DOMINIC VALVONA’S ECLETIC REVUE

Al-Qasar ‘Who Are We?’
(Glitterbeat Records) 16th September 2022

Bubbling up from the Barbès Algerian enclave of Paris (the 18th Arrondissment boulevard that’s home to the yet to be gentrified and tourist-friendly passed Little Algeria community) and crisscrossing continents, the Al-Qasar group fuzz-up and electrify the sound of Arabia and its diaspora.

Helmed by instigator-in-chief Thomas Attar Bellier that neighborhood bustle is elevated and blasted back out into the world at large, absorbing and picking up sonic waves, spikes from Northeast Africa to a hardcore California and a rich tasting Sublime Porte.

It all helps of course that Attar Bellier is a global nomad, having lived in New York, Lisbon and Paris, but also having worked in the recording studios of L.A. during that circumnavigation of multicultural living he produced enough tracks of his own, releasing the well-received Miraj EP.

I get the impression that this is a fluid project, but at the time of this, the debut longplayer, Attar Bellier has opened up the ranks to include Jaouad El Garouge on vocals and a number of instruments synonymous with Moroccan Gnwa and North African traditions, Guillaume Théoden on bass and sub-bass duties, Nicolas Derolin on a myriad of percussive and hand drum instruments and Paul Void on drums. That seems the core anyway, but in this electric saz tangling and psychedelic post-punk rich sound there’s a cast of guest pioneering musicians to add yet another layer, another sonic perspective.

From the start there’s Sonic Youth’s guitar-sculptor Lee Ranaldo providing multi-layers of sustain, whines and abrasions to both the opening Swans meet Faust squall turn spindled and more familiar Middle Eastern electric fez intro ‘Awtar Al Sharq’, and the second, dervish-spun spirited and phlegm-voiced tour of Anatolia, The Balkans and Arabia, ‘Awal’.

That legend of the California punk scene, miscreant Dead Kennedys founder Jello Biafra goes free-radical on the staccato jangling ‘Ya Malak’. In a kind of John Sinclair mode, he reads out a poignant translation of a poem by the famous Egyptian revolutionary poet Ahmed Fouad Negam, updated for the cataclysmic state of the world in 2022, and the crumbled, violently oppressed post Arab Spring. This is where, despite the Cairo-futurism, the rattled and slapped hand drum energy, that the political motivations, the despair and anger comes to the fore; all that history, the post-colonial tumult and also fall-out from an Arabian-wide protest movement seeking modernization, the right to earn and end to greed. Read through a tiny transistor style radio Biafra’s agitator spirit turns this into a sort of Arabian Fugazi.

Moving on, but just as political, the New York-based Sudanese vocal doyen Alsarah (of Alsarah & The Nubatones renown) brings her impressive expressive outpourings and trill to the rattlesnake desert song ‘Hobek Thawrat’. In that soulful, rising loved-yearned voice there’s a protest against the coup on her homeland, the chorus itself repeating a slogan from the recent demonstrations. A sound of the Sahel, the women folk of Tinariwen and a little Bab L’Bluz Gnawa hover over this beautifully delivered protestation.

It runs throughout, this sound’s birthplace, but Al-Qasar pay a special homage on the (so good they name it twice) ‘Barbès Barbès’, which also features the electric oud pioneer Mehdi Haddab (of Speed Caravan note). Metal work drums, a nice rolling groove and souk candour prove a friendly hustled soundtrack for a meander in the heavily African outpost. Haddab gets a solo of a kind, providing a romanticized, poetic and folksy oud, with bursts of blurred quickened neat fretwork that borders on Baba ZuLu style psychedelic rock.

The finale, ‘Mal Wa Jamal’, features the longing ached vocals of the Egyptian singer Hend Elrawy soaring over an inspirial organ and almost post-punk push. Elraway’s beautiful wails prove disarming as the song’s lyrics concern a female-centric outlook on prostitution and its consequences. There’s attitude certainly, but it’s all wrapped up in a fizzled, fuzzy and mystical film of Arabian dance and fantasy. No surprise that they’ve been added to the Glitterbeat Records label roster, an imprint for just this sort of fusion; one in which you’ll hear an Arabic Muscle Shoals merging with Anatolian psych, a touch of Electric Jalaba and Şatellites if remixed by Khalab. A brilliant package of transformed traditions wrapped up in electrifying futurism; the sounds of Arabia, North Africa and beyond are thrust into a dynamic, unifying and eclectic direction. 

Clear Path Ensemble ‘Solar Eclipse’
(Soundway Records)  9th September 2022

Out of the Wellington jamming session hothouse incubator and blossoming jazz scene in New Zealand Cory Champion rides the sun-birched rays and waves to cook-up a congruous album of many flavours. From a knowing position the jazz percussionist flows freely between a 70s ECM back catalogue of inspirations and the funk, fusion, spiritual and more freeform genres of his chosen art form.

Under the Clear Path Ensemble alias – his second such alias, also going under the Borrowed CS title when making leftfield deep house and techno cuts – Champion channels both Latin and Uniting Of Opposites style brassy Indian reverberations on the golden ‘Kihi’; offers up an acid jazz turn retro zippy-zappy late 70s disco funk fusion on ‘Drumatix’; and magic’s up a post-Bitches Brew Mile Davis band mystery of African-flavoured marimba and jug-poured, lava-lamp liquid cosmic spiritualism on ‘Revolutions’. But the mood, musicality changes again when we reach the jazzy-suspense score ‘Absolvo’: an early 70s cool cult vision of a Lalo Schifrin thriller.  

The finale, ‘Tennis Ball’, could be said to have taken Liquid Liquid’s percussion, beats and a bit of the Style Council’s laidback washy soul-funk. And the dreamy seasonal solstice ‘Sunrise Motif’ finds a blend of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the willowy fluted bucolic and Nate Morgan. All the while translucent bulb-like notes flow or float from the vibraphone as other light-footed percussive vibrations dance and softly quicken the pace.    

A harp run here and muffled, mizzle sax or trumpet there; a touch of electric piano and pining strings on anther track; all elements that come together across a changing groove.

Clive Zanda meets a less busy Michael Urbaniek on a minor jazz odyssey of nostalgic but very much alive and contemporary fusions, Champion’s second album in this role is a sophisticated, smooth but also freeform set of moods, visions and counterflows. It proves a perfect fit for the eclectic and much-praised Soundway label.

Forest Robots ‘Supermoon Moonlight Part Two’
(Subexotic)

After an initial redolent arpeggiator wave of Roedelius, a rainbow of trance, vapoured breathed coos and transience follows, marking what will be an entirely different kind of record for the Californian electronic artist and topographical trekker Fran Domingeuz.

Under the Forest Robots alias/umbrella, Fran has produced numerous adroit, studied and evocative ambient and neoclassical soundtracks to the myriad of landscapes and forest trials he’s traversed over the years. As the world dramatically succumbed to a global pandemic, and the chance to escape to the wilds became scarce, the signature form stayed but now the music was suddenly a therapy and a vehicle for channeling the anxiety, stresses of such uncertain times.

Now (thankfully) with the worse behind us, Fran emerges with the ‘long gestating’ follow-up to Part One of his Supermoon Moonlight suites from 2018. Although recording sessions for Part Two started back in 2019 it has taken a while to finally process the last couple of years and to finish and release this beautifully conceived album of suffused and uplifting hope.

The geography and National Geographic almanac proverb-like and Zen titles remain (‘All The Rivers Born In The Mountains’, ‘Wind Always Runs Wilder Along The River’s Current’) but the underlying theme has Fran exploring the complexities of parenthood and the ‘kind of spiritual and emotional legacy a father would wish to leave for his kids.’ A warming sentiment and inspired prompt makes for a very different kind of album though. From the same gifted mind and ear yet swimming in the sine waves of trance, synth-pop, 90s techno and dance music this is relatively a new but welcoming direction, expansion on his signature sound.

Upbeat as much as reflective, the feel is often dreamy; the gravity and awe of nature gently present; cut-out mountainsides, flowing connective rivers and a canopy of redwoods, the stage is set as stars shoot across the night skies and moonbeams illuminate.

In the slipstream and bubbled undulations The Beloved shares space with The Orb, Stereolab, 808 State, Sakamoto, Vince Clarke, Boards Of Canada, I.A.O., the Aphex Twin and Ulrich Schnauss. This is a beautiful combination that filters the aftermath of the rave culture, the burgeoning British minimal techno scene of the early 90s Warp label, 80s synth-pop and electronic body music. Yet there’s room for a certain crystallised chilled sparkle of the Chromatics and the Drive time moody, ruminated dry-ice scores of Cliff Martinez within that beat-driven glow. And the elements of charcoal fires crisply burning and flickering, and the poured waters have a certain Luc Ferrari influence – albeit far less avant-garde.

Playful and sophisticated with a surprising dance-y pulse and radiant outlook, Part Two should act as a testimony to an inspired and inspiring composer. I think his kids will be rightly proud of their dad and his musical legacy: electronic music with a soul and purpose.      

Machine ‘S-T’
(WEWANTSOUNDS)

Back again in The Perusal (becoming a 2022 regular) those vinyl specialists at WEWANTSOUNDS have remastered and pressed that rarest-of-rare conscious-soul-funk LPs, the obscure assembled Machine’s self-titled debut (and only) album from 1972.

The rumour-mill is strong on this one; the cause of its £500 plus price tag on Discogs believed to be a result of either a very limited release or no release at all – shelved as it were. It could be down to the sheer quality of the competition, arriving as it did in the wake of similar social-political soul as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly (but also his albums previous to that). Both prove a massive influence on this smooth and funky eight-track showcase.  

What we do know however is that the make up of this group included a trio of well-rehearsed session players from the All Platinum Studios stable in New Jersey. That included main man Michael Watson on vocals and guitar, bass-player Curtis McTeer (also playing with labelmates The Rimshots) and drummer Donald McCoy, who were then fattened out with the organist/pianist Ray Jones, another bassist, Frank Prescod, and both Dee and Cordy Pridges on horns. On the same label and one of the most established, successful acts The Whatnauts lent both their backing vocalists and, rather oddly, their manager (credited on percussion) Bunch Herndon to this widening lineup. And on top of all that, the notable Sammy Lowe (arranging for such distinguished company as Nina Simone, Sam Cooke and James Brown) offers a subtle suite of strings to the mix, taking it down the Rotary Connection route.

The Whatnauts prove a pretty integral ingredient to the Machine track list, lending both the ‘Only People Can Save The World’ and ‘Why Can’t People (Be Color Too?)’ songs to the album. Machine keep the sentiment of both, but add both an almost bucolic and pastoral gospel-rayed yearn to the first, and up the Gator funk and Stevie Wonder boogie on the Sly Stone on-message second.

They open on the relaxed but simmered Southern-funk-hits-the-streets-of-NYC style ‘Time Is Running Out’. Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s buzzy licks meet Maxayn attitude sass, sweet sax and touch of ‘Brotherman’ The Final Solution on a conscious-political workout – the repeated vocal refrain apparently ad-libbed.

