself. The ambiguous ‘1920’ – with its alien scuttles, repeated loops of reverberating distant voices, horsehair bows, hints of Tibetan bowls and tetchy electronic percussion – is a more mysterious exploration; a pivotal year of revolution and civil war that also saw the catastrophic earthquake in Haiyun county which killed over 73,000 people. Heavenly bodies seep into the traffic of an industrious city, and cyclonic drones hum and brim under solar winds on an ambient soundscape that is as airy, transparent as it can be shadowy and searing. Unabled Form is both unforced and considered. An album of keenly ventured moods, its an abstracted vision of transience from a merging artist with a more unique outlook and inspiration.




Jon Hassell/Farafina  ‘Flash Of The Spirit’
(tak:til)  LP/7th February 2020


 

Less a trumpet player composer absorbing various ideas from across the globe than a performer vessel capturing the empirical essence of a borderless, seamless ideal of new musical horizons, Jon Hassell is rightly hailed as a true pioneer of visionary ambient and entrancing soundscapes. Adroit pupil of Stockhausen, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Terry Riley and Le Monte Young on his way to creating a truly international language with a concomitant series of iconic and highly influential albums in the late 70s and 80s, the American trumpet maestro famously coined the terms “fourth world musics” and “possible musics” for his own experimental fantasies.

The timeless geography of his earlier Vernal Equinox meanderings would prick the ears of Brian Eno; embarking on his very own ambient peregrinations. Far too disingenuous to suggest Eno discovered Hassell (especially when his records with Eno as a collaborator would be filed in record stores under the Englishman’s name and not his), but they would indeed work together on that albums that helped define Hassell’s legacy. As an enabler processing and filtering Hassell’s amorphous microtonal trumpet blends and lingers, Eno sat in on both the first fourth world sessions (entitled Possible Musics Volume 1) and the Dream Theory In Malaya follow-up. A third manifestation, Flash Of The Spirit stands outside that series as an outlier of those minimalist peregrinations.

Re-released on Glitterbeat’s explorative instrumental imprint tak:til, Hassell’s 1987 partnership with the acclaimed Burkina Faso troupe Farafina is a continuation of that practice in polygenesis traverses, only far more rhythmic, tribal and, well…collaborative. Also the spark and roots of each composition on that dreamy voyage were initiated for the most part by the West African group: Between them, founder and balafon virtuoso and vocalist Mahama Konaté and principle drummer (using the ornamental djembe) Paco Yé are responsible for laying down the foundations. Fresh from working their magic on U2’s Joshua Tree Eno alongside his production partner of note Daniel Lanois, were back in the fold and favour; Lanois recording the original sessions and mixing half of the final album’s track list, Eno reshaping and transforming the rest.

Proposed and facilitated by Jazz In Sardinia Festival director Riccardo Sgualdini the, as it would turn out, fruitful union between Hassell and Farafina didn’t get off to the best of starts. The Farafina octet already seasoned having worked with such luminaries as the Rolling Stones and Ryuichi Sakamoto since their formation in 1978, were initially unsure, even suspicious of this Hassell collaboration. Thankfully something gelled and, settled in, the inspiration flowed; the results sounding like an otherworldly evocation of the familiar: African yet distant and vaporous.

Merging Hassell’s smoky and swaddling trumpet and array of sampled strings, harps with the Farafina group’s myriad of talking drums, percussion, flute and voices, Flash Of The Spirit is both spaciously entrancing and rhythmically tribal. Taking the title from Robert Farris Thompson’s book of the same name, the inspiration behind this often gauze-y communion taps into that book’s exposition of African immigrants experiences in the Americas and how they maintain (keep alive) and transform their traditions through creative adoption; harking at a continuingly fruitful, if forced, “collision of cultures”. And, in what is a congruous layering rather than collision, both histories evoke the atavistic whilst also venturing into an imaginary future of sonic interaction and flow.

Evocative individual track titles, accompanied by their parenthesis spirits, offer a theme or movement of direction on this album. For example, “laughter” precedes the gauze-y dancing title-track itself (a rippling, wafting and woody traverse that reminds me of 80s Miles Davis soundtracks) whilst “fear” permeates the nocturnal dipped and bobbing tribal drumming in liquid motion ‘Night Moves’. Surveying the vast Savannah, the almost sensual ‘Air Afrique’ is as airy and attached to the “wind” as its title suggests, taking off on a fantastical flight above the clouds into uncharted soundscapes. ‘Kaboo (play)’ might well be describing something entirely different, but to these ears sounds like a dreamy crawling caravan through the undergrowth, the resonating voices of unseen trilling poets calling out from the wilderness. There’s a crystal ball like mystery echoed in the shivering glassy materializations of ‘Tales Of The Near Future (clairvoyance)’, and an esoteric swirl to the increasingly intense speedy drumming flares of ‘A Vampire Dances (symmetry)’.

As “possible musics” go, this one is successful in creating an amorphous fusion; neither wholly African nor Western but something less tethered or beholden to any specific location and time. The Burkina Faso troupe add a far more “propulsive” rhythm to Hassell’s peregrinations; adding a certain weight to those signature ambient wisps and swaddled passages, yet still sounding as nuzzling and vaporous as ever. Three decades later and you could argue that Flash Of The Spirit is just as refreshing and novel today as it would have been in 1987; caught as it was on the cusp of a new epoch in ambient and electronic music, an augur of truly borderless sounds. Add this to the collection.




Sad Man  ‘The King Of The Beasts’
(Self-Released)  LP/10th February 2020


 

Starting the year as he means to go on, sporadically releasing albums of varying degrees in kooky electronic music mischief, Andrew Speckman, under his mooning Sad Man persona, unleashes the beasts with his first trick noise making experiment of 2020: The King Of The Beasts.

Like a Loony Tunes Cage or Stockhausen, banished to a makeshift potting shed laboratory, the Coventry boffin once more broadens his sonic horizons on an album that, in an ennui fashion, knocks about between a warped vision of d’n’b, techno and more avant-garde meanderings. Prepare to be thrown into a pinball flipper buffeting chaos as busy itchy electronic percussion and a myriad of mulching, whipping and speed shifting effects come up against a transmogrified Orb, Sakamoto, Major Force and Phylps.

In other words: expect the unexpected as Speckman merges dub techno with nocturnal tropical post-punk (‘Xylophone’), clandestine Howie B with a ghostly visitation soundtrack (‘The Pysician’), Les Baxter exotic lullaby with the Leaf Label (‘Nine’) and a buoying bobbing analogue bubble bath with cosmic sub-Indian alpha waves (‘Bus Swerve’).

Somewhere on the Venn diagram of sublime and ridiculous, the plaintive Sad Man steers a mixed bag of ideas into a constantly developing album; churning, squeezing and contorting plenty of odd and more cerebral mileage out of the experimental dance music genre.




Hallelujah  ‘Wanna Dance’
(Maple Death Records)  LP/21st February 2020


 

From the caustic, abrasive noise raises a limbering fucked-up no wave punk contortion you can dance to: within reason and with the use of heavy opioids and imagination. Having discarded the lead guitar for that most rudimentary but beloved of early synths, the Korg MS20, Verona’s disruptive Hallelujah put a real (di)stress on their main motivator; cranking up and pulling the dials until the lift off and scream into a vortex.

Pared down to a trio, after one of the troupe quit, this industrial unit collide with early Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group on an heavy strength album of seedy scuzz and Italo-grime-y disdain. Sung, hysterically and with disruptive sneering petulance, in English you can’t mistake the reactionary spite and goofed erraticism of letting off steam. And if you do, a track title such as ‘Burka For Everyone’ will soon set you straight. Anyway, it forces its way into and occupies the brain, before leaving its scorched marks with a quick spasm of disruptive jerk-off punked and retro-synth dance chaos.

Rome might well be burning, but Verona’s disgruntled angst noiseniks just fucking “wanna dance”.



Seattle Stomp  ‘Maudlin Madness’
(Crush Grove)  3rd January 2020


 

In a beaten-up saloon, careering down a slackers rock’n’roll garage road map, Alex Molica as the Seattle Stomp channels a familiar musical palette of influences on a battered acoustic guitar with his idiosyncratic wanderers debut LP, Maudlin Madness. Fueled up on a millennial cocktail of self-loathing and anxiety, the self-deprecating lo fi roller in (mostly) languid dishevelment beats and strums about lost love, road trips and alcoholism on an album that threatens to disappear below the radar into obscurity.

Far too good escape attention, Maudlin Madness is a deceptively melodic and infectious minor works of both intense and loose gonzo-indie-beat-garage-punk-country-rock. Short enough to not overstay its welcome on repeat plays, the eight tracks really do grow on you. From the Bosco Delrey meets Jonathan Richman and Alan Vega on a psycho rockabilly bum ride opener, ‘Anxious Thoughts’, to the mid-60s period Jagger breaks bread with Sky Saxon and Wolf Parade nursery rhyme creeper ‘Little Red Ridding Hood’ and the country rocking blues flat beat of ‘Power Jam Situation’, there’s the permeating spirit of an outsider looking in.

Molica in his travels bears wintery blasts (in the mode of The Standells on ‘January’), driving towards Denver mooning over the one-that-drifted-away and gets agitated over the contents of a fridge. Strangely though, the last track (if you can make it past the repeating car alarm-like chirping) moves from rock’n’roll jitters to a Mellotron cosmic narration traverse; Molica talking about voyager and moon craters: escapism into the void. Hardly the most original of albums, Maudlin Madness is still a great little LP that bridges slacker indie with garage, country and rock’n’roll.




The Epstein  ‘Burn The Branches’
(Zawinul Records/Pindrop Records)  LP/14th February 2020


 

Ambitious in its quivered anthem rousing and rich panoramas, Oxford-based Americana troupe The Epstein take it up a notch on their latest album, Burn The Branches. With earnest parched yearning the group return after a long hiatus (releasing only their third LP in twelve years) with an expanded sound and dynamism that ratchets up those root country influences to venture beyond the homestead prairie for pastures anew. Don’t worry though; the alt-country vibe is still very much in evidence still, just grander and erring more towards the light and shade of rock and indie music.

