Album Review: Dominic Valvona

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’

(Mute) 3rd May 2019


Arguably one of the great voices of Australian music over the last four decades, Simon Bonney is nothing if not proficient in taking hiatuses. Emerging from just the most recent one, five years after the release of the last Crime And The City Solution opus American Twilight – itself, the first album by the iconic alienated nihilists turn beatific augurs of country-doom in twenty years -, and twenty-odd years since the shelving of his third solo LP Eyes Of Blue, Bonney makes a welcome return to the fold.

Prompted by the decision of Mute Records to facilitate the release of that fabled last solo songbook, the Past, Present, Future collection is both a reminder, featuring as it does tracks from both the 1992 Forever and 1994 Everyman albums, and showcase for six previously unreleased tracks from Eyes Of Blue.

Caught in the industry merger machinations of the late 90s, the Detroit imbued-recorded Eyes Of Blue fell victim to the fallout of A&M Records, “dissolved” into the behemoth of the Universal Music Corp just as Bonney was agreeing a deal with them to release it. As a consequence, what would have been his third solo outing and the perfect bookend to a brilliant run of country blues inspired songbooks, instead sat in the vaults, waiting patiently to get released.

Not new material but a catalyst for projects going forward, this solo collection proves as prescient today as it did back then. Especially the beguiling cover turns homage (in light of the recent passing of Scott Walker) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Brought to Bonney’s attention during recording suggestions for Eyes Of Blue by his producer on those sessions, Dave Feeny, Walker’s sullen lyrical masterpiece proves a congruous fit for the Australian’s rich lap steel and Dobro resonator thumbed and waning country malady signature style.





The effects of time and the changing landscape are running themes in all of Bonney’s solo work. Echoing loudly with the ongoing divisive debate of the present, many of these beautifully articulated sad declarations feature a protagonist searching for their place in the world, set often to a kind of American West favoured by The Band, but also the Outback. Alienation is a given: Bonney’s own past travails richly mined; the teenage runaway leaving behind the vast rustic expanses of Tasmania for the city life of Sydney, via the Australian metropolis’s Red Light district and squats. It was of course where the fourteen-year-old outsider formed the first incarnation of Crime And The City Solution, one of four such phases, the next taking shape with a move to London in 1984 and including both Mick Harvey and Rowland S. Howard (alongside the equally notable Harry Howard and Swell Maps’ Epic Soundtracks), the third such version taking shape in Berlin (embracing musicians from the city’s post-punk and post-Krautrock scenes, such as Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke), and fourth, in Detroit.

The greatest panoramic opus, an unedited version of the Everyman LP’s leitmotif, is in three parts a grand sweep with military snap snares. Bonney in resigned fatalism almost, swoons “I’m looking for a life I can’t explain” as a full-on assault from all directions bombards him. ‘Ravenswood’, taken from the Forever LP, is in a similar Western mythos mode a hard worn thunder and rain-beaten plaints with the age-old “rain on, rain on, rain on me” yearn that sets our high plains drifter on a course for redemptive change. Following in its wake is a ran of highlights from both Forever and Everyman, including the Orbison plays twanged angel to the Lone Justice declaration ‘Don’t Walk Away From Love’, the Lynchian motel spell (complete with a bongo anguish) ‘There Can Only Be One’, and bowing Greyhound bust tour through Texas Rose country runaway ‘Where Trouble Is Easier To Find’.

Much of the Bonney songbook, delivered with earnest, deep timeless country-imbued veneration, aches, even worships, for a string of muses; an undying, unwavering love to both the unattainable and lost. One such elegiac object of such pathos-inspired yearning is Edgar Allan Poe’s famous Annabelle Lee –the metaphorical lamentable figure of the Gothic polymath’s last poem -, who appears on both the eponymous and title tracks from Eyes OF Blue. Lovingly conveyed, even if it marks the death of that lady, it proves symmetry to the album’s profound poetic loss of influence, desire and alluring surface beauty of Duchess. Eyes Of Blue, which makes up half of this collection, follows on from the previous solo works perfectly. A touch deeper, even reverent perhaps, but every bit as bathed in country suffrage. Salvaged at long last, that lost album offers a closure of a kind. Proving however, to chime with the present, far from dated, the Eyes Of Blue part of this collection is a perfect finish to a great run of epic, though highly intimate, solo opuses; the songwriting as encapsulating and grandiose, earthy as you would expect.

Bonney remerges just when we need him; back after many setbacks, but enjoying music again (he says). Past, Present, Future can also be seen as perfect compilation of that solo catalogue for both hardy fans of the artist and as an introduction to one of Australia’s outstanding talents.





Words: Dominic Valvona

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Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Raf And O ‘The Space Between Nothing And Desire’
(Telephone Records) 31st May 2019

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.