Very much of its time and again on-message, ‘World’ tunes into the Vietnam War and its impact on and confliction with the African-American community. The actual groove is quite percussive with a touch of The Temptations Psychedelic Shack, Mayfield and The Meters.

There’s a seagull hovering harbor scene, not a million miles away from Otis’ wistful gaze, on the gear-changing ‘Trails’. It starts with that atmospheric rumination, a hint of the Latin and some romantic allusions before quickening into a banjo-rhythmic strumming West coast jive. It then goes on to wail and cry with a sequel of electric guitar. ‘Lock Your Door’ however could be a lost Northern Soul dancer, and the balladry pined ‘Boots In The Snow’ is another of those Marvin Gaye try-outs, with a touch of 70s Motown.

An enervated Nat Turner, Undisputed Truth, Mary Jane Hooper, Johnny Pate with those Mayfield and Gaye inspirations, Machine stepped-out to lead their own socially conscious project. But whilst the elements are all present, the sound isn’t quite unique enough, overshadowed as they were by a multitude of bands/artists working in the same groove and message. Still, at least you can now own a real rarity without forgoing this month’s rent, gas or mortgage payment. And it’s well worth a spin at that.

Noah ‘Noire’
(Flau Records) 26th August 2022

Ever the diaphanous siren of soothed vaporous experiments and song, the Hokkaido-born artist Noah once more drifts and floats across a sophisticated combination of futuristic etudes and distilled electronica. Following on from the beautiful balletic-inspiredÉtoile (given a glowing review by my good self), this latest emanation of whispered and cooed translucence is just as lovely and swathed in dreamy effects.

A collection of tracks from between a pre-Covid era of 2015-2020, the Noire album is awash with studied yet effortless sounding sonic theme variations; a nine-track congruous suite that riffs on Noah’s signature of ghostly plinky-plonked semi-classical piano (occasionally an electronic one by the sounds of it) and minimal 808-style synthesized waves, percussion and bobbled beats.

Noah’s breathless vocals and atmospherics seem to be reaching us from the ether: often just the reverberations of some distant hazy whisper. The opening transparent slow spiral ‘Twirl’ could be a distant relation to Julee Cruise; an enchanted but haunted echo from a palatial ballroom, yet still highly intimate. ‘Odette’ oozes languorous modern soul and R&B, like Solange drifting over the Boards of Canada.

Undulated by softened kinetic ratchets, screws and turns there’s a coming together of purposeful techno and more rhythmic retro house beats, enervated as to never overpower the general woozy and beautifully longing mood. 

Shorter reflections, pieces are balanced by extended tracks and the heavenly, bobbing and echoed looped single ‘Gemini – Mysterious Lot’; the sound relaxing as it moves from transformed Sakamoto to cool dreamy pop.

Remaining something of an enigma Noah appears and then floats away, leaving a lingering presence with music created in a dream. Noire is another great, captivating showcase for that talent.

Lampen ‘S-T’
(We Jazz) 9th September 2022

A re-release of a kind, in case you both missed it the first time around or because of its limited run on CD, the free and post-jazz Finnish duo Lampen are now offering their 2020 self-titled album on vinyl for the first time – a very nice package it is too.

I would be one of those people that did miss it the first time around, and so I now find myself discovering its highly experimental, explorative qualities, imbued as they are by the Japanese art of “kintsugi” (or “golden joinery”), the repairing art of mending areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver and platinum. As much a philosophy as a method of repair, the breaks and cracks are treated and documented rather than disguised or thrown away.

The binding metal dust is like a woven vein and testament to that object’s knocks and history. With all its obvious metaphors the Lampen lads are less than careful, seeming to deconstruct and rebuild simultaneously in an act of free-spirited concentration: if that makes sense. For they break and stretch the performances yet, because their craft is obviously brilliant, they seem to always be in unison, synchronicity throughout.

Across five crawling and more crescendo splashed tracks, guitarist Kelle Kalima and percussionist/sampler Tatu Rönkkö rattle and wane; bend and set in motion a tumult of krautrock, progressive, industrial, post-punk, psychedelic and avant-garde workouts and soundtracks. In abandoned rusted turbine dominated factories, mysterious chambers but also hovering over lunar terrains Lampen evoke hints of Rhyton, Peter Giger, Krononaut, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Orchestra, King Crimson, Faust and The Mosquitoes. All good and appealing to those like me longing to hear jazz pushed into such directions.

Rather surprisingly, amongst the sustained drones, harmonic pings and sculpting Kalima’s guitar bursts into acid-country indie-rock territory – think, of all people, John Squire on the Stone Roses second album. There’s even spots of no wave and dub to be found emerging from various tangents and untethered directions.

Impressive throughout, whether that’s in slow motion or more maelstrom driven bursts, Lampen’s debut album is a barely contained, unnerving in places, cranium-fuck of excellent moody jazz and industrial resonating experiment. Second time around then, the duo offer us another chance to indulge in their brand of unbridled post-jazz. I think you should take them up on the offer.

Qrauer ‘Odd Fazes’
(Nonostar) 22nd September

Following on from their debut Heeded showcase for Alex Stolze’s burgeoning Nonostar label back in April, arrives an extended debut album from the German electronic duo Qrauer, who transduce chamber music, the semi-classical and percussive into a sophisticated transformation of minimalist-techno and intelligent EDM suites.

The combined, refined but ever open skills of percussionist, producer and remixer Christian Grochau and his foil the pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Ludwig Bauer come together to fluidly remodel their chosen instruments into a both mindful and danceable work of electroacoustic moods and soundscape sonic worlds.

Instead of a pulled-together album of 12”’s and mixes and the like, Odd Fazes feels like a complete journey from beginning to end, with shorter more ambient gazing vignettes alongside longer more evolving pieces. And so you have the trance-y, droned and transformed glitch-y orchestral spell of the incipient stirring ‘Reg. Capture’ followed immediately by the polyrhythmic, clean percussive and galvanized EDM noirish ‘Drumthrives’. Or the Drukqs era Aphex Twin piano – played on a distant echo-y stage – beautifully, but slightly off-kilter, resonating ‘Fuq’ following on from the Artificial Intelligence series trance and suspense soundtrack ‘Cool Edit’. This offers a variation and nice set of breaks between the more techno pumped movers and sonic imaginations.

Later on, Nonostar labelmate Anne Müller adds her swoonstress cello to a couplet of evocative tracks. The first of which, ‘Rund’, has an air of the Aphex Twin (again) about it. Circling bowl rings, kinetic twists and percussive itches are woven into a mild tempo EDM pulse as Müller’s trembled and attentive cello saws and plucks are turned into repeating, recontextualized beats or motifs. On ‘Oval’ the adroit, experimental cellist seems to revive some of her stirring, pining gravitas from the Solo Collective project she shares with both Nonostar founder Stolze and, another labelmate, Sebastian Reynolds. There’s also a hint, I think, of fellow cellist and experimental artist Simon McCorry too on this deeply felt mournful piece.  

Multi-textured with a constant movement and undulated beat that builds and builds yet never settles for the predictable euphoric, anthem moment, there’s a lot of clever, purposeful work at play. I haven’t even mentioned the layers of satellite and moon-bending refractions, nor the cosmic flares, the droplets of notes, cooed waveforms, fizzes and experimental recondite sound sources that have been meticulously thought-out. Again, just like the Heeded EP, the debut album is another cerebral rework of electronic body music, techno, EDM and the classical; a complete dancefloor-ready and mindful journey. 

Simon McCorry ‘Scenes From The Sixth Floor’
(Shimmery Moods)

Turning the worries and mental strains of ill health into something creatively rewarding, the highly prolific cellist sound sculptor and composer Simon McCorry is thankfully back on the experimental electronic scene after a stay in hospital last Christmas. After a period of healing, recuperation, McCorry assembles a sort of soundtrack to that worrying, anxious period.

Following a loose ‘mental thread’ (as he puts it) Scenes From The Sixth Floor is an evocative and ruminating work of both studied ambient peregrinations and post-club techno comedowns; beginning with the cult kosmische drop through Tarkovsky’s glass portal, ‘Falling Through The Mirror Backwards’. Part illusion, part Moebius scores Hitchcock’s Spellbound, it’s the sound of our composer freefalling through a gauzy blanket, unable to latch onto the sides or gain traction as he spirals in sedated state to earth. Yet this there’s also no panic, rather a hallucinatory feel.

The next track, ‘Fragmentation’, is the first of two pieces developed from previous commissions/projects. Originally, albeit loosely, based on a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party dance piece, the landscape on this piece is less Lewis Carroll surrealism and more an evolving soundtrack that absorbs Bleiche Brunnen period Asmus Tietchens, Bernard Szajner sci-fi, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Sven Vath.  From the primal liquid blobs to the supernatural and futuristic, McCorry creates a whole atmospheric world before building steadily towards a patter beat of early 90s set techno (R&S/Harthouse).

Another developed idea, ‘The Sea Of Stories’ takes its cue from Philip Ridley’s feted Moon Fleece book – an intense and thrilling exploration of memory and identity. One of the only tracks with which you can hear a mostly untreated, transformed as it is, cello, McCorry’s instrument of virtuoso choice aches and arches movingly whilst a constant arpeggiator waterfall cascades onto shimmered, light catching waves. Be careful, if you close your eyes you could just find yourself carried away on the tide.

Up above now to the skies and the stirring and soaring ‘The Secret Life Of Clouds’. A beautiful if almost little mysterious, unsure passage, I picked up Schulze, Frosse and even a touch of Air Liquide on this natural phenomenon. But it’s Roedelius’ fairground piped style of playfulness and new classical analogue electronica that’s felt on the arpeggiator-bounced ‘Surfacing’; although this mood changes with another of those post-club undulations, pitter-pattering way at the end.    

Tubular marimba and small thrusts of Kriedler and Pyrolator make up the mid-temp techno styled ‘Earth Best’, and the angrier entitled ‘Day Of Wrath’ has a certain European yearn and another echo of Roedelius’ whistled Bavarian fairground vibes. The cello, which remains pretty much hidden throughout the album, now starts to materialize, producing a weepy bowed melody and sense of purpose.  Constantly enriching the ambient genre and beyond McCorry has bounced back with a reflective and developed soundtrack of perfectly crafted and moving compositions, some of which contain a certain mystery, dreamy-realism that remains to be deciphered. Proving the cello still has some way to go as an imaginative and explorative tool, the gifted player finds new tones, textures and spells of magic to further that instrument’s sound, use and reach. It’s good to have him back is all I can say. And this album further cements an already impressive reputation as a true innovator and master of the form.  