They cement this new expansion with a couplet of loud anthems; the brilliantly stirring ‘life-affirming’ ‘That Voice’ and heavier punctuated, increasingly vocally erratic, epic ‘It Will Pass’. The first of which evokes (for me anyway) hints of Meursault, early Radiohead and Deacon Blue, and the second, the Fleet Foxes, Broken Family Band and Wolf Parade. In their more serene, becalming moments The Epstein shimmer towards the hymnal, even country gospel on the quivering with softened timpani rumbling ‘Grand Canyon’ – a faithful cover no less of The Magnetic Fields’ lovelorn hymn from the iconic 69 Love Songs suite -, and march in plaintive step to a crushed piano and a tender accompaniment on the album’s dramatic curtain call, ‘Funeral’. Elsewhere there’s more scenery building with the ethereal desert spirited forsaken ‘Red Rocks’ and mysterious seeking vision ‘Wandering’.

If Wilco, Richmond Fontaine and CYHSY improbably joined forces for the greater good, they might very well sound something a little like this. Heightened crescendos aplenty and grand gestures await on an album that is both highly commercial yet has a real soulful depth and dynamism lacking in so much more popular anthemic music. This could well be the band’s finest work yet.



Mike Gale  ‘B, C, D Sides Volume 1’
LP/2nd January 2020


 

In no way diminishing what is an actually quite good little album, but former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nielson honcho Mike Gale’s latest release is a stopgap between last year’s brilliant surf noir and Pacific ocean Beach Boys imbued Summer Deluxe and a, as yet, unnamed new LP in September. A gathering of material, left wanton in some cases, and just left off of previous albums, B, C, D Sides Volume 1 is a collection of tracks that somehow manages to work as a congruous album of quality romantic paeans, ruminations, breezes and more experimental ideas: some working better than others. However, apart from the odd starry satellite blinking Electronic meets The Farm pop-like early synthesizer tune, the Bs, Cs and Ds on show here sound anything but unsure or half-finished.

You can almost fit Gale’s music into two categories of influence and sound; the first, the more Beach Boys (with the onus on mike Love and Bruce Johnston) and Marc Eric kind of dappled harmony, and the second, harks back to both the C86 phenomenon and the 90s. Sometimes the two crossover of course; especially on ‘Something’s In The River’, a dreamy vocal track that places that Beach Boys lushness over Japan’s brooding synthesized pizzicato strings. In the former category, the opening beautifully be-jangled Donavan-esque ‘All The Traps Of Earth’ features Mike Gale as nature’s son, whilst the similarly acoustic, but with tambourine and more vigor, monastic haunting ‘Good Day, Doomsday’s Here’ has echoes of Paul Simon paling up with the Wilson brothers – possibly one of those tracks that didn’t make Summer Deluxe perhaps? In the latter camp, Gale places a harsher-toned lo fi rock guitar under a dreamy early Stone Roses vibe on ‘New Frontier’; goes all out epic45 and Casio pre-sets on the electro glide pop ‘Drive Ultimate Robot’; and puts an arpeggiator underneath the lilting lovely Cabinessence feel ‘Weather Patterns’.

Elsewhere on this collection, Gale rises dreamily again from the doldrums on the languid despondency ‘I’m Wasting All My Time’ and pens a romantic modern sonnet to a true love on ‘Your Smile’.

Occasionally you can hear the workings of Gale’s evolutions and mind, but these songs are nothing less than well executed; the songwriting as delightful as always. Far from second best, this first volume of tunes that never made the cut is another quality release that fills a Gale-shaped hole until the next album proper arrives in the autumn.




Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog the Monolith Cocktail. 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.



Choice Albums of 2019 Part Three: Chris Quelle to Yugen Blakrok


Welcome to the final part of our ‘choice albums’ features of 2019. To reiterate once more in case you missed parts one and two, because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Choice were made by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio.


Previous parts:

One

Two

Q…………….

Quelle Chris ‘Guns’
(Mello Music Group)




“The definition of enterprising, Quelle Chris remains a singular underground voice, loading latest album ‘Guns’ with intelligent angles on a topic never far from the news” – RnV Apr 19





You’ve got guns, we’ve got guns, the serious ones…Quelle Chris leaps to your attention at the best of times, now notwithstanding an album called Guns and his head engulfed in firearms on the sleeve – he could well have parodied the world’s accessory of choice such is the way he owns his own lane (the next album will guaranteed to be off on a completely different tangent). Instead of simply just pointing and shooting, his firing range is well-rounded opinion and scenario without turning Guns into documentary, his chuntering under his breath potent enough to never have to repeat himself, and knitted tightly enough to get you going back over and over. He holds back some of his stock off-kilterness – “I was never a weirdo, they just had to acclimate” – for production that can go from slight and soulful to screwface to thick and sludgily underground. That said, we can’t pass by the fact that on ‘Straight Shot’, he builds into a solemn contemplation somehow featuring comedian James Acaster as an apparitional, free-roaming sensei. (Matt Oliver)


R………………

Raf And O ‘The Space Between Nothing And Desire’
(Telephone Records)







Imbued by both the musicality and spirit of David Bowie, Scott Walker, David Sylvian (both as a solo artist and with the fey romantics Japan), Kate Bush and in their most avant-garde mode, Bjork, the South London based duo of Raf (Raf Montelli) and O (Richard Smith) occupy the perimeters of alternative art-rock and experimental electronica as the true inheritors of those cerebral inspirations.

Sublime in execution, subtle but with a real depth and levity, TSBNAD is an astonishing piece of new romantic, avant-theater pop and electronica that dares to unlock the mind and fathom emotion. I’m not sure if they’ve found or articulated that space they seek, between nothing and desire, but the duo have certainly created a master class of pulchritude magnificence. Lurking leviathans, strange cosmic spells and trips into the unknown beckon on this, perhaps their most accomplished and best album yet; an example of tactile machinations and a most pure voice in synergy.

The influences might be old and well used, but Raf And O, as quasi-torchbearers, show the way forward. They deserve far more exposure and acclaim, and so here’s hoping that TSBNAD finally gains this brilliant duo their true worth. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review…


Rafiki Jazz ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic)





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

The troupe’s latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other cultures as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing. (DV)

Full review…


Rapsody ‘Eve’
(Jamla)




“An unflinching belief system sees off the ill-equipped not so much striking a chord as demolishing it with style” – RnV Sep 19



Certainly not short on confidence or ambition – second track ‘Cleo’ goes for self over Phil Collins’ most famous ode to lifeguards – this is good and sassy throughout from an emcee going from strength to strength. ‘Eve’ = education, verbs, entertainment, dovetailing with the knowledge and understanding of Sa-Roc and the fearlessness of Rah Digga. “To be more than a woman now comes with some ties” – but digging in and challenging the status quo is all Rapsody knows, not by just saying that women on the mic aren’t going quietly, but you should know that they’ve always been putting in work. Every track is named after an influential female figure (‘Oprah’, ‘Serena’), and 9th Wonder’s lion’s share of production is a direct reflection of the orator – wise, feisty, a savant of pure hip-hop’s nuts and bolts, playful, and able to take on anyone on away turf. A safe pair of hands for the artform’s future that’s celebratory, but adamantly not cutting corners. (MO)


Ras Kass ‘Soul on Ice 2’
(Mello Music Group)




“In the mood for a high score body count, maximising velocity on every single word as if it’s his last” – RnV Sep 19





If you’re fake, wack or simply don’t measure up to his standards, eternal underdog Ras Kass will call you on it, the ‘sequel’ to 1995’s Soul On Ice roaring out the traps with two opening cuts that should soundtrack summits and state of emergency think tanks. In a way the phony stasis of hip-hop should keep up its shoddy work – it’s all ammunition for the West Coaster to dismantle and hopefully reroute some career paths. More than just a battler to the death doling out deliciously vindictive punchlines, the world in its entirety is made to wobble on its axis once Ras has got stuck into society as well: again, thank God life is hurtling towards hell in a handbasket, so Ras can take its photo like an end of rollercoaster insta-snap. His knowledge of album flow and addition of prestige guests, plus production that 1) makes Ras flip his lid and 2) makes him even more potent when reducing the heat…how many more warnings do you need? Go get. (MO)


Royal Trux ‘White Stuff’
(Fat Possum Records)







Royal Trux has returned without great proclamations and arrogance, to put themselves to the test with a music scene completely revolutionized since the early 90s. The duo have maintained the avant-garde drive and the desire to be something else, completely different from whatever the word Rock means today, because even if important projects such as The War On Drugs, The National or others are easily indicated in one vein, the Royal Trux remain other, but not only in terms of sound, their choice is an aptitude that deeply distances the duo from any other band.

Twin Infinities (1990) could be a good problem, such a monumental work of historical impact can lead to comparisons, further comparisons, but in the end an album like White Stuff also touches important peaks in songs like ‘Sic Em Slow’ or ‘Under Ice’. The psychedelic progression is preponderant in tracks like ‘Purple Audacity #2’, and the dreamlike wandering that lasted about 20 years offers a solid and iconic cue. Hagerty and Herrema show that they can complete themselves extensively, but above all they can make up for each other at the limits of the other, hiding personal and non personal smears and imperfections: it’s clear that the tumultuous journey that ended in 2001 is an example of what it means to complete, wander and start again. (GM)

Full review…


S………………

Sad Man ‘Untitled Album’ ‘Indigenous & Indigenous 2’







Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under the plaint alter ego of the Sad Man, improves with every release he puts out. Included yet again in the choice features, a trio of releases from 2019 cement a growing reputation for pushing the electronic music envelope. Still on the peripheral, Spackman has been working like a boffin from his shed, building the homemade musical contraptions that form the base of his loony and radical deconstructions for years.

Perhaps coming near to his most perfect album yet, Untitled is a full spread of cosmic techno imbued and ridiculous pottering’s, debris, flotsam and more celestial dancefloor goers. The Indigenous moiety of releases however further muddies the waters, as Spackman’s improvised mixes of his own tracks go into jazzier, tribal and skittish realms of unpredictability. All three are worthy of your attention.  (DV)


Sampa the Great ‘The Return’
(Ninja Tune)




“A debut to have critics clamouring” – RnV Aug 19





Brought to the fore by the fantastic front foot funk of Final Form, The Return is an event calling the shots as to which top 10s it’ll occupy in the year’s retrospectives. Culturally rich, musically articulate and ambitious, and with a rhymer fighting for every movement and inch of space with a heavy side of attitude blowing bubblegum bombs, The Great one carves out a singular mic presence. The album’s extended length turns the Aussie-based sovereign’s debut into act-by-act theatre, full of moving parts and motifs in shifting through global soul and jazz, always evolving and with twists, turns and exclamation points to jolt you from you wind down and settle you back down from a vicious dancefloor circle. These variations mean that even if your powers of endurance aren’t up to much, you can still make two or three separate playlists from the styles she assimilates and owns, including the crowns previously held by Hill and Badu. (MO)


SAULT ‘5’ and ‘7’
(Forever Living Originals)








Knowing next to nothing about this limbered band of no wave funk ravers, I completely came across this release by chance. SAULT has released two albums of similar sassy ESG meets Liquid Liquid buffalo girls hopscotch this year; the sound of New York, an 1980s one I admit, but they have given it a touch of the contemporary to make it once more dynamically and soundly relevant and alive.