Previous albums by the unique duo have featured the most spellbinding, frayed accentuate of Bowie covers, with even Aladdin Sane’s oft pianist Mike Garson extolling their strung out exploration of ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, and a version of the Philly Soul period ‘Win’, quite exceptional in its purring beauty, that ranks amongst the best covers I’ve ever heard. Paying further tribune to, easily, the duo’s most revered musical deity, they lay a diaphanous ethereal accompanied wreath at the metaphorical graveside on the latest, and fourth, album opener ‘A Bow To Bowie’. With all the duo’s hymnal and venerable qualities in full bloom, Raf’s dream-realism coos and fluctuating accented velvety tones ripple through the Bowie cosmos; sending thanks across a strange space-y soundscape of satellite bleeps, mirror reversals and twilight vortex. If he is indeed somewhere up there in the void or ether, pricking our consciousness, I’m sure he’ll appreciate such sentiments and idol worship.

To add to the covers tally, Raf And O also weave a sophisticated dreamy elegy of the early but burgeoning Bowie plaint ‘The London Boys’; a wistful malady, already ghostly when it first emerged, resurrected by Bowie himself and slipped into later setlists, now elegantly clothed in a spell bounding, draped gauze by our duo.

 

Almost held in as high esteem, sharing the pantheon of idols, Kate Bush can be heard channeled through Raf’s extraordinary vocals: on the surface vulnerable and stark yet beneath lies a steely intensity that often whips, lashes and jolts. It’s unsurprising considering that Raf’s most recent side-project, the Kick Inside, is an acoustic tribute to Kate Bush that almost spookily capture’s the doyen’s phrasings and deft piano skills perfectly.

On their spiritual and philosophical quest to articulate the space between nothing and desire, Raf embodies that influence once more; crystallizing and reshaping to just an essence; part of a diverse vocal range that always manages to sound delicate but otherworldly, like an alien pirouette doll full of colourful giddy exuberance, yet a darker distress and tragedy lurks in the shadows.

 

Swept up in the Lutheran romantic maladies of a third idol, Scott Walker, Raf And O strip down and reconstruct the late lonesome maverick’s Jack Nitzsche-string conducted gravitas ‘Such A Small Love’. That stirring, solemn almost, ballad of existential yearning was originally part of the inaugural solo-launched songbook Scott. In this version those strings are replaced by, at first, a minimal revolving acoustic guitar and wash of sonorous bass. And instead of the reverential cooed baritone Raf’s hushed beatific voice is shadowed instead by a second slurred, slowed and deep, almost artificial, one: think a dying HAL.

 

Beautifully spinning a fine web of both delicate vulnerability and strength, at times even ominous, Raf And O seek out enchanting pleasures beneath the sea on ‘Underwater Blues’, crank up the gramophone and let the tanks trundle across a churning lamentable wasteland re-imagination of Bertolt Brecht’s famous unfinished WWI Downfall Of The Egoist Johann Fatzer on ‘With Fatzer’, and coo with a strange clipped vocal gate over a mellotron-like supernatural ballad soundtrack on ‘The Windmill’.

 

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 masterclass 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.




A PLAYLIST FROM OUR IMAGINERY RADIO SHOW OR ‘SOCIAL’
Chosen by Dominic Valvona





In case you don’t know the drill by now, previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself. With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, and from all eras. Reaching edition #28 and eclectic as ever, this latest playlist chosen by the blog’s founder, Dominic Valvona, features magical Indian peregrinations from Ariel Kalma, deconstructed, only to be rebuilt in their vision, Wu-Tang soul from the El Michels Affair, early hand jive saxophone shenanigans from Scott Walker and Italo disco Afro soundtrack funk from In Flagranti, plus many more.

Tracklist:

Ariel Kalma ‘Almora Sunrise’
Sunbear ‘Let Love Flow For Peace’
Ikebe Shakedown ‘Road Song’
El Michels Affair ft. Lady Wray ‘You’re All I Need’
The Intruders ‘Turn The Hands Of Time’
Alice Coltrane ‘Om Rama’
Freestyle Fellowship ‘Inner City Boundaries’
Stetsasonic ‘Talkin’ All That Jazz’
Scott Walker ‘Willie And The Hand Jive’
Orlando Julius ft Ashiko ‘Awade (Here We Come)’
Ayyuka ‘Gabor’
K. Leimer ‘Lonely Boy’
Spectral Display ‘It Takes A Muscle (To Fall In Love)’
Outlands ‘New Reptiles’
79.5 ‘Terrorize My Heart (45 edit)’
Laurence Vanay ‘Strange Moment’
Merrymouth ‘Wenlock Hill’
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs ‘Get To Hell Out Of Here (Live)’
Rob Galbraith ‘Happy Times’
Boco ‘Smile’
Dead Moon ‘Johnny’s Got A Gun’
CAN ‘Turtles Have Short Legs’
Patemoster ‘Old Danube’
In Flagranti ‘And You Know What?’
Harvey Mandel ‘Snake Attack’
Mighty Shadow ‘Dat Soca Boat’
Joni Haastrup ‘Wake Up Your Mind’
Gary Bartz Ntu Troop ‘Uhuru Sasa’
Banda Los Hijos De La Nina Luz ‘Quiero Amanecer’
Tito Rodriguez ‘Yambere’
Barney Wilson ‘Sannu Ne Gheniyo’



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