REZO ‘Sew Change’
30th September 2022

Shy of just eighteen months the Irish duo of REZO follow up last year’s debut album Travalog with another relaxed, gentle-of-touch songbook, Sew Change. The seeds of this particular brand of disarming but deeply moving craft were sown from a distance, with both partners in this project recording their parts in separate locations on that debut. Nothing quite concentrates the mind as an epidemic and its confinement, and so the introspection flowed on that record, which despite the distance geld perfectly: in keeping with both musician’s Ireland and Med environments, the music effortlessly blended a touch of the Balearics with more soft-peddled Americana and singer-songwriter material.

As a sort of bridge back to Travalog, the spoken-word return down memory lane family themed ‘You Are What You Wear’ repurposes the sleepy, laidback rolled and Damon Alban-esque with a lick of Baxter Dury ‘Life During Lockdown’ backing. Only this time there’s an additional soulful female cooed chorus and the subject is Colm O’Connell’s family-run knitwear factory in the city centre of Dublin. Within that idyllic-natured return to a more carefree childhood, the whole gamut of life, death and remembrance is narrated both fondly and poignantly.

Concentrating on what’s most important, attempting to right some wrongs and holding one’s hands up to past mistakes, Colm and his foil Rory McDaid ease through some highly sensitive subjects to a musical accompaniment of Americana (once more), synthesized shading and gentle spacey takeoff sparkles, enervated bobbing dance music, piano-led balladry and wistful acoustics. However, within that scope they evoke a Muscle Shoals spiritual Rolling Stones, and a little Billy Preston, on the gospel organ sustained (with a cheeky hint of ‘Let It Be’ I might add) ‘I’m Not Enough’.      

Talking of the sensitive, and careful not to cancel themselves in the process, the duo filter their concerns on the increasingly problematic and volatile theme of cancel culture on the Med-twanged, gauzy ‘Erays’. Like passing through gargled spacy waters and a dry-ice machine they make sure to carefully word their take; misspelling “Erase” as a nod to rays of sunshine and hope in this struggle over censorship. They also seem to tackle teenage suicide and mental health issues on the iconic Dublin Nine Arches set drama ‘Boy On A Bridge’, and explore the grief of dementia by marrying solo McCartney to the Eels on the synth undulating ‘Sometimes’.

Already included on July’s monthly playlist, ‘Your Truth’ still stands out as one of the album’s best offerings. On a song about the cost of “freeing your mind”, or the indulgences of going too far, that Americana feel is taken in a novel direction with softly padded congas, a smooth bass and veil of psychedelic-indie ala later MGMT – I’m also positive I can also hear a touch of TV On The Radio.

In its entirety Sew Change is a completely realised album of reminisces, reflections and softly hushed reconciliations, set to a gentle wash of the spiritual, Irish snug and saloon bar piano, a lilted Dylan-esque lyrical cadence (see the nativity-evoked ‘Hiding In Plain View’) and hazy suffusion of synth. The duo expand the palette without upsetting the formula to produce a complimentary follow-up every bit as slowly captivating.  

John Howard ‘From The Far Side Of A Far Miss’
(Kool Kat)  9th September 2022

Following in the slipstream of his third and final volume of memoirs (In The Eyeline Of Furtherance) the singer-songwriter John Howard, with the wind in his sails, is back with yet another album. But instead of the usual songbook formula this is a continuous one-track work of disarming, gentle brilliance that runs to over thirty-five minutes.

You could say it was a return to Howard’s long form songwriting experiments of 2016 and the Across The Door Sill album, or perhaps even a reaction to (one of his heroes of the form) Bob Dylan and his Boomer odyssey ‘Across The Rubicon’, which more or less charts an entire epoch. Howard is a bit younger than Dylan of course, but both artists seem to be making some of their best work at this stage in their lives: uncompromising and unburdened by expectation or the need to suck up to fashions, labels, even the public they share an envious position. That Dylan mini-opus only lasted a mere seven-minutes in comparison, whilst Howard’s grand effort runs and runs, covering as it does a lifetime as a proxy soundtrack to his series of autobiographies.

Far more melodious than his hero’s reflections, this scrapbook photo album reminisce features Howard’s signature balladry-troubadour and stage musical verve of poetically candid prose, sung both wistfully and with a certain yearn.

Love is all though as Howard sets scene after scene, analogy after analogy; reconciling his past to a watery-mirrored piano-led score that’s constantly moving, picking up suffused strings, Dylan’s harmonica, a bucolic burnished harpsichord, a planetarium mood piece starry synth and light dabbing’s of congas and shaker. In what could be a reference to his own semi-cover version album Cut The Wire, there’s a hint of the Incredible String Band and also Roy Harper about this extended performance; especially Howard’s version of the former’s ‘In The Morning’. Later on it’s a lilt of The Beach Boys, bobbing on the “ripples of forever” line. Yet it’s unmistakably a John Howard sound, a lovingly executed piece of songwriting that more than holds its own across thirty-five minutes plus of ebbing drama.

But this is also a two-way conversation with Howard playing both sides of a long affair; the part of old lovers and new, friends, acquaintances and family, their words echoing now in the mists of the time that’s left. Dylan, that recurring idol, acts as a silent partner in one such discourse, as Howard sings about artistic integrity and his inspirations, a pantheon of uncompromising doyens. And in that same particular passage we also have Monroe and the Fab Four popping up; a Hard Days Night Beatles name-checked in what is both a celebrated yet fraught with delusion and remembrance chapter on this long winding road.

I particularly enjoyed the more salt-of-the-earth café scene diorama; Howard in voyeuristic mode describing a very unlikely cast, using both a kid who’s reading a Russian literary titan and a priest faraway in reflective thought (perhaps regret) as conduits for naming even more idols and favourites: “The kid who’s reading Tolstoy, listening to The Rolling Stones; I can hear old Jagger’s laughter floating from his phone.” Great lines by the way. The priest is “remembering Bowie’s Low”, which could of course be a reference to the same priest featured in the lyrics to ‘Five Years’ now contemplating a life that’s perhaps not all it seems.

Addressing, redressing whilst swanning through fantasies of a swish Ritz, 5th Avenue and Caesars Palace, imaging an alternative stratospheric career trajectory, headlining the Albert Hall, Howard takes us on a rolling, fluctuating journey through of his thoughts, dreams (realized and abandoned), regrets and hurt. By the end of this epic piece the final phrase, sung in a lasting glow, says it all: “It simply is what it always was”. Dylan couldn’t have put it much better.

An ambitious undertaking, From The Far Side Of A Far Miss is the work of an artist still willing to take chances and explore. Whilst his peers rely on the back catalogue, or drum out the same music they made over fifty plus years ago, Howard seems entirely comfortable in his own skin as a wiser yet still spritely young-at-heart artist composing music on his own terms. Fresh new introspections, concepts abound as he shows there’s still so much more to share and create.

Yara Asmar ‘Home Recordings 2018-2021’
(Hive Mind Records) 16th September 2022

The latest discovery on the Hive Mind radar emanates from Beirut, with the serialism and tonal atmospheres, ambient and minimal semi-classical melodies of Yara Asmar.

In a tumultuous climate, referenced in a sampled conversation piece on ‘Is An Okay Number’ and in the unsaid but moody reflections and vaporous drifts that push out into the unknown and untethered, the twenty-five year old multi-instrumentalist, video artist and puppeteer manages to often leave the earthly mess of a region in crisis and float out above the city.

From an airy viewing platform we can identify swirls, waves, gauzy veils and echoes of the concertinaed (courtesy of Asmar’s grandparents’ accordion), tubular metallic rings and tingles (that will be the metallophone), a serious but graceful piano, a music box, hinges and searing gleams and a beatified magical spell of Christian church liturgy. The latter source was recorded by Asmar from church hymnal services around the Lebanon; transduced into the hallowed yet otherworldly and mysterious, given a gentle waltz-like ghostly quality and only sense of a presence. A reference to country’s much troubled religious turmoil? The art of remembrance? Spiritualism? Or the familiar sounds of an upbringing? Whatever the reason it sounds both equally as ethereal, as it does supernatural: passages into other realms.

Tracks like ‘We Put Her In A Box And Never Spoke Of It Again’ are almost lunar in comparison to those hymns; lending a moon arc of Theremin-like UFO oscillations and cult library cosmic scores to this set of peregrinations and field-recordings. Yet for the most part this is a truly dreamy, translucent and amorphous album of delicate classicism, explorative percussion and ambient; an ebb and flow of reverberations and traces of moods, thoughts that literally floats above the clouds and out beyond the Lebanese borders. These home recordings recorded onto cassettes and a mobile phone capture something quite unique, in what are the most unique of times.   

Valentina Magaletti & Yves Chaudouët ‘Batterire Fragile’
(Un-Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi) 23rd September 2022

Is it performance art or just performance? Probably both as the lauded drummer extraordinaire Valentina Magaletti once more sits behind the artist Yves Chaudouët’s conceptualized porcelain drum kit.

If you follow either of these artists then you’ll know that this is the second installment of recordings to be taken from the original project back in 2017. Conceived by the painter turn multimedia artist Chaudouët as an exploration in texture and friction, wood, metal and rubber were all added to the porcelain kit; the effects of which, in the hands of such an accomplished musician traverse the concrete, avant-garde, art rock, breakbeat, the classical and freeform and dark jazz.

It’s been a couple of years since I last featured the highly prolific composer/producer and percussionist Magaletti, featuring her ‘tropical concrete’ communal with Marlene Riberio, Due Matte. In this space Magaletti continuously rattles, rolls, skids, skiffles, dusts and lays spidery tactile rhythms and strokes down as mooning, wailed and frayed bowed primal supernatural atmospherics stir.

We could be in Southeast Asia, Tibet or West Africa, even the Caribbean with passages that sound like steel drums bouncing away. We could also be in a subterranean chamber as resonating echoes of this tinny, metallic and deadened kit ricochet of the walls. Reductionist theatre, ceramic jazz, a paranormal drumming séance, the mood isn’t always easy to gauge. But as experimental as it is Magaletti is constantly rhythmic throughout; switching yet always hitting a beat, and even in some parts something that resembles a groove. An exercise on concept but also percussive, drumming performance, this collaboration straddles both the art and musical camps to bring us something quite different yet always engaging, interesting and virtuoso.  

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.

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A LOOK AT WHAT’S OUT THERE/
Dominic Valvona’s Roundup

ALBUMS/LONGPLAYERS

El Khat Aalbat Alawi Op. 99’
(Glitterbeat Records) 25th March 2022

Photo Credit to Matan Caspi

First off, this is an incredible album; an incredible energy and an incredible elliptical disjointed clattering and snozzled, heralded horn blown fusion of the music carried out of the Yemen, the greater Middle East and North Africa. The Eyal el Wahab led Arabian swirled and rhythmic jolted El Khat (named after the popular chewed drug) are simultaneously diy, even punk whilst also creating a bombastic and hypnotising dynamism. 