There’s nothing in it really, both albums are equally class in merging political funk with post punk, Annie, R&B, early Hip-Hop and neo-soul to infectious heights of both smooth and elasticated contorting. Buy both. (DV)


Seba Kaapstad ‘Thina’
(Mello Music Group)







Soulfully churning a cornucopia of intricate but organic kinetics and beatific yearnings, the polygenesis Seba Kaapstad create a beautiful cosmology on the sumptuous Thina. Capturing the moment and mood with the most meandrous and softened of diaphanous deliveries, they merge R&B with jazz, hip-hop with neo-soul to forge a seamless celestial and spiritual imbued traverse. Joyful and lamentable in equal measures, Seba Kaapstad lushly reaches dizzying heights on this magically sophisticated bowed, arching, liquid soundtrack. (DV)


Silver Sound Explosion ‘Pop Dithyramp’







Hooray the Silver Sound Explosion is back together after splitting about six or seven years ago. They were and are a wonderful band from the Manchester area. They recorded many demos that make up this their debut LP. And after much encouragement and prompting by myself, they have finally released it.

They’re led by Ben Fuzz, one of those songwriters who has soaked up the spirit and history of Rock N roll and releases the spirit in finely written pop songs that take in 60s pop, garage rock, late seventies power pop and the post punk 80s indie, and mesh it all together to make the most perfect pop imaginable.

You will be hard pressed to find a better debut LP this year; an LP that deserves much more than a small scale release on the bands band camp: creeping out without any fanfare. And it is a pay what you want to download release at that. So what you waiting for?! Fill your winklepickers. A true undiscovered gem that needs discovering. (Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea)


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







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

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

Full review…


Snapped Ankles ‘Stunning Luxury’







The whirring and exciting sounds of post punk circa 2019 coming at you like a extravagant wholemeal piece of chiffon scarred alternative disco meat; the sound of Devo fucking the brains and beats out of the B52s whilst the horny ghost of Mark E Smith watches on making cutting asides whilst stomping on the hopes and dreams of the not yet born love child of David Byrne and Lena Lovich.

Stunning Luxury is dirty, it is funky, it is experimental, it is blistering rock ‘n’ roll. (BBS)

Full review…


Stereo Total ‘Ah! Que! Cinema’







This LP is bloody genius. Any LP that kicks off with a track that sounds like The Prodigy but played on a Bontempi organ is not going to go very wrong, and then carries on with the pure blissfulness of French lo-fi garage pop.

This LP is so good it has pissed me off a little. I thought I’d made the album of the year with the Bordello and Clark Atlantic Crossing LP, but this has knocked it into a cocked hat. But I don’t mind, especially when there are bands capable of making records of such beauty; when bands can come on like Stereolab one minute and a French Velvet Underground the next – ‘Brazil Says’ is a track worthy of the Velvets at their finest: pure pop heaven.

I think the playing of Ah! Quel Cinema may become a daily event this year; an LP to lose yourself in the pure beauty of perfect lo fi pop. (BBS)

Full review…


SUO ‘Dancing Spots And Dungeons’
(Stolen Body Records)





Stolen Body Records have released some wonderful albums this year, and here is yet another one. This is a fine pop album, all power punk chords and girl group kisses. Part Blondie part Suzi Quatro, it really has a late 70s feel to it; the kind of record you can imagine blasting from your old tiny transistor on a summer night. An LP with a lovely warm sound (maybe one of the best sounding records I’ve have heard all year) it embraces all that is magical about pop music; it is sexy, laid back, moving and fun all at the same time, an album of extremely well written and crafted guitar pop songs with a 70s new wave twist. Dancing Spots And Dungeons is a really lovely sounding record. (BBS)

Full review…


T………………

The Telescopes ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’







There is no place like drone, well not at least if you are a member of The Telescopes: Just over thirty minutes of top class dronery, not something I normally spend my Friday evenings listening to but as they say a change is as good as a rest.

If this LP were a debut album by some young new psychsters they would be being raved about and hailed to the rafters as the second coming, the next new big thing. I hope the same platitudes are heaved onto this wonderful LP by this wonderful band, as it really has taken me by surprise how much I love it and I feel guilty in not expecting to like it. For that The Telescopes I offer my humble apologies you have indeed blown my head. (BBS)

 Full review…


Thirty Pounds Of Bone and Philip Reeder ‘Still Every Year They Went’
(Armellodie Records)







This is a bewitching LP of old sea shanties recorded on a working fishing boat at sea; a wonderful idea and quite stunningly performed. There is a beauty in the loftiness which captures the dark magic romance of the sea and also keeps alive some quite genius beautiful old folk songs.

Acoustic guitars blend beautifully with the sound of crashing waves and sea birds weaving a spellbinding web of sound. In this day and age of here-today- thrown-away-tomorrow it makes more than a refreshing change to hear a album that you will keep and play and be a mainstay in your music collection for the rest of your days: a truly beautiful collection. (BBS)

Full review…


Toxic Chicken ‘Uncomfortable Music’







This LP has everything that I love about the magic and joy of music. It has humour and a madness that at times reminds me of the great Syd Barrett and the wonderful White Noise Electric Storm LP. It is eccentric pushed to the extreme. Songs with the subject matter of eating politicians and love songs for cats and for Mother Nature and what is bad about England, but that track only being under two minutes long does not quite manage to list everything.

Uncomfortable Music is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding listening experience, and at times, the subject matter does live up to its title. But this album is a pay-what-you-want to download, so is well worth a listen. Another great album from a great artist: And I mean artist. And the track ‘Little Snail’ is the best dance track I have heard all year. (BBS)

Full review…


Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’
(Sacred Geometry)







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

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

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

Full review…


Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Freshly signing over to the German-based label Glitterbeat, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of their Polish city environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

 The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019. (DV)

Full review…


U……………….

Uncommon Nasa & Kount Fif ‘City as School’
(Man Bites Dog)




“Blockbuster burners laid end to end as outlaws of the corridors, “trust the process, avoid the nonsense” at all costs” – RnV Nov 19





If Uncommon Nasa and Kount Fif were headmasters, the pep rally would be a Deftones meltdown and the Ofsted inspection would get ‘Funcrusher Plus’, ‘The Cold Vein’, ‘The Multi Platinum Debut Album’ etc straight on the syllabus. Blocky, rocking beats, rhymes that hang with a critical pause and judder across the page for greatest impact, b-boys and backpackers and headbangers all in the same corner…City as School gives hope as to what the underground can still be. By mining the last great boundary and perspective shift from the mid to late 90s, its drum machines and steel rain synth sweeps also sound like a comic book metropolis to sink yourself in, and its New York influence replicates there being so much to take in amidst a battery of dazzling lights, but with something always rumbling in the sewers. “History don’t repeat, it rhymes” is Nasa & Fif’s ‘O Captain My Captain’ call to arms – class not to be dismissed. (MO)


The Untied Knot ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’
(Sonic Imperfections)







Imbued with a sense of scientific methodology and monocular dissection, the experimental United Knot duo of Nigel Bryant and Matt Donovan attempt once more to sonically convey the wonders and enormity and chaos of the universe on Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder.

With both band members serving a variation of roles in the improvisational and electronic music fields, Bryant and Donovan have all the experience and skills needed to create something that is refreshingly dynamic as it is ponderous. Playing hard and loose with a myriad of influences, Donovan’s constantly progressive drum rolls, tribal patters, cymbal burnishes and more skipping jazzy fills recall Faust’s Weiner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier and Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier, whilst surprisingly, on the late 60s West Coast rock experiment ‘Rhythm From Three Intervals’ a touch of Mick Fleetwood. Meanwhile, Bryant, on both bass and atonal guitar duties (both also share the synth), channels Ax Genrich, Jah Wobble and Youth.

On what could be the duo’s, in this incarnation, last furore together, the Untied Knot sound far from weary and burnt-out: going out on a high. They stretch their influences with improvised skill and depth, a buzz saw, scrawling caustic but investigative soundtrack for the times. (DV)

Full review…


V………………….

Vampire Weekend ‘Father of The Bride’
(Columbia Records)





Vampire Weekend sings on Father of The Bride, of a humanity that lives on a suffering planet. The album is, however, an opportunity to subvert a catastrophic narrative and, in fact, throughout the work, it raises, through a series of pop melodies perfectly designed by Ezra Koenig and his companions, an aura of incredible positivity. Vampire Weekend give their best in songs like ‘Married In a Gold Rush’ or ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’, which through a dialogue between various piano chords draws a line that links stories, eras and ideas, not only in music but also in politics. The key to the album is the story of a humanity that, on the brink of a catastrophe, finds the right coordinates to find itself, to be reborn.

The Vampire Weekend in each of the 18 tracks try to deconstruct, both conceptually and semantically, the idea of an end in itself chaos applied to the world. The essence of the poetic and tragic paradox of life itself is sung in ‘Harmony Hall’: “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.

Vampire’s songs always show an ethereal shine, this characteristic has always been fundamental for their clear and absolutely unique songwriting. The culture in which Ezra & co are immersed is a melting pot functional to the construction of a strong identity, and that in a few years has also established itself in the live dimension of the band. The album plays with the tragic and stimulating oppositions of contemporary society, confronts itself with the cultural and technological change that pushes all of us to a deeper analysis, which also touches on issues such as faith and the mystery of humanity.

Ezra Koenig is a pop-priest, but he doesn’t need to draw moral conclusions, he simply points to a new way to tell us the tales of the world.

Exactly in this set of meanings and themes moves this band that, in recent years, has shown to be a multifaceted reality but perfect.

