A LOOK AT WHAT’S OUT THERE/DOMINIC VALVONA

FIRST RESPONDERS: SINGLES/VIDEOS/TRACKS

Jane Inc. ‘Contortions’
(Telephone Explosion Records)

Pretty enamoured with Toronto music scene instigator Carlyn Bezic‘s most recent incarnation, Jane Inc., the debut fruits from that solo endeavour, last year’s Number One album, made our ‘choice albums of 2021’. Something different, escapist even from Carlyn’s musical partnership with Amanda Crist in the synth pop duo Ice Cream, and her roles as a foil to Meg Remy in U.S. Girls and Darlene Shrugg, the Jane persona pouts as much as agonizes under a glitter ball, the rays of light that sparkle from its mirror reflective spins turning into needle sharp cuts at topics that include the harmful effects of social media, our sense of self worth, and the soul-sucking results of gentrification. On a similar but different wave, Carlyn ups the sparse pop and Moroder-esque arpeggiator ratio (with what sounds like a feint echo of Chaka Khan) on her new Jane Inc. single ‘Contortion’. Label mate Dorothea Paas (of U.S. Girls, Badge Epoque Ensemble fame) offers ethereal like backing vocal on an anxious sentiment about time.

The second Jane Inc. album, Faster Than I Can Take, is release by Telephone Explosion on the 22nd April 2022. Keep an eye out for our review.

Širom ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts Into Sleep’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Declaration time. Yes, I did write the press release, words for this exceptional imaginative folk and avant-garde Slovene trio. And so it does feel a little odd recommending it, but here we go. From the dream-realists new and most epic, transportive long form album yet, The Liquified Throne of Simplicity, the incredible scenic, illusionary and pastoral ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts into Sleep’.

For the first time the trio ignore the normal time constraints of a standard vinyl record to fashion longer, more fully developed entrancing and hypnotising peregrinations. This new, amended, approach results in 80 minutes of abstract and rustic folklore, explorative intensity and cathartic ritual. And within that array of realms there’s evocations of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World experiments, visions of Samarkand, the esoteric mysteries of Tibet, an unplugged faUSt and pastoral hurdy-gurdy churned Medieval Europe.

The Liquified Throne of Simplicity will be released via Glitterbeat Records on the 8th April 2022.

Crystal Eyes ‘Don’t Turn Around’
(Bobo Intergral)

Thankfully not a god awful version of Azwad’s hit, but something far more promising: hazed psychedelic and 80s alt-rock dream propulsions. Yes, the Alberta band are back with a new softened pummel of gauze-y moodiness. Guitar riffs communed from Joy Division, Simple Minds and U2 ring out and are held over a live drum loop, and C86 via shoegaze wafted, and almost howled, Anita Lane reminiscent vocals. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ is taken from the upcoming album, The Sweetness Restored, released via Bobo Integral on the 22nd April 2022.

PTČ ‘LP’

The second track/video from Slovenia this week, couldn’t be more different. The Ljubljana based duo of PTČ must be part of one of the smallest minority genres in Europe: Slovenian Hip-Hop. That aside, they’re really good, and this is the second track we’ve covered – last summer it was the duo’s ‘PAPAGAJ’ single, which featured fellow compatriot and rapper Vazz (check him out on youtube).

New single-video ‘LP’ (that tile refers to the Slovene abbreviation for yours truly) takes us through some of the Slovenian capital’s hidden gems to the sound of experimental Massive Attack like break beats, long moody synth, and a deep sense of unease.

THE ALBUMS AND EXTENDED RELEASES

Houseplants ‘II’
(Win Big Records) 4th March 2022

It’s a difficult task, keeping up with the highly prolific Oli Heffernan. Another season, another alias and moniker. This time around it’s a return to the Houseplants collaboration, a relatively short exchange with only one previous release to its name (a debut cassette from 2016).

Six years on, arriving in the wake of a multitude of projects (King Champion Sounds, University Challenged) and after a long run of Ivan The Tolerable releases, Oli is back with oft foil Leighton Crook (of Country Teasers, Arndales and Badgewearer infamy) to put the world to rights on the succinct entitled II hallucination. To further the dreamy, languid cause, the ranks are swelled by Neil Turpin’s (of Bilge Pump, Objections and Yann Tiersen providence) live drums and Robbie Major’s (of Benefits) synths. All together they traverse a despondent broken land and trawl the Internet of shame, with Leighton drip-feeding a deadpan and disdainful “eat dirt and die” form of gonzo and street philosophy poetry over swimmingly dubby, krautrock and psychedelic waves of music. 