In the melting pot of Tel Aviv-Yafo and in the more isolated – cut-off from the digital and online world – deserts the self-taught cellist (despite not, at the time, being able to read music, managing to join the Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra) El Wahab and his band use both regional instruments and reconstituted junk to make a wild border traversed sound like no other. A collage of influences, initially sparked off by the Qambus electric sampler of traditional music from the 1960s (the ‘Qat, Coffee & Qambus: Raw 45s From Yemen’ compilation to give it the full title), the group’s second album rewires its Yemen roots and faint, distant musical memories with the psychedelic, garage-rock, gnawa, Ethio-jazz and the raw.

A fondly, missed and remembered culture lies at the heart of this album. Throughout the tensions in the Arabian Peninsular in the last century, and ever since the formation of the Israel state in the aftermath of WWII, Yemen’s Jewish population (which was considerably large), but many others too, were forced to leave their homes for sanctuary. And so many, through no fault of their own, have found themselves decamped, living in Israel like the El Khat band – some for a generation, others for at least three or more. This is where that fusion meets at the crossing; one that sounds like Lloyd Miller conducting a Cairo marching band kicking a tin can down the Kasbah, or, a melodic rattled chaotic brilliance of Zafer Dilek, Salah Rageb, Bargou 08, Yontan Gat and nimble Tuareg guitar soloing. I’d even suggest that they’re bedfellows of their Glitterbeat Record label mate’s blk/JKS: a merger of the atavistic and something entirely exciting and fresh.

The album title itself shares this undertaking of piecing together in a new way, their influences. The “alba” part of “Aalbat” references a small tin box that can contain ‘many treasures’, the “Alwai” is a homage to the popular late Yemeni singer Faisal Alwai, and the “Op. 99” bit intended to give the compositions “the same respect as Western classical music”.  

Despite the impact of Covid restrictions in Israel, forced to record separately (although during an easing of those rules, El Wahab was able to usher a chorus of seven people into his living room) and delayed by a self-imposed offline retreat into the expansive desert for six months, it all comes together like a live, unpredictable performance.

Familiar Middle Eastern spices, dances, celebrations and string-frayed bowed and rubber-band like elasticated rhythms are layered with staggering, sometimes drunken stomped, bounced, bounding drums. Mergia organ dabs sit alongside beautiful and swimmingly trilled vocals as hazed connections to the Yemen homeland drift in and out of focus. Some of the distinctive sounds can be traced back to El Wahab’s carpentry skills, building unique instruments from thrown-away scrapes of metal, wood and plastic: hence at least a partial diy, homemade ascetic. Although he’s long since left that Jerusalem orchestra, El Wahab conducts, leads his very own clever ramshackle vision fit for a world in turmoil, of mass emigration. Aalbat Alwai Op. 99 builds a bridge between past longings and a chaotic future of sonic possibilities and polygenesis crossovers. Turning throwaway trash into a freeform expression of vitality, importance but also the social-political, El Khat turn the humble tin can into a resonator that sends out shockwaves across the globe.

Tone Of Voice Orchestra ‘S-T’
(Stunt Records) 11th March 2022

What do you get if you cross radio hall, echoes of Jazzmeia Horn, Solange and Middle Eastern vocals with folk music, sea shanties, the woody stretched bounce of Henri Texier and swoons across the Turkish border? I’ll tell you. You get the soulfully lush, quasi-classical transglobal collaboration between the Danish indie singer-songwriter Trinelise Væring and award-winning saxophonist Fredrik Lundin; helped by an expanded cast of singers and eclectic musicians. 

Although this is a Danish enterprise the Tone Of Voice Orchestra evokes a myriad of influences; from the Celtic to Eastern Europe; from India and beyond with their debut album offering.

Vocally, in unison throughout, the lyric book is straight from the R&B and soul songbook; with yearned and wistfully lush ditties on female empowerment, broken down relationships and moving on, plus the foibles, frustrations of living in the modern epoch. All of which are diaphanous, light yet powerfully delivered. The opener, ‘He Loves Her For It’, kind of skewers that modern feel with voices, words and music more in keeping with some hurdy-gurdy churned droned timeless folky shanty. At times this open-ended fusion sounds like a Nashville En Vogue dropped off in a chain dragging Anatolia soundscape (‘You Saw Yourself Out’), and at others, like a yearned pondered Arun Ghosh caravan (‘Kom Hjemtil Mig’). 

For his part, Lundin oozes jazzy saxophone sophistication with straight-up circling breaths, some smooching and then more abstract feelers for time, landscape and mood: on one occasion seeming to mimic a harmonica!

Gypsy encampments, meanders across the Balkans, lingering’s of old Iberia and Rajasthan, and exotic camel-motioned creeps through jungles beckon on an album of slinking and rolling beautiful mooching, swells and gravitas. A very impressive start to a multifaceted dynamic to seems to easily sit between the contemporary and past.

Kristine Leschper ‘The Opening Or Closing Of A Door’
(Anti- Records) 4th March 2022

A rekindled lush, if somnolent with yearns and longing, affair with the things that really matter, Kristine Leschper absolutely wows on her sublime new album rebirth.

Detached from the post-punk Mothers, Kristine has given herself the space to reassess, to reconnect and importantly create something anew and utterly spellbinding.

Despite a complexity of thematic strands, imbued in part by the poetry, activism and essayist statements of the late iconic writer June Jordan, Kristine adopts a languid, sensory wonderment that’s almost childlike. More natural, organic than synthesized – although there’s a suffusion of atmospherics, light arpeggiator and electronic waves that congruously boost the mood, or, give certain songs an almost outside-of-itself cosmic push – this gorgeous sounding album beautifully meanders, glides and drifts through a fluted and willow-whistled woodland of first-rate multi-layered arrangements and emotional pulls.

Within that magical world there’s glimmers of Eerie Wanda, ‘Uncoiled’ Diva Moon and Mazzy Star against the imaginative Panda Bear. Songs like the opening semi-pastoral ‘This Animation’ take time to build and change; growing naturally (that word again) from a pipped forest introduction to a slow-release of buoyant bass and more grand drumming drama. It grows stronger and more delightfully surprising as it goes on. Importantly, Kristine is looking at a rafter of emotions, sentiments in a less than ideal, imperfect world, and so rather than progress in a linear fashion, songs, lyrics, feelings all circle back around and offer tangents; especially musically with the funkier DFA Records laxed disco-yearn, almost resigned, ‘Blue’.

Hallowed organs, hand claps and bottle-like tapping percussion, gentle lingers of piano and a general sense of airiness and space are just a few elements that permeate this parchment of woodwind concertos, folk, intricate electronica and dreaminess.

The lyrics themselves are poetic, vulnerable and constantly loving: none more so than on the album’s final, stripped to just a piano and voice ‘Thank You’, which brings down the house with a sweetened gesture of thanks to those who’ve helped keep Kristine afloat in trying times. The fleeting, like “moonbeams”, empirical words, scenes are given weight, tethered in voice and sound with a real depth that seems in practice too be lightly administered. But that’s the genius of this whole album, a laid bare language of great importance made so lushly engaging as to sound like the very opposite; light enough to float off into the expanses.

I’m probably making a right hash of this review, fumbling around to show it in the right light, but The Opening Or Closing Of A Door is difficult to capture. A new chapter in the life of a highly talented musician, composer, this delightful album is one of the best I’ve heard in 2022. There’s no doubt in my mind that this move has been creatively a success, and it will take some beating to be knocked out of the final year lists.         

The Lancashire Hustlers ‘Big Ask’
(Steep Hill) 25th February 2022

It’s a half full cup of ‘pukka’ brand tea kind of attitude that unfurls in a disarming manner on The Lancashire Hustlers sixth studio album proper: Big Ask. As always melodically ambrosian and nostalgic the Southport duo harmoniously sound simultaneously reassuring yet defeated on a songbook of ‘bittersweet melancholy’ and softly rolling lover’s paeans; love letters to the 60s and early 70s.

Between them Ian Pakes and Brent Thorley fill the space of a mini studio band and orchestra; sharing a myriad of eclectic instruments, many of which can found adding both exotic and psychedelic chimes, afterglows and bell rung eastern delights.

Like a Neil Finn led Honeybus or Revolver era Beatles breaking bread with Emitt Rhodes, this, now 25-year spanning, partnership washes through societal and romantic disenchantment, but also praise those muses, lovers that make them better people. In the first of those thematic camps the almost pleaded melodious ‘Your Cool Reactions’ finds the lads frozen out, unable to read that love interest’s face, whilst a harmony of The Kinks, solo McCartney and a reminiscent ‘Out Of Time’ tune accompanies a beautifully resigned vocal. The esoteric in comparison, and filmic even, malady ‘Surrender’ sees the lads “wavering” on the brink of giving in. Still, songs like the Slim Chance painted gypsy caravan amble along a blooming hedgerow landscape ‘Bluebell Panther’, and the lost See For Miles label compilation nugget, via Robert Wyatt and a happy-go-lucky Velvets, ‘Happiness On A String’ seem to suggest more sentimental declarations.  

There’s also fleeting moments that lead to a lifetime of unsaid connective destiny and bliss (the universal spark, glassy bulb troubadour paean ‘We Knew It Though We Do Not Know’), and feelings of missing out as time slips away (the cowboy booted stirrups jangling southern blues organ imbued ‘No Patience’).

Dreamily and at times in a soulful slinking mood, echoes of Labi Siffre, Roger Bunn, John Compton, Bacharach, Jimmy Campbell and Fleetwood Mac permeate this comfortably light songbook of well-crafted, instantly memorable tunes. Everything, in a true distinctly English way, sounds and feels better over a cup of tea, and I’ll enjoy my ‘organic’ ‘peace’ labelled teabag gift supplied with the lad’s album: thanks for that Ian and Brent.

The Lancashire Hustlers once again, like a northern England Every Brothers, harmoniously and with a real sense of melody read the tea leaves to create a cherished collection of lovelorn malady and magic.     

Koma Saxo w/ Sofia Jernberg ‘Koma West’
(We Jazz) 18th March 2022

A pleasant change in direction (of a sort) from the contorting saxophone heavy (hence the name) Koma Saxo as the dynamic ensemble expand their ranks and conjure up a sort of Scandinavian version of Ornate Coleman’s concerto American suite, as remixed by J Dilla and Leafcutter John.

The core sax brethren once more transform and disguise a suffusion of alto, soprano, tenor and slide, and double-bassist, pianist, percussionist, sampler Petter Eldh leads. Only now we have the addition of the aria-like and lucid ethereal voice of Sofia Jernberg permeating evocations of Linda Sharrock and airy diaphanous airiness to enjoy. Which works extremely well in offering some vocalised lulls, waves, syllables, vowels and intonation to the reworked jazz sounds. 

Koma West as the name might indicate, references a conceptual geographical theme; the West part marking a soundtrack inspired and imbued by Petter’s west coast Swedish roots. To be specific, the formative years spent in the town of Lysekil, which sits at the southern tip of the Stångenäs peninsula, at the mouth of the Gullmarn fjord. A magical untethered purview of that landscape’s outstanding beauty, drum breakbeats converge with woodwind sprites, a skiffle simmer of jazz, the orchestrally classical and homegrown folk on an album suite of the organic and electrified.