The strength is all in the centered ability to develop a story, an idea and a vision of the world that is transformed into storytelling that speaks and is combined with the present. (GM)


Verb T & Pitch 92 ‘A Question of Time’
(High Focus)




“Grown man hip-hop in the business of casual downtime – will see off those that can’t handle ‘Time’ on their hands” – RnV Sep 19





One of the UK’s great unflinching voices – get all up in his grill and he won’t bat an eyelid, just deconstruct you with a slight shrug – teams with a producer becoming a fixture on the phones of homegrown hip-hop’s best and brightest. A muscular sound full of fluid funk melodies, dimming the lights before snapping out of it with Mobb Deep levels of hectic on ‘Frostbitten’, is glided over by modern life manifestos with the usual one-take snap that could go back to chatting at the bar at any moment. This is the 14th+ album Verb T has put his name to in a remarkably consistent run, but there’s much more to simply knowing what you’re gonna get. He won’t be starting anything stupid, but has formed yet another partnership of strong potential when in cahoots with someone who sounds like he’s tracked his partner’s every move for the whole of the noughties (also see Pitch 92’s ‘3rd Culture’ collaboration from this year). Beats and rhymes not to be questioned. (MO)


Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records)







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

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

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

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

 Full review…


W…………………..

White Fence ‘I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk’







The unassuming maverick artist Tim Presley paints outside the lines; his idiosyncratic applied coloring-in like a double vision of kaleidoscopic floating blurriness. Deeply felt yet softened and often languid in practice, Presley’s off-kilter musings blend lo fi psychedelia with quirky troubadour sadness, jilting punk, library music, and early analogue synthesized music, and on this latest album of sweetened, hazy malady, the Kosmische to create the most dreamy of soft bulletins.

Amorphously wafting between the bucolic and tragic psychedelic whimsy of England, the Warm Jets era of Eno, the fragility lament of Nilsson and the cerebral lurch of The Swell Maps, Richard Hell and David Byrne, Presley’s bendy vulnerabilities sound understated and lo fi but dream big. The title-track, with postmodernist élan, embodies this spirit perfectly, merging the magical if unsure twinkle of Willy Wonka with Pete Dello, Syd Barrett and a slacker Ray Davis. Suffused venerable organs, monastery-like intonations, and the lightest of washes all sit well with the gangly disjointed lolloping guitars and the woozy drug-induced new wave rock’n’roll longing of such tragic mavericks as Johnny Thunders, who Presley dreamt appeared before him, from beyond the grave, with a message of encouragement: “To be honest and simple”.

Tethering a multitude of ideas and influences to something more concrete and solid can’t have been easy, but I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk captures those blurred reimaging’s within the amorphous boundaries of a successful off-kilter album of dreamy magnificence and wonky indulgences. (DV)

Full review…


Y……………………

Your Old Droog ‘Transportation’
(Mongoloid Banks)





“The smoothest source of scornful, so-what couplets and eyewitness accounts” – RnV May 19




An end of year round up in itself given that Droog release two more stellar albums within months of one another, Transportation edges out the prior It Wasn’t Even Close (though just buy both and be done with it) on account of its vaguely attached vehicular theme (see the ad campaign-in-waiting ‘Taxi’). Otherwise it’s Droog groundhog day: punchlines to pull faces to, and that ever pleasingly natural delivery that for all its cheek-pinching aggression is like a serene countryside commute, while a batch of funk, soul and psych rock rifles gambol and prance (YOD doesn’t seem to have a natural habitat beats-wise, everything’s fair game to get taken). Also housing a bunch of sampled misfits, the kind of which you’d only meet on the night train or on the highway with their thumbs out, ‘My Plane’, including the most straightforwardly effective dis on everyone, and ‘Train Love’ smooth it out with a knowing nod, still creating an expressive world as easy on the eye as the ear. (MO)


Yugen Blakrok ‘Anima Mysterium’
(IOT)




“Prophecies and riddles raining down like an RPG sherpa, where you best take the right path or else” – RnV Jan 19





Hip-hop has a long, varied and invariably inaccurate relationship with the scientific and forces of another nature. On Anima Mysterium, South Africa’s Yugen Blakrok pulls back the curtain to her own vision of Alice in Wonderland, a grimly relentless world of full moon theoreticals, secret handshakes and rune-patterned combination locks to burial ground gates. Karma is looking bad, and believable, with this one. With her expressive doom-mongering, Kanif the Jhatmaster’s 50 shades of black production is as big a trigger for imaginations running wild, leaving you fearful as to what’s not being revealed, intimation and presence of blank gaps as powerful as revealing truths by torch light. Which brings up another premise – Yugen, delivering parables like she herself is being subjected to some sort of mind control. You’ll be hard pressed to find an album from the last 12 months that sounds like anything like this one: umpteen rewinds later and you’ll still only be half way towards the truth. (MO)

Albums Selected By Dominic Valvona and Matt Oliver.





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


The decision making process: 

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

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

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

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

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

N.

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


 

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

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

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

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

(Dominic Valvona)


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


 

Bringing a very different perspective and life experience to the London avant-garde art and electronic music scene, the British-Nigerian producer with the earthy falsetto, Tony Njoku, articulates a most unique form of magical soul music on his stunning new album. Though undulated with an ethereal to malady suffused backing of sophisticated synthesized travails, Njoku’s vocals always seem to bobble and float above the choppy breaks and ebbing tides.

Adrift in so many ways, through his life experiences, transferring as he did at the age of fourteen to London from a life spent hiding his true personality in the toxic macho boarding schools of Lagos, the sensitive Njoku found at least one kind of solace; able to show a vulnerability and pursue the music career he really wanted having previously recorded a number of hip-hop albums (the first when he was only twelve) that proved entirely counterintuitive, but were completely in tune with Nigerian environment he grew up in. Yet in the arts community he joined in his new home of London, he found few Afrocentric voices or people he could identify with or relate to. From that isolation comes an album inspired by the ‘high art sonic’ forms of Arca and Anhoni, and by the metamorphosis nature of Bjork; Njoku’s own compositions feature a beautiful synthetic shuffle of Afrofuturism soul and more searing discordant synth waves that clash and distort on arrival but gradually sync and become part of the motion. From beauty to pain and release, and often back again, each track (and not in a bad way) seems open-ended; a constant flowing cycle of emotions, which can be healed during that moment, in that space and time, but will inevitably return: A calm followed by turbulence and hopefully the light.

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

(DV)



P.

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



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

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

(Matt Oliver)

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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)



Q.

Qujaku ‘Qujaku’ (So I Buried Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)



R.

RAM ‘August 1791’ 


 

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

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

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

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

(DV) 



Soho Rezanejad ‘Six Archetypes’


 

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

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

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

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

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

(DV)



S.

Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’


 

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

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

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

(DV)


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


 

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

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

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

(DV)



Scran Cartel ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’  (Scran Cartel)



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

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

(MO)


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



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

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

(MO)


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



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

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

(MO)


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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


Station 17 ‘Blick’  (Bureau B)


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)



T.

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (Hive Mind Records)


 

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

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

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

(DV)


Samba Touré ‘Wande’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


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



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

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

(MO)



U.

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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)



V.

Vukovar ‘Infinitum’ (Le Recours Forêts Production)

Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(DV)



Y.

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


 

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

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

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

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

(DV)


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


 

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

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

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

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

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

(DV) 



REVIEWS




Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the, Monolith Cocktail founder, Dominic Valvona’s most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

A packed installment this week with the Ennio Morricone suffused debut album from The Magic City Trio, Amerikana Arkana; Black Light White Light’s Martin Ejlertsen takes the band on a Lynchian’ inspired psychedelic journey to new horizons; Op Art meets free-rock, jazz and Krautrock in Geneva 1972 on the latest obscure reissue from the Mental Experience label, Mouvements; Andrew Spackman is back as the spasmodic ennui conjuring electronic music wiz Sad Man, with his latest collection of garden shed productions, Slow Bird; British-Nigerian producer Tony Njoku shares his distinct and stunning soulful avant-garde electronica on his new album, H.P.A.C.; and the Israeli maelstrom guitarist Yonatan Gat records his first album, an expansive entangle of shared history and sounds, for Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til. There’s also the lush dreamy soulful psychedelic debut track from Evil Bone; the third album from the mysterious Edinburgh electronic and rock guitar welding maverick Bunny & The Invalid Singers; and the upcoming psychedelic pop nostalgic afterglow brilliance of The Lancashire Hustlers.


Tony Njoku  ‘H.P.A.C’  Silent Kid Records, 27th April 2018

 

Bringing a very different perspective and life experience to the London avant-garde art and electronic music scene, the British-Nigerian producer with the earthy falsetto, Tony Njoku, articulates a most unique form of magical soul music.

Though undulated with an ethereal to malady suffused backing of sophisticated synthesized travails, Njoku’s vocals always seem to bobble and float above the choppy breaks and ebbing tides.

Feeling an outsider, transferring at the age of fourteen to London from a life spent hiding his true personality in the toxic macho boarding schools of Lagos, the sensitive Njoku found at least one kind of solace; able to show a vulnerability and pursue the music career he really wanted having previously recorded a number of hip-hop albums (the first when he was only twelve) that proved entirely counterintuitive, but were completely in tune with Nigerian environment he grew up in. Yet in the arts community he joined in his new home of London, he found few Afrocentric voices or people he could identify with or relate to. The arts and, especially avant-garde, music scenes are dominated by what Njoku calls the ‘affluent bourgeoisie’. Though to be fair anything that falls outside the most commercial perimeters is patronized and subsidized in one form or another. And this is obviously reflected in what is a majority European culture: resulting in a lack of voices from Africa. It means that Njoku stands out, but in a positive sense; his music amorphously blending both cultures successfully to create something familiar yet somehow fresh and untethered.

Inspired by the ‘high art sonic’ forms of Arca and Anhoni, and by the metamorphosis nature of Bjork, Njoku’s own compositions feature a beautiful synthetic shuffle of Afrofuturism soul and more searing discordant synth waves that clash and distort on arrival but gradually sync and become part of the motion. From beauty to pain and release, and often back again, each track (and not in a bad way) seems open-ended; a constant flowing cycle of emotions, which can be healed during that moment, in that space and time, but will inevitably return: A calm followed by turbulence and hopefully the light.

Remain Calm, a song in two parts, starting with a romantically plaintive half of bobbing tablas floating on an increasingly choppy mental exerted ocean of troubles before being overpowered and capsized by more stressed and sharper sonic invasions, exemplifies Njoku’s shifting emotional turmoil. It’s also one of the album’s standout tracks; recently featured in our first choice songs of 2018 playlist last month.

The rest of H.P.A.C. is as equally diaphanous, despite the longing, hurt and frailty on display. Remaining buoyant in the face of an increasing voluminous distress on My Dear The Light Has Come; aching on the moonbeam blues All Its Glory; plunging from a cosmic enveloped precipice by the end of the sea of reverb consuming Surely This Is As Good As It Gets; and left “twisted out if shape” like an “origami swan” on the whistle R&B lilted As We Danced, Njoku shares his vulnerabilities like an open book. And doesn’t it sound just wonderful: eloquently in a hymn like fashion between pained malady and the venerable, heavenly but also melancholic and turbulent, a futuristic soul album of delicate intellect. Anguish has seldom sounded sweeter.







Yonatan Gat  ‘Universalists’  tak:til/Glitterbeat Records, 4th May 2018

Photo credit: Caio Ferreira.

 

Banned from performing in his native homeland of Israel for taking his former band Monotonix’s confrontational style of rock’n’roll live and, literally, direct to the audience, Yonatan Gat has channeled the buzz and maelstrom of his entangled guitar work into a productive and creatively eclectic solo career since relocating to New York a number of years ago.

Toning down the shock of Monotonix for something more expansive and ambitious, as the title and imagery of his latest album for Glitterbeat’s more experimentally traversing and meditational imprint tak:til suggests, the Universalists of Gat and his drum and bass wingmen, Gal Lazer and Sergio Sayeg, expand their tumultuous galloping desert transcendence style of echo-y tremolo and fuzz beyond the sand dunes towards the imaginary psychogeography of atavistic Europe, Southeast Asia and Northwest America.

Holding up his guitar like some sort of offering, or a transmitter to the sky, Gat stands as a vessel for a cerebral multilayering of musical influences. Nothing is quite what it seems; ghostly visages of Alan Lomax’s 1950s recording of the Trallalero monosyllabic derived polyphonic style of choral folk song, practiced in the mountain villages and port of Genoa, appear on the opening eloquently shambling (the drums majestically in time rolling down a hill) Cue The Machines, and excerpts from the traditional work songs of Mallorca culture romantically waft over drifting guitar and ambient mirages on Post World. Further on, Gat fuses the Algonquin Eastern Medicine Singers pow wow drum group with his trio’s sinewy trance and scratch work to stomp out a shamanistic post-punk ritual on the Native Indian inspired Medicine.

Gat counterbalances his own group’s mystical maelstroms of pummeling, unblinking rapid rambunctiousness and more dream world jazzy shuffling with passages, memories and textures from socially and geopolitically important traditions. Chronology for example, a peregrination of many segments, features not only a scuzzed-up throw down version of Middle Eastern guitar and a vocal sample (sounding a lot like it was pulled from the ether) of a Spanish harvest song, but also entwines a passage from the famous Czech composer Antonín Dvořak’s String Quartet in F Major: better known as the chamber piece standard, The American Quartet. Written during the composer’s time spent both teaching at the N.Y.C. National Conservatory and living amongst the Czech exiles in the desired haven state of Iowa, this New World Symphony as he called it, is included for its own embrace of Native Indian culture, the Irish immigrants folk songs and the music of the misfortunate African slaves.

Of course you don’t have to pick up on all these deeper references as the music speaks for itself; the ‘universalists’ message of borderless, timeless exploration and shared need for a release from these hostile dangerous times is clear.






Black Light White Light   ‘Horizons’   Forwards Backwards Recordings, 20th April 2018

 

Created out of a desire in 2015 to take stock of the band’s short but impressive back catalogue, the Danish and Swedish exchange Black Light White Light, or more importantly the group’s central focus, singer/songwriter and guitarist Martin Ejlertsen, plow forward with their third vaporwave psychedelic rock hadron collider LP, Horizons.

Obviously as the title would suggest, horizons new and expanding are key; the group in co-operation with new drummer Viktor Höber and producer/engineer and fellow musician Christian Ki, putting into practice, during there basement sessions deep underground in Copenhagen, a vaporous often Gothic pop rock vision of cinematic influenced charter duality and darkly lit escapism.

Though never quite as surreal and twisted, or as violently indifferent as Ejlertsen’s key inspirations, David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, there’s still plenty of cryptic lyricism – usually sung under the smog of megaphone effects and resonating trembled fuzz – and sinister mystery. Take the progressive The Fool, which begins with hints of The Cult, Moody Blues and The Beatles but gradually creeps towards the choral and eastern esotericism of Wolf City period Amon Düül II.

Tailoring each track slightly to throb or hazily permeate with a myriad of musical styles and influences, the group attune themselves to The Painted Palms psychedelic pop on the opening King Kong; transduce the Madchester golden age on the halcyon Teenage Drum; evoke Yeti Lane on the more relaxed space rock pulse of Illusions/Emotions; and pass through the lobbies of both DFA Records, and Factory Records, and pick up melodies and inspiration from Jacco Gardner, Pink Floyd, The Stone Roses and Broadcast on the remainder of the album’s eleven tracks.

Floating between harder, barracking drums led psych rock and a shoegaze dreamy portal, Horizons is no matter how serious and mysterious the intentions (and I’m sure, after catching the odd line amongst the veiled effects, there is some dark and prescient themes being alluded to), filled with nuanced melodies and glimmers of pop. Billed as a very different kind of Black Light White Light album, Ejlersten going as far as strongly considering releasing it under an entirely separate project moniker, the horizons explored and discovered on this record prove very fruitful indeed.






The Magic City Trio  ‘Amerikana Arkana’  Kailua Recording, 20th April 2018

 

It’s as if Ennio Morricone had skulked into town himself, as they very first tremolo resonating notes strike and the lush orchestration sweeps in to announce the arrival of this cinematic Americana imbued suite. A Western adventure of melancholic beauty, the debut album from The Magic City Trio treads familiar ground as it pays homage to a century and more of the frontier spirit and tragedy.

Covering everything from pre-war country music to modern hillbilly noir, this gathering of musicians and artists, which includes The June Brides’ Frank Sweeney and Annie And The Aeroplanes’ Annie Holder serenading and out front, mosey, ponder and lamentably create their own visionary cinematic songbook. Liltingly duets in the manner of an imagined partnership between Lee Hazlewood and Emmylou Harris feature throughout, whilst hints are made to The Flying Burrito Brothers one minute and a lonesome pinning Richard Hawley on the ranch, the next. Sweeney and Holder certainly set the mood when embracing references as varied as Steinbeck’s depression era novels and the murder ballads of the old west borderlands.

Missing out on scoring the golden age of Westerns then, The Magic City Trio (which expands to accommodate a number of guests) walk the walk, talk the talk, but update the old tropes for a post-modernist take. The opening, beautifully crooned, Black Dog Following Me even tackles depression; a subject hardly congruous to the stoic ‘man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ machismo of cowboy yore. It sounds like an unforgiving vision as re-imagined by a 70s period Scott Walker, earmarked for a revisionist Tarantino Western.

You can’t fault the careful and lightly applied musicianship, nor the deliberately pronounced and richly swooned vocal partnership; whether it’s in the mode of a mariachi soundtrack quilted murder scene (22), or a lilting pedal steel, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, eulogy to a dear departed friend (Goodbye My Friend).

Far more than a pastiche or mere homage, Amerikana Arkana is a subtly attuned to modern sensibilities version of a lost classical Western soundtrack: a most diaphanous and sweetly lamentable one at that.






Mouvements  ‘Mouvements’   Mental Experience, March 22nd 2018

 

How they find them is not our concern, but those fine excavators of miscellaneous avant-garde and leftfield treasures, Mental Experience, don’t half unearth some obscure artifacts. One of their latest reissues is the amorphous experiment between extemporized music and op art Mouvements. This Geneva underground scene missive was originally released as a private box set, limited to only 150 copies and sold at art galleries.

Instigated by the guitar player (though free and easy across a whole instrument spectrum) Christian Oestreicher after meeting the artist and painter Richard Reimann at the Aurora art gallery in Geneva, the Mouvements project emulated what was an already flourishing scene of cross-pollinated arts.

Oestreicher on his part, attempted a process of reification through a mix of free-jazz, musique-concrete, psych rock, tape effects manipulation and Krautrock; Reimann would provide the reference point metallic and shimmered geometric artwork.

Sessions for the eventual album began in 1972; recorded at an ad hoc studio in an occupied mansion using a trio of Revox machines. Joining Oestreicher with his improvisations were friends Jean-Fançois Boillat (of Boillat-Thérace obscurity), Blaise Catalá and Jerry Chardonnens – names which probably mean more to the ‘head’ community, but we can take as granted were probably notable in their fields. Allowing his influences to permeate and flow through each gesture, riff and applied layering, Oestreicher’s troupe – gathered round in a circle to perform – sound like a hazy mixture, a primordial soup and veiled ramble of Zappa, early Can, Ornette Coleman, Chuck Berry, Soft Machine, Amon Düül II and the neo-classical.

Conceived as a concept album, there’s a constant, if interrupted, ebb and flow to proceedings; one that moves between minimal garblings and full-on psychedelic jazzy rock’n’roll. A number of recurring instruments, such as the violin and guitar, return us to some sort of thematic semblance, something to follow and recognize. Oestreicher’s guitar (as you might expect) has a prominent role to play; riffing and contorting rock’n’roll licks with snatches of Manuel Göttsching and jazz.

Often sounding as though they’d been recorded from outside or from the other side of a partitioning wall, these ‘mouvements’ vary in their intensity: the opening Largo Pour Piano Et Océan starts the album off on an isolated beach vista; the serialism piano plucking away therapeutically as the waves hit the shore and lonely breeze blows through. But the next track, Goutte De Sang En Feu takes off into a jamming freestyle of barnyard fiddle folk, Mothers Of Invention and Floh De Cologne. There’s even an attempt at a sort of Afro-funk on the vignette Ailleurs, and Le Voyage Sperber has a concoction of West Coast lounge and Lalo Schifrin soundtrack funky jazz running through it.

The main album’s eight tracks pretty much say it all, but included with this reissue bundle is a smattering of bonus tracks; all of which generally riff on or are cut from the same clothe: The Playwriter’s Drift for example, another variation on the Zappa transmogrified rock groove, and the eighteen minute opus, My Guitar Is Driving Me Mad (Take 2), is a strange attempt by Oestreicher to exorcise his instrument over a creepy psychedelic jam.