Leitmotifs of a Scandinavian Bernstein and Prokiev can be heard in tandem with flowery levitations and a shadowy reverberation of a tune-up on the opening ‘Lo Ve Ko Ma’. Pastoral sounds, the transparent fleeted appearance of some concerto and room full of voices weave in and out of a woody and tinkled piano passage. It’s at this point that Koma Saxo sound almost like an entirely different group; nearly wholly acoustic, in a mirage of the dreamy. ‘Croydon Koma’ (strange change of location) sees the familiar Mo Wax-esque breaks return as Petter stretches the thrummed double-bass strings and a chorus of saxophone hoots and rasps.

An ode to the flowery landscape feature ‘Kaprifol’ finds this ensemble conjuring up a soulful R&B and Lee Dorsey-like classical puppetry; a lushly decorated wander amongst the fauna that takes on a Southern states of America backbeat feel. Talking of the south, there’s a hint of New Orleans on the high rising sax peppered, rattled double-bass Swedish jazz bolero ‘Koma Fred’.

Mother nature’s son collaborates with the incredible, lofty and airy meandered lyricism and utterances of Sofia to conjure up dolphin echoed coastlines, a menagerie of instrumental evoked bird life, the local folkloric traditions and something approaching a starry cosmic ceiling. Keeping it rooted in a childhood home, Petter’s “momvillian” mum, Kiki, is drafted in to play a repeated shortened concertinaed accordion riff on the hip-hop(ish) attitude ‘Ostron Accordion’.

A family affair, return to nature and a cosmic whole, the Koma Saxo with more than a little help from their friends (the highly thought of and lauded Kit Downes on piano, plus Maria Reich on violin and Lucy Railton on cello) take a pleasing and innovative turn in the road to match their often freshly chaotic jazz, elements of John Zorn and Alfa Mist, and the lofty. A contemporary woodland orchestra and untethered voice falls in with exciting, often broken-up, staccato jazz to musically score an inspiring Swedish topography. The spirit of collaboration lives on.

Kick ‘Light Figures’
(Anomic Records/Dischi Sotterranei/Sour Grapes) 16th March 2022

A dissected grind and more dreamy investigation of love’s opposing forces, we have the rubbered-up, sadomasochistic, the materialistic and the wanton lamented kinds as backdrop for Kick’s new album Light Figures. The Brescia ‘sweet noise’ makers duo, beefed up by a number of guests, and ‘curated’ production wise by Marco Fasolo, dig into a number of complementary opposites as they reach out to the dark side of our personalities and various wept augurs about self-destructive behaviour.

Despite the sometimes serious, dark nature and the brilliantly broody post-punk menace and industrial slicing, Chiara Amailia Bernardini’s vocals ache a certain melodious lushness; cooing and swooning occasionally like she’s fronting a 90s alt-rock or shoegaze band: a bit of Throwing Muses, Breeders. Often it recalls a leather-strapped Ravenettes and their version of knowing 60s backbeat girl group crushes. Chiara’s voice however, is more in keeping with a scorned, provocative PJ Harvey on the BDSM flange-affected ‘Rubberlover’, which also features a/lpaca’s Christian Bindelli aiding a salacious repeated “punish me” mantra about power versus submission. Over her trebly, Banshees and Ester Poly like basslines Chiara is more tauntingly alluring on the mythical allegorical ‘Sirens Never Sleep’; these Greek tempests luring sailors on to the deadly rocks through their mystical hypnotic voices sitting in for their all-too-real dangerous counterparts on the Internet; coaxing us all down misdirected rabbit holes and leading us astray.

Contorted guitar string scrapes from Chiara’s foil Nicola Mova bolster the cold steel grist, the gnarling and gnawing sinister spells, the piercing feedback that often seeps into the gothic. Yet by the album’s third track, ‘Eleven’, the mood evokes an acoustic and spindly chimed accompanied Renaissance set piece; a haunted pastoral dreamy romanticism, though the language (swapping between English, their Italian mother tongue and a completely made-up cadence) is thoroughly modern. ‘Viole’ is another one for the dreamers, featuring as it does a Prokofiev like fluted fairy tale wind instrument contribution from C’mon Tigre and Calibro 35’s Beppe Scardino, and a Shacks-esque languid float-y-ness. Sleepwalking into a climate apocalypse, the finale ‘Atlandtide’ features a doomy gnawed bass, yet seems to waltz towards its fate.  It must be said that the duo and friends sound better when the bass and guitar growl, wails and sounds cool-y detached than in hallucinatory, languorous mode; when the fuzz and gristle have an unsettling mood, a leaning dread of Giallo post-punk. Light Figures seems to balance that bruised, scarred heart with the wispy and drifting, baiting and cooing protestations and resignation all the while. If bands like Peter Kernel are your crush then get a load of Kick; they’ve converted this critic.

Pjusk ‘Sentrifuge’
(Somewherecold Records) 18th March 2022

Shaping washed-out, layered abstractions of thoughts, time, moods and places from out of the “modular system” apparatus and what sounds like the air itself, the Norwegian electronic artist Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik tries something a little different with his newest Pjusk release.

Subtly sculpting ambiguous, mysterious ambient worlds that never quite settle – traversing as they do the dreamy, otherworldly, fabled and cosmic planes -, Jostein’s inaugural release for the crazily prolific Somewherecold imprint favours slow builds and reverberated undulations that merge the organic and mechanical; a soundtrack in which the reedy rasps of an obscured instrument can conjure up Tibetan mystique whilst pondering a cloudless, incandescent blue evening sky, or, convey kosmische-like space freighters travelling towards alien paradises.

Modulations, sine waves, chinked and chimed bottles, metallic purrs and burns, zip-wires, liquefied shapes, solar winds, mirrored reversal effects are used to create visions of a propeller-propelled leviathan machine hovering over beautifully rendered landscapes. The tinkling of a buoy on a topographic ocean; a patchwork of firework stars; ethereal cosmic sirens; places in which gravity doesn’t exist, Jostein’s centrifugal motioned ship glides across and lands amongst some magnificent contemplative and stirring scenes.

Occasionally a quiet synthesised beat, some drum pad rhythm adds a semblance of direction and propulsion. Traces too can be felt, heard of distant radiowaves, broadcasts; the drifted resonance of voices and music caught in the atmosphere. Shades of neoclassical Roedelius, some of Tim Story’s piano touches, a little bit of Mapstation, Edgar Frosse, Air Liquide and early Aphex spring to my loosened mind, on what is a really impressive slow-moving modular and tonal piece of escapism.    

 

Anthéne & Simon McCorry ‘Mind Of Winter’
(Hidden Vibes)

“In the bleak mid-winter”, or not as the case maybe, as the considered partnership of Monolith Cocktail regular, the cellist polymath, Simon McCorry and guitar manipulator Brad Deschamps contour a wintery soundtrack of beauty and meditation.

Inspired by the late American modernist poet Wallace Stevens and his ‘epistemology’ school of sublime poetics ‘The Snow Man’, both experimental artists come together to draw an abstract atmosphere and landscape around that poem’s counterbalance mind set of beautifully described coldness and existential feelings of ‘nothingness’.

Although produced during the pandemic, events have been overshadowed in recent weeks by the heinous invasion of Ukraine, and so the fact that this ambient winter’s tale has found a home on the Ukrainian label Hidden Vibes seems to now carry more weight and resonance. But this incredible merger of obscured, veiled cello and effected guitar, field recordings and occasional bobbing tongue-drum knocked beats describes a season of evocative shaped electric-charged cumuliform and nimbostratus clouds, faraway glimmers of the Spring light and melted snow; the very opposite of a nuclear winter auger – which considering the despotic madman behind the button is Putin, doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

Under his Anthéne alais, Brad perfectly matches, under rides and envelopes Simon’s subtle arches, long drawn sustained bows and tonal gauze with threaded, drifted guitar notes, phrases, flange-like reverberations and radiowaves. In this Winter sky static crackles and piped metallic whistles signal dense clouds brushing against each other, whilst on the ground primordial hazy stirrings evoke both the mysterious and foreboding.

Serenity follows in the wake of more concentrated forces; field recordings of climbing over rocks and footsteps across wooden floors mark the presence of human interaction in this atmospheric space. There’s a real gravity to this poetic imbued soundtrack, an essence of the elements and movement. The Mind Of Winter is nothing less than a sublime turn and adroit piece of ambient conjuring from the congruous collaborators.

THE SHORTS

A ‘FOR UKRAINE’ SPECIAL:

As Imperialistic Putin makes good on his ten year plus campaign of lies, deceit and conquer, with the invasion of Ukraine, the millions watching on in despair have been unanimous in their support of that nation’s struggle against a Tsarist despot attempting to rewrite history.   Whilst it is still uncertain just what heinous crimes he’s plotting – whether it will stop at the Ukraine, continue into former conquered Tsarist or Soviet territories, or manifest in a corridor to the Balkans -, our friends in the whole of Europe, Britain, North America and beyond have been rallying to the cause (a staggering £100 million has so far been raised in the UK, as if of the 7th March). Musicians have been among the first to turn-around projects, release special records, compilations in aid of the many charities working to help the immense refuge crisis; to bring the essentials to those fleeing and those trapped in cities and towns under siege. Here are just some of those good souls, donating the proceeds to this cause.

Note: unless dated, all release available from now.

Various ‘I Won’t Give Up’

A dramatic outpouring of grief and horror at the heinous events unfolding in Eastern Europe, the #iwontgiveup project brings together over twenty Czech, Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian musicians to express opposition to the war in Ukraine; sending a clear message to the world that “we are all in this together”.

A combination of the well-known songs ‘Obijmi’ (Hug me) and ‘Bez boj’ (Without Fighting) by the cult Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy this new version was produced by the Czech Republic-based producer and musician Igor Ochepovsky. It features a cross Eastern European cast that includes the studio drummer and singer David Koller, actor and singer Igor Orozovič, singers Monika Načeva and Lenka Dusilová, guitarists Michal Pavlíček and Nikita Krein, accordionists Aliaksandr Yasinski and Roman Zabelov, guitarist and balalaika player Kirill Yakovlev, double bassist Taras Volos, violinists Vartui Saribekian and Natalia Lisniak, cellist Simon Marek, violist Jan Forest, domra player Kateryna Vatchenko and pianist Olesya Ochepovskaya.

“For Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians these are absolutely iconic songs that we all know well. Our nations and lives are connected not only by the melodies, but also by the themes of love, hope, courage and determination. The musicians involved are some of the finest artists I know. Apart from our love for music, we are also united by our dissenting attitude towards current events,” says Igor Ochepovsky, explaining the background of the project.

The recording of the song took place on Monday, 28th February, four days after the start of the war in Ukraine, in Boris Carloff’s Soundevice studio.