A spark of interest for those unfamiliar with the Swiss branch of the art-rock crossover in the early 70s, this most intriguing artifact from the period focuses on a hitherto forgotten, or at least passed over, development in the story of European avant-garde; a time when Op Art and free-music experimentation collided. Not to everyone’s tastes, and covering a lot of familiar ground – the sound quality on my CD was very quiet -, Mouvements is nonetheless a curious suite.




Sad Man  ‘Slow Bird’  16th April 2018

 

Featured regularly over the years, the contorted machinations and transmogrified electronic music experiments of artist/composer Andrew Spackman have kept us both entertained and dumbfounded. Building his own shortened, elongated and mashed-up versions of turntables and various plucked, rung or clanged instrumentation in his garden shed, his process methods would seem almost impossible to replicate let alone repeat. And so this often ennui shifting and dislocation of the avant-garde, techno, breakbeat and Kosmische sounds often unique.

Previously causing mayhem under the – Duchampian chess move favorite – Nimzo-Indian moniker, Spackman has now adopted a new nom de plume; a home for what he intends to be, like the name suggests, the most saddest music. Yet with a few releases already under his tool belt, the latest epic, Slow Bird, is more an exploration in confusion and ghostly visages of the cosmos than a melancholic display of plaintive moping. There are by all means some moody, even ominous, leviathans lurking and the odd daemonic vocal effect, but as with most of the tracks on this LP they constantly evolve from one idea into the next: anything from a panic attack to the kooky.

With a menagerie theme running throughout the many song titles, it’s difficult to tell if the source of any of them began with the bird in question or not. The title track itself certainly features flighty and rapid wing flapping motions, yet rubs against more coarse machinery, knife sharpening percussive elements and Forbidden Planet eeriness. Parrot by comparison, sounds like an inverted PiL, languidly reversed to the undulations of bongos, whilst Sparrow pairs Cecil Taylor piano serialism with, what sounds like, a wooden ball rolling across a tabletop. It’s not only the feathered variety being used as bait for spasmodic and galactic manipulation. There’s a Bear Reprise (another repeating theme; ‘reprises’ of one sort or another popping up a lot) of all things, which consists of 808 claps, broken electro and particle dispersing glassy sprinkles, and a very weird tuba like theme tune, dedicated to the Slug.

A cacophony of clever layering and ever-changing focus takes tubular metallics, UNCLE drum break barrages, Ippu Mitsui, Add N To (X), giddy oscillations, haywire computer and staccato phonetic languages, Vader mask style breathing, glints of light beams, the Aphex Twin on xylophone and produces his own, whatever that is, niche of electronic composition. It can feel a slog and overwhelming at times, but Slow Bird is one of his most progressive and well-produced releases yet; mayhem at its best.






Evil Bone  ‘In Vain’  13th April 2018

 

Battling to overcome the mentally and physical debilitations of anxiety disorder, the artist (who I only know as John) behind this new solo project, Evil Bone, seeks a reification of its enervated effects on the soporific, halcyon In Vain. The title, a quite resigned one, refers to his attempts to beat it: all to no effect. Though, as John candidly muses, it is now a part of his make up, and in many ways impacts on the music he creates.

Despite often stifling creativity, the first track from Evil Bone is a haze of languid shoegaze and soulful dream pop that recalls Slowdive and The Cocteau Twins cloud bursting in vaporous anguish. Influenced by more modern psychedelic vaporwave bands such as the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tame Impala (both can be detected here), John is also quite taken with hip-hop, R&B and soul music; especially Anderson Paak and Kendrick Lamar – music with a more colourful sound and soulful vibe. And this can be heard on In Vain’s lush soul-tinged wafted undulations; taking it away from simple lingering dreamwave production towards something with a little more depth and lilt.

Promising an extended release later in the year, In Vain sets the marker for beautifully layered anxious psychedelic pop.




Bunny & The Invalid Singers  ‘Fear Of The Horizon’  Bearsuit Records, 20th April 2018

 

Quite the enigma, the music of Edinburgh solo musician/artist Dave Hillary seems to be adrift of reference, familiarity and classification (an easy one anyway). Though his image is plastered (or is it!) indiscriminately amongst a collage of collected imagery, from holiday postcards to family moments and music paraphernalia, on the inlay of his latest album, his identity has been largely guarded.

Mysterious then, unsettled, the experimental electronic music with textured industrial and squalling rock guitar style of sonic noodling Hillary produces is more akin to an amorphous collection of soundtracks than identifiable song material. Evocations, moods, setting the scene for some futuristic heart of darkness, Hillary fashions a gunship waltz of tetchy synthesized percussion, fairground noises, whistling satellites and rocket attacks on the fantastical entitled Eamon The Destroyer, whilst on the title track, he plays around, almost plaintively, with folksy acoustic plucked notation, sighing strings, twinkly xylophone and arched electric guitar. Hints of the Orient (I’m imagining Hong Kong for some reason) linger on both the weird cut-up The Positive Approach To Talkative Ron and the marooned, twanged and bowed Cast Adrift. Yet, even with title prompts, you could be anywhere on these unique vistas and musings. The closest you’ll find to this meandering is the Leaf label, or the experimental Jezus Lizard sanctioned experiments of Craig Ward.

 Fear Of The Horizon is the third such album from the interchangeable Bunny & moniker – Hillary’s debut, Fall Apart In My Backyard, released under the Bunny & The Electric Horsemen title. However, the Bearsuit Records stalwart, constantly popping up on the label’s maverick compilations, and one-time member of Idiot Half Brother and Whizz Kid, is at his most mysterious and serious as Bunny & The Invalid Singers. Truly plowing his very own furrow, Hillary’s warped evolving, sometimes clandestine, electronic and steely guitar evocations once more wander into unusual territory.






The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Stuck In A Daydream’  Steep Hill, 11th May 2018

 

Following on from the warm afterglow of their last outbound journey, Adventure, the London-based (though originally hailing from Southport) duo of lilted psychedelic pop once more dip liberally into the 60s (and early 70s) songbook on their fourth album, Stuck In A Daydream. It’s never quite clear, nostalgia being their bag and signature, if The Lancashire Hustlers are seeking sanctuary in that halcyon age, or commenting wryly on those who seek to turn back the tide of change and return to a preconceived ideal that never quite existed. It is of course what every generation does; fondly celebrating a time they never lived through, and ‘Generation X’ is no different; though the evidence is pretty overwhelming and convincing, the ‘Baby Boomers’ possibly living through an extraordinary golden age, never to be repeated. The duo of Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes sing fondly of that era, relishing in nostalgia on the Celesta dappled and cabassa percussive pining Valley Of The Dinosaurs. Reaching a falsetto pitch at one point, Thorley pays homage to that, not so, lost world; a sort of quasi I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times sentiment.

Suffused with their hazy recondite influences throughout, they channel Jimmy Campbell, Badfinger, Bread and Let It Be era Beatles alone on the first yearning and rolling piano glorious pop song, Consider Me. With a troubadour glow of bouncing lovelorn abandon, the harmonious and ‘considered’ lightness of touch on this perfectly crafted opener is instantly cozy and familiar to the ear. It’s a brilliant breezy start to the album, and exemplifies the duo’s move towards more direct, simpler songwriting.

Later on we hear lullaby twinkled mobiles that hang over daydreamers in the style of Fairfield Parlour; the sea shanty whimsy lament of a lovesick merman as fashioned by The Kinks; troubled relationships as re-imagined by an art philistine metaphorical Rubber Soul era George Harrison; and a sad eulogy to an absent friend as plaintively sung by Gram Parsons.

Let loose in the music box, expanding their repertoire and softened harmonious bulletins, they not only add a wealth of interestingly plucked and dabbed instrumentation (kalimba, taishogoto, metallophone and mellotron) but bring in Rob Milne of the jazzy Afrobeat Nebula Son to play both lingering accentuate flute and bass clarinet and more intense saxophone on a number of the duo’s exotic adventures.

Finding solace in the never-ending 60s revival, The Lancashire Hustlers’ timeless songbook can feel like a nostalgia trip. However, its age old themes speak volumes about the here and now, offering shelter and an antidote to these tumultuous times; those gilded metaphors speaking volumes about the here and now.


PLAYLIST
Selection: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms





An encapsulation of the Monolith Cocktail’s tastes and a showcase to reflect our very raison d’être, the ‘quarterly revue playlists’ feature an eclectic selection of tracks from artists and bands we’ve enjoyed, rated highly or believe have something worthwhile to offer. Chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms this latest collection includes both recordings featured on the site, and a few we’ve either missed or not had the room to include.

Though we try to offer the best listening experiences, ordering tracks in a certain way for highs and lows, intensity and relief, we don’t have any particular concept or theme in mind when putting these playlists together. Yet by accident we have selected quite a few moody, meditative and often contemplative tunes this time around; from the most brilliant (corners) exposition and vivid experimental jazz suite and beat poetic descriptions of John Sinclair and Youth‘s recent Beatnik Youth Ambient team-up, to the Slovenian peregrinations of Širom. We also include however more upbeat, if in protest, Afrobeat flexing from the Chicago Afrobeat Project (featuring the original rhythm provider legend Tony Allen, who as it happens appears twice on this playlist, on both the Chicago collectives What Goes Up collaboration and on his own solo album debut (proper) for the illustrious Blue Note label, The Source); and at opposite ends of the spectrum, the cool kids aloof post punk of Melbourne’s mini supergroup Terry. We also include tracks from the sauntering laxed smouldering grooves of Africa Analog’s Bro. Valentino reappraisal Stay up Zimbabwe, Hive Mind Record’s debut re-release of Maalem Mahmoud Gania‘s Colours Of The Night, and a host of ‘choice’ hip-hop from The Green Seed, Skipp Whitman, The Doppelgangaz and Tanya Morgan.

Circumnavigating the globe and beyond, the third playlist of 2017 is as eclectic as ever and also features music from India, South America, West Africa and Sweden. See below for the full tracklist and links.


TRACKLIST –

Chicago Afrobeat Project & Tony Allen  ‘Race Hustle’  Review
Golden Teacher  ‘Sauchiehall Withdrawal (Edit)’
Msafiri Zawose  ‘Chibitenyi’
Tony Allen  ‘Moody Boy’
Bro. Valentino  ‘Stay Up Zimbabwe’
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble  ‘One Hunit’
Chino Amobi  ‘BLACKOUT’
Nosaj Thing (ft. Kazu Makino)  ‘How We Do’  Review
Beans (ft. Elucid, That Kid Prolific)  ‘Waterboarding’  Review
The Green Seed  ‘Revolution Ok’
Tanya Morgan  ‘Truck Shit’  Review
Skipp Whitman  ‘Downtown’
Room Of Wires  ‘Game Over’  Review
Sad Man  ‘Birman’  Review
Tyler The Creator (ft. A$AP Rocky)  ‘Who Dat Boy’  Review
Open Mike Eagle  ‘My Auntie’s Building’  Review
The Church  ‘Another Century’
Co-Pilgrim  ‘Turn It Around’
Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Waiting’  Review
Vukovar  ‘The Clockwork Dance’  Review
Liars  ‘Cred Woes’
Candice Gordon ‘Nobody’  Review
Hajk  ‘Magazine’  Review
Gary Wilson  ‘You’re The Girl From The Magazine’
Terry  ‘Take Me To The City’  Review
Pale Honey  ‘Get These Things Out Of My Head’
Trudy And The Romance  ‘Is There A Place I Can Go’
CHUCK  ‘Caroline’  Review
Modern Cosmology (ft. Laetitia Sadier)  ‘C’est Le Vent’
Diagnos  ‘Reflections’  Review
Sebastian Reynolds (with Anne Muller, Mike Bannard, Jonathan Quin and Andrew Warne)  ‘Holy Island’
Teonesse Majambree  ‘Umuyange’
Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Sadati Houma El Bouhala’  Review
Nicole Mitchell  ‘Timewrap’
Clutchy Hopkins & Fat Albert  ‘Mojave Dervish’
Širom  ‘Just About Awake’  Review
Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Raga Bageshri In Teentaal’  Review
Yazz Ahmed  ‘Bloom’
Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Casinha Pequenina’
John Sinclair  ‘Sitarrtha’  Review
A Lover & Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Level 1’
The Doppelgangaz  ‘Beak Wet’  Review
Ill Move Sporadic & Big Toast  ‘Do Wat Sunshine?’  Review
The Menagerie (Professor Elemental & Dr Syntax)  ‘Only A Game’  Review


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





A mixed bag, even for me, this month, with a triple haul of albums from the Kent estuary dreamers wishing to travel far, Gare du Nord. A trio of releases from Ian Button‘s pet project label includes a Pop-sike collection from Joss Cope, fairytale metaphor folk spells from Karla Kane and a ‘switched-on Bach’ like treatment of Vivaldi Baroque classics from modular synth composer Willie Gibson. We also have a new album of Victorian themed pastoral forebode that chimes with our times from Oliver Cherer; a brilliant experimental grunge, new wave and alt-rock experimental album from Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand; the debut album from Gwyneth Glyn for the new artist/label partnership Bendigedig; and finally, two chaotic avant-garde electronic music soundclashes from maverick artist Andrew Speckman, under his recently adopted Sad Man persona.  

 

Read on….



Joss Cope  ‘Unrequited Lullabies’  (6th October 2017)
Karla Kane  ‘King’s Daughters Home For Incurables’  (6th October 2017)
Willie Gibson  ‘Vivaldi: Seasons Change’  (13th October 2017)
All three released on the Gare du Nord.

Absent from my review selections for a while now, estuary romantics Gare du NordIan Button’s independent label, run from an HQ that sits on the edge of the metropolis of London and the pastoral pleasantries of backwaters Kent – have sent us a triple bundle of releases, all earmarked for release in the first half of October. This autumnal flurry includes a new album of psychedelic pop soft bulletins from Joss Cope; an Anglophile hushabye fairytale of folk from Californian sun-kissed artist Karla Kane, of The Corner Laughers fame; and a transduced ‘switched-on’ modular synth treatment of Baroque Vivaldi classics from, the non de plume of George Baker, Willie Gibson.

A real mixture you’ll agree, the first of which, Cope’s Unrequited Lullabies, is in the mode of classic 60s revivalism and 80s psychedelic pop.

Sibling to arch druid polymath of the ‘head’ community, Julian, brother Joss Cope shares an equally colourful CV; serving and rubbing shoulders during his formative years with a number of famous and cult figures from the Liverpool music scene, including Echo & The Bunnymen Les Pattinson, Wah Heat’s Peter Wylie and Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney. Not before fleetingly spearheading Bam Caruso label favorites Freight Train – releasing the modestly pivotal album Man’s Laughter in 1985 – before splitting and joining ‘rivals’ the Mighty Lemon Drops, Joss left Liverpool to be absorbed into the Creation Records mayhem of London. During his spell in the capital he played with Crash, The Weather Reports and Rose McDowell before carving out a solo career, releasing two albums under the Something Pretty Beautiful banner.

Inevitably Joss would at some point cross paths with his elder brother, contributing famously to the Fried and St. Julian solo albums; co-writing with both Julian and his former Freight Train band mate Donald Ross Skinner the album tracks Pulsar and Christmas Morning.

 

Before this becomes just a biography, Joss would form and play with many more bands during the 90s and noughties – The United States of Mind, Dexter Bentley and Sergeant Buzfuz among them -, balancing music with a careers as a video director for MTV, narrator for a children’s BBC animation series and an online producer/activist for Greenpeace.

This latest chapter in a checkered backstory of affiliations sprung from Joss’ regular sleepovers in Finland, home to his current partner, the cartoonist Virpi Oinonen. In 2016 he began collaborating with the guitarist Veli- Pekka Oinonen, bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka trio of Helsinki talent, and the (what must be the most Irish of Irish sounding names in history) keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke on what would become this album, Unrequited Lullabies.





Not quite as gentle as the title suggests, but still quite meandrous, peaceable and safe, the lullabies, coastal tidal ebbs and flows and metaphorical drownings include the full range of influences from Joss’ earlier output on Bam Caruso; namely the cult label’s Circus Days compilations of obscurities and novelties from the mostly kaleidoscopic afterglow music scene of English psych and pop-sike. At various times you can expect to hear traces of 70s era Pretty Things, House Of Love, Mock Turtles, early Charlatans, Robyn Hitchcock, Dave Edmunds, XTC, The Eyes, and most obviously (and prominent) Syd Barrett. Controlled with assured maturity throughout, those influences loosely flow between the pastoral, shoegaze, backbeat pop and acid psychedelia.

Yet despite tripping occasionally into mellotron steered mild hallucinogenics, there’s nothing here that ventures beyond the ‘calico wall’; no surprises or raw energetics; no teeth rattling scuzz and fuzz or melting chocolate watchbands. Unrequited Lullabies is instead an understated effort, erring towards gestures of love – as Joss himself rather poignantly and regretfully puts it about one particular song, “Love songs to the children I never had…’ -, with a side order of ruminations and the sagacious forewarning advice of a late generation X(er) on the ‘good and bad’ aspects of life ‘in this magical place’. All played out to a most melodic songbook of classic psychedelic pop.





Time-travelling off on a completely different tangent, the Willie Gibson alter-pseudonym of one-time British soul journeyman George Barker (playing trumpet back in the late 60s and early 70s with J J Jackson, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the “sweet soul music” Stax legend, Arthur Conley) transduces the Baroque classics of Vivaldi via a range of modular synthesizers; ala a strange kitsch sounding combination of Wendy Carlos, stock 80s paranormal soundtracks and a quaint sounding Kraftwerk.

Moving from soul into post-minimalist electronica on the cusp of a new era in technological advances, Barker was among the first recipients of the iconic all-in-one multi purpose digital synth/sampler/workstation, the Fairlight CMI; using its signature sound to produce sound design and music for radio and TV commercials in the 80s, whilst also lending his skills on this apparatus to Madness and Red Box on a number of recordings during the same period. Under the Ravenwood Music banner, Barker has carved out a career for himself as a producer and music publisher of synth based composition.

Modulating a fine sine wave between ‘on hold’ call-waiting style background electronica classicism and cult retro-futurism, this latest treatment of the Italian genius’ most familiar and celebrated set of opuses – Opus 8, Il Quatrro Staginoni i.e. ‘the four seasons’ – certainly has its moments. The actual execution, made more difficult by Barker’s process of ‘un-creatable’ layering, playing one part at a time with no recall, but constantly evolving his set-up and expanding until all that remains is the ‘control data’ – like the written score itself – is quite clever.

Split into triplets of quarters, each section features a subtle fluctuation of changes and melodies. The first trio of compositions, La Primavera 1 – 3, features fluttering arpeggiators, heralded pomp and glassy toned spritely descending and ascending robotic harpsichord. It sounds at times like a 80s video arcade symphony from Stranger Things. Both majestically reverent and cascading patterns follow, as Barker conducts his way through a carnival four seasons and trilling Baroque sitting room recital. Later on however, the L’Inverno 1 – 3 suite sends Vivaldi towards Georges Méliès visions of space; bounding and mooning around on a nostalgic romanticized dreamy lunar surface.

A future cult obscurity, Seasons Change is a knowing, clever exercise in retro-modular synthonics; returning to the classical source to produce a well-produced and crafted homage.




The final album release of October from the label is in conjunction with the group that US troubadour Karla Kane leads, The Corner Laughers: all three band members including husband Khoi Huynh, who co-produces and accompanies Kane throughout, appear on this album.

A cross-Atlantic venture between the two, Kane’s debut solo, King’s Daughters Home For Incurables, unveils its true intentions and angst from behind an enchanting, lullaby-coated folksy and disarming veneer. Partly post-Trump diatribe fashioned to a rich metaphor of Grimm tale whimsy and a Lewis Carroll meets a lilting Ray Davis like meander through – what I interpret as – a sulky ironic vision of an old insular England and aside at those who voted for Brexit, this songbook, written under the comforting shade of a beloved oak tree in Kane’s California backyard, states a clear position; knowing exactly which side of the fence it sits.

An Anglophile of a sort, much of this solo debut is informed by Kane’s experiences touring the UK. Recordings from an idyllic pastoral England, courtesy of Richard Youell, imbue endearing lulls with birdsong and the friendly buzz of bumblebees. Also from this ‘septic isle’, the idiosyncratic Martin Newell of the cult favorites Cleaners From Venus fame is invited to add a narrated stream of British institutions and romanticized descriptions of eccentric foibles and pastimes in a sort of Larkin-style (“cricket matches seen from trains”).

Mellifluously sung and played, though on a few occasions pushed through with bit of intensity and swelling anger, Kane’s sugar-coated ruminations are deeply serious; touching as they do on feminism, immigration and the anxieties of motherhood in what can, especially in the demarcated political bubble of social media, seem like an ever more oppressive climate. Kane does hold out hope however; as the accompanying PR blurb cites, Kane has a deep desire to summon optimism and hope in a dark world. Something I can confirm she conveys extremely well on this, her debut solo album.