“When my wife Alena woke me up on Thursday morning with the news that the war had really started, I was shocked. I immediately wondered what I could do. We sent money to charities, I called all my friends in Ukraine and Russia, and checked to see if I could help at the borders. However, I am a musician, I speak to people through music. So Alena and I sprung into action and within two days we had everything arranged. Those involved cancelled their original plans to support the project, for which they deserve a big thank you,” says Ochepovsky.

Escupemetralla ‘Maldacena Duality’
(Single Track also featured on Side-Line Magazine’s Face the Beat 7: Session 7 compilation)

Mad, bad and dangerous to know, those dark purveyors of obscene twisted experiments, Escupemetralla are back with a hadron collider of regurgitating, churned science fiction mania and buzzing occult unease; a vortex trip down a Black Hole.

Appearing on its own merits via their own dark arts platform, ‘Maldacena Duality’ also appears for a good cause on the latest Face The Beat compilation from Side-Line Magazine. 129 tracks, listed in alphabetical order, the seventh session of menacing, scarred darkened sub genre electronica sees the proceeds go towards various charities plus the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe.   

Solidarity ‘Blue And Yellow’ & “Yellow And Blue’
(Binaural Space)

The effort made during the last two weeks has brought a tear to my eye, with so many artists bonding together over the Internet to quickly turn-around projects like this one to raise money for various charities and the relief effort in Ukraine. Everyone deserves a pat on the back, they really do. Featuring another enviable cast of electronic, neoclassical and experiment artists, the Prague-based label/artist Binaural Space has released two Ukrainian flag colour coordinated compilation stunners.

Familiar to regular Monolith Cocktail readers/followers, volume two (Blue And Yellow) favourites like the polymath cellist Simon McCorry (who appears with Anthéne in one of my album reviews above), the ever-brilliant Whettman Chelmets and lower case minimalist genius Andrew Heath amongst the likes of Jad Baron, Dirk Jacobs, Greg Nieuwsma (another MC featured review in 2021) and Selvedge.  Volume One of this moiety features MC regular Toxic Chicken and SEODAH, alongside Ash Electric, XENNON and Kodomo. Buy them both now.

The Post-Everything Collective & Friends Present: ‘Ukrainian Relief Compilation’
(The Post-Everything Collective) 31st March 2022

We did post this one up directly onto the FB page last week, but in case you missed it, another impressive compilation of eclectic finds and nuggets from the Post-Everything crew.

A staggering 60-track behemoth of a compilation, so chances are there will be something to suit every taste. A lot of stuff on here I’ve never heard of, so will enjoy digging. 100% of the profits are going towards the Save The Children foundation for Ukraine. 

Various ‘Music For Ukraine’
(We Jazz)

Our favourite European jazz imprint/festival/shop We Jazz has pulled it out the hat with an enticing compilation of previously unreleased goodies. If you have followed us over the years you’ll know just how much the blog rates this jazz label; probably reviewing, featuring three quarters of their entire catalogue at some stage.

No highlights, as they are all worthy great selections from the label roll. There’s some really great material on here, enviable in fact. So sort it out and get handing over that cash.

100% of all proceeds go towards humanitarian aid in Ukraine via verified charity sources. All donations will be announced. 

Various Artists ‘Pacification’
(Chitra Records) 18th March 2022

American ambient specialists Chitra Records is putting out a twenty-track compilation next week. Some great names on this one, including Federico Balducci &  fourthousandblackbirds, who’s last collaboration received a favourable review from me. Pulling no punches, they’ve contributed the ‘Up To 15 Years in Prison And Fines Of Up To 5 Million Rubles’ track; reference to the recent passed laws of stamping out all protest and revulsion at Putin’s grand plans of conquest. Starring alongside them are Sebby Kowai, Adrian Lane and FlownBlue.

All proceeds from the digital sales of the compilation on Bandcamp for the first two weeks from the release date (until March 21, 2022) will be sent to the Red Cross Society of Ukraine.

ALBUM REVIEWS SPECIAL/Dominic Valvona

Motorists  ‘Surrounded’
(We Are Time/Bobo Integral/Debt Offensive)  3rd September 2021

Ah, for the mythology of rock music’s open road, highway 66 kicks and Kerouac misadventures. It seemed the easiest of escapes to new horizons; to hit the road U.S.A style and take in all the pit stop catalysts of rock ‘n’ roll lore. Not so easy to disappear now of course, the use of sat navs more or less keeping to a regimented map, with little in the way, or room, to shoot off on detours, and to come across surprises. Also, we’re all tracked, moving dots on a data system unable to truly run free.

Fueling this jangly Canadian trio’s automobile, those same tropes come up head-on with the actual realities of driving in the 21st century: gridlocks, congestion and nothing but bad juju on the radio. Motorists however do head down that fabled motorway as best they can; making for the open road with a carload of friends, the dial tuned into a new wave and power pop soundtrack of the Athens, Georgia sound, The Church, Teenage Fanclub and the Paisley Underground scene.  

However, they don’t so much cruise as motorik down a road less well travelled, as the Toronto group navigate the pandemic and the resulting anxieties of isolation, distress and mental fatigue that’s cursed most of us in a new pandemic reality. The album’s precursor lead track (recently featured on the blog) ‘Through To You’ was about a yearning to connect once more: what better way then a road trip. But isolation means different things to different people. The group’s guitarist and Alex Chilten-shares-the-mouthwash-with-Tom Verlaine styled vocalist Craig Fahner is concerned with the kind of “isolation” you find in “a technologically saturated society, laden with romanticism around radical togetherness.”

The trio’s debut album is a spaghetti junction of suffocation and melodious despondency that opens with the titular album song, ‘Surrounded’, a lovely jangle backbeat of Green On Red and R.E.M.ish influences that features a downbeat dissatisfaction with everywhere they lay their hat: the city, “too many creeps, too many bars”; suburbs, “too many houses, and noisy neighbours and perfect yards”; and the commune, “too much love, and power trips”.   

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t in anyway a downbeat songbook; the music’s just far too…well, jangly and driven for that. No flashiness, overindulgences, every song’s a tight winner, whether that’s the edgy power pop 80s throwback ‘Hidden Hands’ or the Soft Boys, if they’d been signed to Stiff Records, new wave crossover ‘Turn It Around’.

This whole album has a real nice feel, with pull-ins at Weezer, Television and grunge music’s lay-bys. Nothing new, just great indie, new wave (a little sneer of punk) music at its best, Surrounded has really grown on me. A great cathartic soundtrack to adventures on the freeway.

Timo Lassy  ‘Trio’
(We Jazz Records)  27th August 2021

A new combo and a new sound, the celebrated Finnish tenor saxophonist and bandleader Timo Lassy’s latest album of We Jazz crossovers is perhaps the Helsinki label’s most surprising release yet.

Cinematic, luxurious, Timo’s new “trio” are augmented, made more sweeping and grand, by the introduction of both synthesized effects and lush filmic strings – performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra and arranged by fellow Finn, Marzi Nyman. It’s almost as if David Arnold thumbed through the Savoy Jazz label’s back catalogue and various Italian and French movie soundtracks from the 60s and 70s: some exotica too! For the sound is both familiar, and as I already said, cinematic, yet somehow transformed enough to throw up the odd surprise and reverberation of the avant-garde and artsy jazz performativity.

Flanked either side by We Jazz and Finnish scene stalwarts, Ville Herrala on double-bass and Jaska Lukkarinen on drums, the expanded trio both playfully and more longingly move through the scenes of an imaginative romance it seems. Straight away they evoke that Savoy swing and a bit of sophisticated European vogue celluloid as they symphonically, in a rhapsody of swooning serenade, transport us to Monte Carlo (perhaps even Rio) on the sweeping ‘Foreign Routes’. Timo follows the tender contours and toots away on the equally romantic, tiptoed beauty ‘Better Together’.

Hearts skip and are harassed on the more jumping and dashing couplet of ‘Pumping C’ and ‘Orlo’. Timo goes through the register with dub-like effected echoes on his dabbing and busy saxophone riffs as Lukkarinen provides rattles of cymbal and little drilled snare rolls on the first of these two ‘groovers’.  The latter goes for a trip-hop like feel of shuffled breaks, funky and soulful tenor squeals.

Rain-on-the-windowpane moments of solemn gazing occur on the moody double-bass quivering, snuggled forlorn sax reflection ‘Sonitu’, and on the swirled wind blowing through the spiritual jazz cannon’s chimed and trinket percussion, elegant serenade ‘Sunday 20’.

For excursions further afield, the trio take us on an exotic journey to more fiery climes on the gong struck announced ‘Subtropical’ – imagine Jef Gilson and Les Baxter sound-tracking some mating ritual in the sort of hip but down-at-heel tropical nightspot, draped with fishing nets; where the clientele are of course wearing the Breton stripes, dancing away to Candido’s banging away on the congas.

A surprising route to take, Timo and his compatriots’ return to the classics on an album of both accentuated and dynamic jazz swing; boosted by the most beautiful of strings accompaniments. 

Various  ‘Cameroon Garage Funk’
(Analog Africa)  3rd September 2021

Blistering hot, howled ravers from an undiscovered treasure trove of 60s and 70s Cameroon Afro-garage, Afro-funk and Afro-psych records, Analog Africa have dug deep once more to bring us yet another essential compilation of lost or forgotten nuggets.

This bustling tropical survey tells the story of the country’s capital nightspots and the groups that frequented them, on what sounds like an unbelievably impressive live scene. But away from the sweltering heat of those busy dance floors, Cameroon lacked most of the facilities needed to record and promote it. Instead, it was left to covertly recording under the radar of an Adventist church, on the down low in between services and the ire of the priests. For a price, bands could use the church’s rudimental but sound recording equipment and incognito engineer, Monsieur Awono. Whoever had the readies could also then buy the master reel. But then what?  

Without a proper distribution network and few label opportunities, groups had to rely on the French label Sonafric. As it happened this imprint was very forgiving, open to anything it seems, and in a rare example of altruism releasing records on merit alone. The results of this generous spirit can be heard on, what is, a quite eclectic spread of genres and themes: ‘garage funk’ being a good springboard for a selection that reaches beyond its title grabber.

Low tech in many ways, yet the music on offer, leaps out of the speakers: the louder the better. For example, Jean-Pierre Djeukam’s squealing organ introduction opener, ‘Africa Iyo’, is a twitching Africa Screams like stonker that fully encompasses the “garage funk” tag.  But whilst this is a James Brown in league with The Gators style stormer, the next track, ‘Sie Tcheu’, takes some imbued guidance from Curtis Mayfield. Joseph Kamga, guitar virtuoso of the L’Orchestre Super Rock’ a Fiesta pedigree, lets loose on that 1974 “jerk tune”; sung, it should be noted, in the country’s largest ethnic language of Bamiléké.

It should also be noted at this point that Cameroon was under both French and British rule until 1961. They gained independence firstly from the French, in one half of the country, the year before, and then from Britain the following year. This brought in a renewed thrust and vigor for Cameroon traditions and its pre-colonial history, which filtered through to the music. Groups like the impressive Los Camaroes (the house band at the edgy Mango bar) incorporated a local version of the Rhumba, Méringue (the style that would blaze through the Latin world but stared in Africa), and the local Bikutsi style (the literal translation of which is “beat the earth”). They appear twice on the compilation, but it’s their tropical hammock swayed ‘Ma Wde Wa’ that favours this sauntered, often local, array of rhythms best. In comparison ‘Esele Malema Moam’ moves to an elliptical rhythm, more in keeping with New Orleans funk.

Transported across the Atlantic, seasoned and well-travelled talent Charles Lembe evokes Afro-Cuban gaucho vibes on ‘Qwero Wapatcha’. An interesting fella, moving at the age of sixteen to Europe, Lembe signed his first record deal with Vogue records in 1959, going on to write French film scores, open the rather poorly chosen named La Plantation club in Paris, and release his own The Voice Of Africa LP – Myriam Makebla and Henry Belafonte no less, asked permission to reinterpret his ‘Mota Benoma’ tune too.

The rest of the compilation seems to owe, at least some, debt to Fela Kuti. The architect of Afrobeat can certainly be felt on Tsanga Dieudonne’s ‘Les Souffrances’; written incidentally by Johnny Black, who’s owb Ewondo dialect advisory themed, Otis grabs James Brown styled, groover ‘Mayi Bo Ya?’ is a highlight. Willie Songue and his ‘Les Showmen’ sound like they may have even influenced late 70s Can with the whacker wah-wah flange peddled, live sounding, relaxed funk track ‘Moni Ngan’.

Cameroon garage funk is a riot; an encapsulation of a musically rich eco-system that managed to break on through despite all the setbacks and the lack of facilities. This compilation is the story of a conjuncture of Western and Cameroon styles; with the emphasis on corrupting those cross-Atlantic radio influences into something distinctly African. It’s another great introduction.

Various  ‘The Land Of Echo: Experimentations And Visions Of The Ancestral In Peru (1975-1989)’  (Buh Records)  27th August 2021

Photo Credit: Tony D’Urso

The second compilation this month to receive my seal of approval, Buh Records points me in the direction of the experimental fusions of mid 70s and 80s Peru. Surveying a conjuncture of brave new sounds and the country’s traditions, this pretty self-explanatory entitled compilation unveils both unreleased and released obscure explorations from a clutch of mavericks and forgotten pioneers who pushed the South American sonic envelope.

Mainly due to the political turbulence and a lack of studios, distribution and the like, most of the artists on this collection either self released recordings from their rudimental home studio set-ups, or, found opportunity to test the perimeters in the very few official facilities that existed: with labels such as Corva, and in studios such as Alliance Fançaise. 

Due to the ruling regime of this period’s emphasis on promoting Peru’s culture and traditions, and because of intense economic migration to the cities (in particular the capital, Lima), there was a greater exposure to the sounds of the country’s mountains and rainforest topography; many of which ended up being transformed by the lineup on this inaugural compilation.

Artists, composers working in the fields of rock, jazz, the contemporary classical and avant-garde began to merge and manipulate those localised customs and sounds into a new South American hybrid. The results of which can be heard on Omar Aramayo’s wind pipe Andean mountain peregrination ‘Nocturno 1’. From the lofty heights of a mountain’s crust, Omar it seems tracks the airy flight of an eagle, whilst evoking an atmospheric mirage of a train’s reverberated chuffed steam and the dreamy contouring of its magical journey. In contrast to that ambient minor symphony, Corina Barta swoons, exults, sings strange arias over both messenger and detuned drums on the mesmerising new age ‘Jungle’.

In the mid 70s Ave Acústica produced the sort of tape manipulations you might hear both Can and Faust playing around with it. A previously unreleased sound collage, produced on magnetic tape, announces each hissy segment of inner piano workings, radio dial fuckery and atmospheric downpours with a repeated Peruvian guitar motif on the avant-garde suite ‘Liegue a Lima al Atardecar’. Another unreleased track, ‘Indio de la Ciudad’ by Miguel Flores, leans towards Cage with an almost avant-garde experiment of classical heralded layered trumpets. 

The most obvious sounds of the futurism however, can be heard on Luis David Aguilar’s mid 80s Casio CZ10000 synthesizer heavy ‘La Tarkeada’. Touches of Sakamoto and Eno permeate this space-y bubbled wah-wah rayed and arpeggiator dotted neo-classical transformation of an Andean ancestral melody.

Echoes of Tangerine Dream, Oscar Peterson, Anthony Braxton, Cluster and the Fluxus arm of music can be heard in tandem with Peru’s most synonymous panpipes sound, but also disturbances of the local bird life (lots of flight and wing flapping going on) and spiritual inspired ritual. What all these experimental composers capture is an essence of a revitalised Peruvian culture, whilst dreaming about a more inclusive future.

Variát  ‘I Can See Everything From Here’
(Prostir)  10th September 2021

Ukrainian multimedia artist and co-label launcher Dmyto Fedorenko makes an abrasive, thickset and caustic noisy statement of mystery and forebode on his latest dissonant album.

Under the Variát alias the static, fizzled and pulverized pulsating sonic sculptor uses a busted and transmogrified apparatus of blown amps, hammer thumped toms, cymbals that have been drilled to make unpredictable resonating distortions, and countless found objects to conjure up the most heavy and deep of savage and alien discomfort.

One artist’s reaction to the times we now live in, launched from Fedorenko’s own Prostir imprint that he set-up with fellow electronic music experimentalist Kateryna Zavoloka, the album’s eight fizzing contortions burble, squeal, scream and drone lethargically with unknown ritualistic invocation.

The accompanying PR notes tell me that this project (in part) was conceived last year as a ‘provocative outlet’ for transgression, reinvention and liberation. This all becomes a bestial, doomed industrial freedom when channeled through a fried crunched distortion. Unknown propelled craft hover as the stark brushes and scrapes of an electric guitar are magnified to sound like an unholy alliance of Sunn O))) and The Telescopes. Reversed sharpened blades, searing drones, metal machine music concrete, vaporised static, the sound of a robbed manic knocking on the gates of Hades and various bone and gristle menace converge as leviathans, secret ceremony and regurgitations emerge from the discordant mass.

Itchy-O, Faust and Emptyset bring in augurs and break the limits in a suffused display of heavy metal primitivism, as Variát craves out meaning, description and evocations from a corrosive block of fucked-up serpent like dark materials. It’s probably, exactly, the right sound we need at the moment. 

Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Balgay Hill: Morning In Magnolia’
(Clay Pipe Music)  20th August 2021

Seeking a sanctuary away from the collective anxieties and uncertainties of the Covid-19 age, the Dundee composer Andrew Wasylyk found that it’s a beautiful world once you disconnect from the hyperbole and relentless crisis negativity fed to us minute-by-minute through the gogglebox and Goggle hub.

His safe haven, the city’s Victorian period Balgay Park, proved both a solace and sonic inspiration for this latest album of evocative captured-in-the-moment peregrinations and hymns to natures eternal optimistic dawn rise.

A sort of ambient waft along the park trail, with fragrant and almost cosmic reflective stops at the astronomical observatory (the first and only public built one in the UK) sitting beside the flowery and fauna at the adjourning cemetery and from atop of the panoramic view that reaches out across the Firth of Tay’s inner estuary.

Eased in with both the glazed light of a Dundee Spring and the suffused swaddled and warm dreamy trumpet and flugelhorn of fellow Taysider Rachael Simpson, Wasylyk once more pays an ambient – with hazy pastoral touches of the psychedelic and even esoteric – homage to his home city’s psychogeography. For there is a marking, musically, of not just the passing of time but an acknowledgment also to those who’ve lived and followed a similar lifetime in the one-time jute manufacturing capital. There’s even a track title, ‘Smiling School For Calvinists’, that references Bill Duncan’s short stories collection of imagined and all too real characters eking out a living or existence in a slightly surreal vision of Dundee – alternating between the insular fishing community of Broughty Ferry and the imposing tower blocks of the nearby city.

The soundtrack to this world layers dappled gauzes of the Boards Of Canada and epic45 with the ambience of Eno and Forest Robots; the accentuated and caressed bendy guitar playing of Junkboy and Federico Balducci with just a hint of 70s children’s TV ghost stories.

The abstract essence of a place and mood are made no less concrete or real by this lovely, often mirage-like soundtrack. Sounds, instrumentation plays like the light source material that inspired it, whether it’s the undulating synthesized bobbled notes or the winding, meandering melodies of piano. Grayscale-like fades come alive with the occasional breakout of padded and pattered drums and, on the sweet colliery trumpeted and gilded piano rich, already mentioned, book title, a pre-set bossa groove.

Casting a timeless spell, worries seem to evaporate as Wasylyk gently immerses the listener into another world: the bustle, movement of a city is still there, but a most scenic film of escape keeps it all at bay behind cushioning fauna. Balgay Hill is another wonderful, peaceable yet evocative album from the Dundee maestro.

Steve Hadfield  ‘See The World Anew Vol.1’
(See Blue Audio)  27th August 2021

It’s been a miserable, anxious and unsecure eighteen months for all of us; the political and generational divisions, already torrid enough before the advent of Covid-19, now like chasms. Yet for many it’s also been a time of catharsis, an opportunity to concentrate on what matters the most. Leeds electronic music artist Steve Hadfield is one such soul, sharing the collective experiences of lockdown, but also impacted by a number of personal life changes unrelated to the miasma of the pandemic. Inspired by his young daughter to look at the world, universe with fresh wide-eyed wonder and new perspective, Hadfield is spurred on to create a new series of ambient suites dedicated to stargazing and atmospheric discovery.

Following a prolific release schedule in 2021, Hadfield’s ‘most ambient’ statement has been saved for the blossoming ambient and beyond label See Blue Audio. And so volume one of this universal wonderment feels like the multiple stages of an ascendance into space; there’s even a mirage melting, serene spherical gliding suite named ‘Ascension’ for heaven’s sake!

Reacquainting with the night sky Hadfield offers up moonbeam corridors of light, reversed cosmic white noise, detuned Tibetan like ceremonial percussion, and a veiled untethered waltz in the great expanse. The composer takes off aboard some sort of propelled craft through an arching buzzed ‘Mesosphere’ towards an orbital avant-garde.

Volume One is a sensitive, often mysterious, but always interestingly serene start to a period of renewed reflection and discovery.