Oliver Cherer   ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’
Wayside & Woodland,  29th September 2017

Wayside & Woodland, home to haunting folk, conceived not under an old steadfast oak tree but the man-made pylon, and super 8 nostalgic field recordings, has been busy of late. A flurry of activity has seen a duo of albums – an appraisal collection of Home Electronics produced in the 90s by the Margate dreamers of ambitious electro and new wave pop, They Go Boom!!, and the Bedrooms, Fields & Houses compilation sampler of label artists – released in recent weeks. And now, following in their wake, and earmarked for a 29th September release date, is this latest brilliant travail from Oliver Cherer, The Myth Of Violet Meek.

Probably most recognized for his Dollboy persona, Cherer’s varied musical affiliations and projects also includes the big beat Cooler, Non-Blank and experimental popsters Rhododendron. Here, he drifts towards a hazy fictional reminiscent style of folk and pastoral psych, a musical vision pulled from the ether and a Bellows Camera captured past, on this poignant fantastical tale of Victoriana.

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This album is also a homage of a sort to Cherer’s own formative years as a teenager spent in the Forest of Dean – the diorama setting for this sorry tale – and a troubled and plaintive denouncement of the suspicions and distrust of a small community; casting out the strange misunderstood and foreign. It is the treatment of Violet though, slurred by innuendo – sharing a similar kind of ‘horseplay’ sexual predilection of idle gossip, and immature sniggers that continues to still colour the reputation of Catherine The Great – that lies at the heart of and moves on this beautifully articulated collection of harmonious crooning, lulling laments and leitmotif instrumentals.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, which is every bit as revealing about the present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

Traces of 70s era Floyd, Wiccan folk, the Super Furry Animals and Darren Hayman’s civil war opus The Violence fill my senses; though Cherer stamps his own signature confidently among the inspirations and influences. Dollboy fans will find much to admire in this understated, assured and beautifully put together minor opus, as will those familiar with the Wayside & Woodland label output. A most stunning and beautiful work.







Sad Man  ‘S/T’ (OFF Records),  ‘CTRL’ (Self-released)
Both released on 8th September 2017

From the harebrained imagination of garden shed avant-garde (and often bonkers) electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, emanates another of his personas, the Sad Man. Like an unconscious, untethered, stream of sonic confusion and madness, Spackman’s experiments, played and transmogrified through a collection of purpose-built gizmos – including remodeled and shunted together turntables -, combine art school practice conceptualism with the last thirty years worth of developments in the electronic and dance music arenas.

Acid, techno, trip-hop, breakbeat, UNKLE, DJ Shadow and early Warp (especially the Aphex Twin) are all channeled through the Duchampian inspired artist’s brain and transformed into an often rambunctious, competitive soundclash.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail under his previous Nimzo-Indian identity, Spackman’s newest regeneration is an exploration in creating ‘the saddest music possible’. It is far from that. More a sort of middle age resigned sigh and sonic assault with moments of celestial melodic awe than plaintive and melancholic despair. Perhaps throwing even more into the Sad Man transformation than he did with the Nimzo-Indian, all the signature wonky squiggles, interchanges; quirks and quarks remain firmly in place, though heavier and even more bombast.

Usually found, and despite my positive reviews, by mistake, languishing on Bandcamp, Spackman deserves a far wider audience for his maverick mayhem and curiosity. This month he plows on with a duo of Sad Man showcases; the first, a generous self-titled compilation of released through the Belgian enterprise OFF Records, the other, a shorter self-released keyboard command inspired album, CTRL. The former, launched from a most suitable platform, features an idiosyncratic collection of obscure recordings, spread over a traditional 2xCD format. Full tracks of caustic, twitchy, glitches-out cosmic mayhem and internal combustions sit alongside shorter sketches and edits, presenting the full gamut of the Sad Man musical vernacular. CTRL meanwhile, if it has a concept or pattern at all, seems to be a more quantifiable, complete experience, far less manic and thunderously chaotic.

Kosmische, acid gargles, breakbeats, trip-hop and the trusty faithful speeded-up drum beat pre-sets of late 80s and 90s techno music wrestle with each other for dominance on this seven-track LP – each track named after a key command, all five combining for some imaginary keyboard shortcut. Struggling to break through a constant rattling, distressed and distorted barrage of fuzzy panel-beaten breaks are cosmic symphonic melodies, stain glass organs and tablas. And so, pummeled, punch bag warping ride over serene glimpse of the cosmos, and raspy rocket thrusters blast off into more majestic parts of the galaxy. A space oddity for sure, a tumultuous flight into the unknown lunar expanses, but also a soundtrack of more Earthly chaos, CTRL is essentially a mental breakdown yet strangely also packed full of lighter more fun moments.

Thankfully neither of the Sad Man releases live up to the central ‘saddest music’ tenet, though probably best experienced in small doses to be on the safe side. This duo of offerings will hopefully cement a reputation for eccentric electronic cacophonies, and showcase an interesting body of work.








Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tro’
Bendigedig,  29th September 2017

Lighting the way for a new ‘integrated independent partnership’ between the Cardigan-based Theatr Mwldan, the polygenesis renowned ARC label, and artist, the first major solo album from assiduous writer, poet and songstress Gwyneth Glyn, effortlessly traverses the Welsh valleys, Scottish Highlands, Appalachian Mountains and West African landscapes with an assured earnestness and the most delicate of touches.

In what will be a long gap in scheduled releases – the next in line an album from Catrin Finch and Seckou keita won’t be out until April 2018 -, Glyn’s inaugural album of both Welsh and English language sung songs proves a wise choice with which to usher in the Bendigedig platform.

The Jesus College, Oxford philosophy and theology student and revue performer, with stints in the folk Americana group Coco Rose and the Dirty Cousins, was the Welsh poet laureate for children between 2006 and 2007, and it’s her native home to which she returns again on Tro. A journey back to Glyn’s roots in rural Eifionydd, after a five-year sojourn in Cardiff, Tro, or ‘turn’, is inherently a Welsh imbued songbook. However, despite ten of the thirteen odes, ballads, elegies and explorations being sung in the native tongue, Glyn’s transformations of universal and ancestral standards drift subtly across the Welsh borders into a Celtic and beyond inspired influence of sound and ideas.

Previous collaborations with Indian music artist Tauseef Akhtar and the already mentioned Senegal kora player Seckou Keita resonate on this ‘Wales meets the world’ self-styled album. Keita in fact adds a touch of plucked lilting Africa to many of the songs on Tro; joining the sounds of the metal tine African mbira, played throughout by Glyn’s producer and the multi-instrumentalist Dylan Fowler, who also performs on an array of equally exotic instruments from around the globe on Tro.

Dampened, often wafting along or mirroring the ebb and flow of the tides and shifts of both the ominous and changing prevailing winds, the backing of plucked mandocello, tabwrdd one-handed snare drum, bellowed shruti box and banjo sitar genteelly emphasis and pushes along the imagined atmospheres; moving from the Celtic to country genres, the Indian drone to the south of the equator music zones.

Glyn’s choice of cover material and her controlled but stirring, lingering vocals hint at America and Britain’s legacy of counterculture troubadour heroines, including Joan Baez, Vashti Bunyan, Joni Mitchell – a famous quote of Mitchell’s, ‘Chase away the demons, and they will take the angels with them’, is used as catalyst for Glyn’s music in the press release – and the not so political, more sedate, Linda Ronstadt. The train-like motion rhythm Ffair, – a translation of the Irish folk song She Moved Through The Fair – even sounds like a Celtic Baez, and the American/Scottish woe Y Gnawas (The Bitch) – an adaption of the old standard Katie Cruel – was first brought to Glyn’s attention via another revered voice of the times, Karen Dalton, who as you expect, made her own inimitable, unique mark upon the song when she covered it many moons ago.

Unfamiliar with the Welsh dialect as I am, I can only imagine that the lyrical tumults offer the usual fare of sad betiding’s and lament. Whatever the subject may be, she sings, nee swoons, with ease and comfort; the phrasing unforced, flowing but far from untethered. And so Glyn proves to be a singer of great talent and skill as she bares her soul across an age of pastoral, rural furrowed folk.

Ushering in the label/artist partnership on an adroit, though at times indolent, debut, Tro is a subtle refined encapsulation of the Bendigedig platform’s raison d’être; an enriching experience and showcase for an impressive singer. On the strength of this album alone that new venture looks set to be creatively rewarding.





Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Wonderland Wins’
Jangle Nest,  September 2nd 2017

Recording under a variety of guises over the years, including Dog, Paper, Submarine and This Heel, the Swedish songwriter and multi instrumentalist Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand uses his own name once again on this, perhaps one of his most, omnivorous of albums. Stridently changing styles at a whim, Sjöstrand has previously tested himself with lo fi, instrumental surf, prog and alternative rock, but now tries his luck with a mixture of grunge, indie and new wave influences on the recently released Wonderland Wins.

Those influences play out over a combination of shorter incipient doodles and fleeting meditations and more complete songs; Pavement on the garbled megaphone vocal lo fi strummed In the Orbit Of The Neutron and sunshine pop remix of Calla Lily, Weezer on Man Of Self Contempt, and Nirvana, well, everywhere else. But saying that, you’re just as likely to pick up references to Guided By Voices, Devo, The Residents, Flaming Lips and DEUS on an album that doesn’t really have a theme as such or musical leitmotif.

There is a sort of coherency here however with the album’s brilliant Archers Of Loaf meets Placebo power pop alt-rocker Waiting: a full on electric Yank-twanged vocal version opens the album, and a stripped-down more poignant and sad live version (Live At The Animal Feed Plant) closes it. Waiting for a myriad of cryptic endings and a release, this standout minor anthem sounds like a missing gem from the grunge era of the early 90s.

Sjöstrand also likes to experiment, and those already mentioned shorter excursions certainly head off on curious tangents. The most silly being the self-titled fairground organ giddy romp; the most plaintive, the acoustically picked romantic “last dance”, Myling; and the most ominous, the force field pulsing bassline warning and crackling heavy transmission, The Moon Is A Playground.

A quirky take on a familiar back catalogue of inspirations, playing with a number of classic alt-rock tropes, Sjöstrand’s Wonderland is a well-produced, confident album of ideas, and more importantly has one or two great tunes.





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