Simon McCorry  ‘Flow’
(See Blue Audio)  10th September 2021

The highly prolific “cellist sound-sculptor of ambiguous environments” and composer Simon McCorry has appeared numerous times this year on the blog. Just last month I featured his Critical; Mass collaboration with the Washington D.C. duo of Requiem (of which a second volume is set to be released next month), and before that, his Nature In Nature EP for the burgeoning ambient and beyond label See Blue Audio. For that very same label (and the second See Blue release to be featured in this month’s roundup) imprint McCorry plucks inspiration from out of the air and the psychogeography of the Lake District, the Outer Hebrides’ Isle Of Harris, and the Orkney Islands on the almost uninterrupted Flow suites showcase. 

Treading in ancient times, the unknown mysticisms and mysterious essences we’ve attached to our atavistic ancestors in those locations is picked up by McCorry’s sonic antenna and channeled into five flowing sequences of ambient and kosmische style immersions. The source of which stems from one long improvisation; created using Eurorack modules passed through to cassette tape and further processed to acquire a degraded feel, like something that’s been left lain dormant and undiscovered under the dirt: a kind of mood board time capsule if you will.

Imbued by those surroundings, and the various stone circles that stand in some of them, McCorry ushers in the autumnal light and low sun rises as seasonal rituals indicate the last moments of the summer.  Horizon gazing sun worship, supernatural elements, vibrating force fields, slowly bowed ascending and descending tubular elevations, and searing drones seem the order of the day as the adroit composer manages to produce a natural, organic vision of synthesized machine made mood music. The roots of which start in the landscape and travel up towards the sci-fi.

Deep yet translucent, McCorry’s stream of conscious ambience has both weight and a mirage-like quality. Its yet another angle, a side to his craft; a most appealing, entranced and mystical work of airy suspense and investigation. 

Sone Institute  ‘After The Glitter Before The Decay’
(Mystery Bridge Records)  6th September 2021

Not quite left behind, nor entirely bound to the next stage of decay, Roman Bezdyk emerges from the ruins of one glittery age to contour, reverberate and evoke both mysterious and ominous atmospheres on his new Sone Institute album.

Crouched in post-industrial wastelands, gazing at the stars, the UK-based electronic musician, guitarist and producer conveys both dreams and nightmarish environments of unknown specters, shapes and broadcasts on what amounts to a kosmische, ambient and experimental guitar styled soundtrack to a resigned future shock.

You could say it follows on from Bezdyk’s previous New Vermin Replace Old EP from April. There’s even a second ‘Studded By Stars’ chapter; although it’s a more industrial, post-rock like journey into the alien as opposed to the first version’s stratospheric ambient glide.

Against obstructed and ghostly transmissions, cosmic sonic hymnal synthesized voices, beams of light, digital code calculations and veiled gray environments Bezdyk adds serial and resonated guitar gestures, brushes. With much delay, sometimes flange, and always plenty of lunar echo, his guitar wrangling, air hanging notes and gentle sweeps recall elements of Günter Schickert, Manuel Göttsching and an even more strung out version of Ry Coder. On the apparitional entitled ‘Insect House’ that same guitar sound apes the craning and scuttled movements of those said creepy-crawlies, whilst also evoking a sweltered heat and a strange bowing rustic saw. 

Whilst new Rome crumbles and burns, Bezdyk imagines broody spy thrillers piano music played by Cage (‘Echo Zulu India’) and Bernard Szajner like envisioned sci-fi. Wherever he’s taking us it sounds as alien as it does foreboding; a crumbling visage of the world headed for the shitter. 

Blue Mysteries  ‘Dislocated’
(Hive Mind Records)  10th September 2021

I can sympathize greatly with Marc Teare, the humanoid behind the Dislocated Blue Mysteries alias and head honcho at the global sounds (and beyond) label Hive Mind. Suffering greatly from bastard cluster headaches myself in the past, I know exactly what he’s going through. As a distraction from this heavy leaden fog and intense painful experience, Teare assimilates with a number of A.I. sonic software applications on his new project.

Not so much removing himself from the process, as that title may suggest, but more in keeping with how the curse of those headaches can not only course chronic pain but ‘dislocate’ a person from everything around them. Teare actually ties and propounds this same damaging feeling in with the dislocation so many of us have felt during the COVID pandemic.

Intuitive as he might be, he’s left much of the work to the transmogrified re-programming of Khyam Allami & Counterpoint’s Apotome and, the electronic artist, Holly Herndon’s ‘digital twin’ Holly+. The first is a free browser-based generative music system that enables users to explore transcultural tunings, the second, a custom vocal and instrumental interface in which users can upload polyphonic audio to a website and receive it back, sung in Herndon’s voice. Of course it all depends on whatever source material you feed it as to how effective the results.  In this case, Teare has initiated very odd, hallucinogenic and acid lunar dream of library music sci-fi and inner mind-bending. 

Like a transformed twist of Asmus Tietchens, Stereolab and Klaus Weiss, dislocated from their own times, this chiming, twinkled and chemistry set bubbled and burbling soundtrack floats freely inside a psychedelic lava lamp. Droplets, sometimes arpeggiator flows of bobbing chimes make vague connections to the Far East, Thailand, even Polynesia. On the gulp filtered slow beat primordial soup ‘Humming, Pre-Dawn’ there’s a touch of electronic bamboo music; removed to sound like detuned chopsticks. Something approaching aria-like voices (of a sort) appear like whelping alien creatures and higher squawking space mice on ‘Shadows’. In a manner Blue Mysteries floats around a strange retro-library futurism of droning crafts, crystallised notes (some of which pierce, others, linger with sonorous effects), blades of bass-y synth and liquid movements. Concentrating the mind like nothing else can, Teare escapes the numbing pain to an imaginary sonic flotsam; handing over at least some of his escape route to A.I., and so in the process creating something lucidly weird and mirage-like. These cluster headaches fortunately pass, returning either sporadically or years later. Though this is an interesting sonic album, let’s hope for Teare’s sake those headaches never return. 


Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona




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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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





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




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

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

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

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

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





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




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

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

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

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

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






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




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

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

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

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





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




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

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

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

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






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




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

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

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

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






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




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

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

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

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

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




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




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

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

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

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






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

Premiere/Dominic Valvona




Simon McCorry  ‘Pieces Of Mind’
(Close Recordings)  Single/24th April


We’ve been spoiled of late with a flurry of Simon McCorry releases, this being the second ‘premiere’ of his work to be hosted by the Monolith Cocktail in recent months. The Minimalist Acid Techno imbibed ‘Pieces Of Mind’ single however is an entirely different composition to the previous standalone ambient peregrination single ‘The Nothing That Is’; that was a stirring suite of atonal art borne out of the acclaimed composer and cellist original score for Javaad Alipoor’s play Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran – which premiered at Traverse as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019.

Subtle, incipient with Techno undulations, metallic springs and nodes working away below the chiming polygons and skirting zinc, ‘Pieces Of Mind’ channels a myriad of influences from the 90s acid/warehouse scene; artists such as Plastikman, Autechre, System 7 and The Orb, the latter for whom he has recently opened for. Personally, this was in my humble opinion the golden age of the burgeoning electronic music scene. It’s where I first cut my own teeth as an aspiring DJ – I’ll save that story for another day if you don’t mind.

As Simon explains, “composed entirely with the analogue mono synth the Dreadbox Erebus, ‘Pieces of Mind’ is an invocation of nostalgic memories of pre-dawn wanderings around London after warehouse parties, taking in the freshness and calm of the morning before the madness of the city came roaring into life”.

Not so much a change in direction, as an excursion, we should be used to McCorry’s constantly expanding explorations; this is an artist after all that has performed in arenas as diverse as the concert hall, the church and the gallery space. An artist who’s just as comfortable composing and manipulating frayed and bowed cello articulations and field recordings as he is constructing a synthesized memory of the 90s rave phenomenon.

Airing a day head of its official release via McCorry’s own Close Recordings imprint, ‘Piece Of Mind’ is officially released on Friday the 24th April 2020.




Background

Originally born in London to mixed Indian/British heritage, McCorry trained in cello at The Centre for Young Musicians & Morley College then studied philosophy at Durham University. He is now based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As a performer McCorry is well travelled, he has performed at many prestigious events and institutions including in Orlando Warrior with Julia Cheng at the South Bank as part of China Changing Festival 2017. In 2019 live highlights also included appearances at Stroud Jazz Festival and Camp Elsewhere in Wales alongside Alabaster dePlume and Snapped Ankles.


Related posts from the Archives:

The Nothing That Is Premiere

Border Land LP Review



The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi:

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

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’

Video/Single
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: James Kriszyk



Simon McCorry  ‘The Nothing That Is’
(Close Recordings)  Single/7th February 2020


Following on from last year’s acclaimed (especially by us) ambient album of field recording manipulations Border Land, classically trained cellist and composer Simon McCorry is back with an equally evocative, though far less supernatural and mysterious, work of atonal art, ‘The Nothing That Is’.

Created from the musical ideas that informed his involvement with the original score for Javaad Alipoor’s play Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran – which premiered at the Traverse as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 -, ‘The Nothing That Is’ peregrination is a subtly airy and stripped back performance that builds upon McCorry’s use of live looping and computer processing: processes and technologies that transform the cello to sound ever more ambiguous.

As McCorry explains it: “Each layer [on ‘The Nothing That Is’] has one sustained note followed by silence. As one note finishes the next is added. An overall harmonic motion is established that pushes the piece to its conclusion. There is no melodic solo line to tie everything together. The cycling individual tones all together create an emotive power. By themselves they are just looped individual notes and reveal nothing.”

Imbued with Brian Eno’s pioneering long tape loop works of Discreet Music and in part by ‘Fratres, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt, The Nothing That Is – which takes its title from a line in the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens’ seminal and empirical ‘The Snowman’ poem –The Nothing That Is continues McCorry’s exploration of compositional techniques that perfectly marry sound, space and silence.

Expanding on the track and accompanying video, McCorry explains, “My thought is being influenced by reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World or rather I’m finding a lot that resonates in how I’m thinking at the moment. The Nothing That Is video looks at diverse processes and their cycles in time and how they are all similar, whether “artificial” or “natural”. They all ‘flow’ and ‘ebb’ in similar ways. There is also an underlying theme of the anthropocene and the decay of civilization, the tension between our dominant ‘modern’ logical positivist approach to the world around us and dislocation from ourselves as other animals, as living breathing entities in a living breathing environment.”

The Monolith Cocktail is pleased to share with its readers the precursor video version of this track ahead of its official release tomorrow, Friday the 7th February 2020.


 







Background: Having worked as a composer for theatre, contemporary dance and circus, McCorry has channeled his experiences of creatively supporting the conveyance of a narrative or theme and laid down a series of responses to what he sees in the world at large. Originally born in London to mixed Indian/British heritage, McCorry trained in cello at The Centre for Young Musicians & Morley College then studied philosophy at Durham University. He is now based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As a performer McCorry is well travelled, he has performed at many prestigious events and institutions including in Orlando Warrior with Julia Cheng at the South Bank as part of China Changing Festival 2017 and more recently supported luminaries such as ambient electronic legends The Orb.

Further Reading From The Archives:

Border Land in review from 2019

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