With a wide net cast the influences are unending; the beat and spoken word delivery of ‘The Barrows’ evoking Renegade Soundwave, Dan Tracey, Ian Dury, Jah Wobble, the Untied Knot and a droopy Spaceman 3. ‘I Want To Drive You Home’ could be a lost Silver Apples communion with a relaxed motorik Klaus Dinger; perhaps even Fujiya & Miyagi caught in a vortex with Unlimited outtakes Can and the 13th Floor Elevators. ‘Half A Monkey Loser’ sounds more like The Specials on the mosquito coast – though one repeated echoed sound evokes the thawing out dripping of icicles. Lyric wise a pretty vacant haze of dystopian capitalism and online miasma is delivered over that semi-tropical backing: “I am a new Nostradamus, an old school rapper, your best friend online, and your favourite stripper. I have one million dollars and a soul like a crater.”  

By the end declaration the musical mood is more Alan Vega and the Stardust Cowboy; a gauzy, druggy malaise that contrasts the gammon faced insults of the lyrics.

My take is a cosmic, lava lamp acid trip with lax post-punk and krautrock inspirations, laid down for a rich if defeated narration and poetry reading summary of a miserable world filled the nouveau riche, online influencers, greedy avarice, unbalanced capitalism (take that has a given), the shambolic decisions taken at Westminster, Brexit (another given), fake news misinformation and the stirring up of division: did I miss anything? We are but apes wearing ties, caught up in the maelstrom; locked into the vacuous unimportance of trivia: something like that anyway. Make room in the house for these, anything but innocuous, plants, you won’t regret it.


Nova Charm ‘Bracelet’
(Pain Management) 4th March 2022

Scanning a desolate opioid-dependent wasteland of mental stresses in the tent cities of a one-sided, unbalanced, unkind and failed economic strategy, the dissonant union of both the candid, chronic and near-hysterical wordsmith Die The Monk and skull-crush industrial beatmaker N.O.I.S.E.W.I.Z.A.R.D. grind and drill on their opening salvo debut, Bracelet.  

The inaugural pummelling and paranoiac statement from the duo marks not only their first furore but introduces us to this partnership’s ambitions as a self-starter label collective, which promises a host of like-minded, bruised and battered by the system artist releases throughout 2022, all under the Pain Management umbrella. Spilt personality psychosis and millennial Salinger echoes of phony-ism, corruption and the pressures of a 24/7 connective online lifestyle are wrapped up in a part scowled, part resigned, part seething style of trap and industrial rap. This is delivered over and around a concentrated, heavy menace of underpass grime, sinister NIN-like beat tortures, the hyperventilated and the most caustic of noises. Together it sounds like a brilliant pneumatic headache of Death Grips, Ghostemane, IC3Pack, Nick Blackos, Nukuluk, Gizmo and Cadence Weapon. On the strength of this, I’d say this union and collective look very promising.   

Deepak Pandit & Pratibha Singh Baghel w/the Budapest Symphony Orchestra ‘Inheritance’ 
(Sufiscore) 14th February 2022

The idea, to breathe new life into the 19th century Indian romantic poems and melodies known as “thumris”, is certainly all correct and proper. Yet the collaboration between the acclaimed composer/violinist Deepak Pandit, the diaphanous voiced Hindustani singer Pratibha Singh Baghel and the post WWII established Budapest Symphony Orchestra proves pretty timeless.

Sentimental, romantic and plaintive poetics from an age of tumult, including the exiled (by the British Raj) last king of Awadh, Wajid Al Shah’s morning Raga-inspired and much cherished ‘Babul Mora Najhar Chhooto Jaye’ (reconfigured and shortened to ‘Babul More’: “oh father of mine”), are indeed given a beautifully dramatic lift and swoon.

Pratibha channels her Bollywood cinematic grounding, a suggestion of stage, theatre to reach softly undulated ethereal heights and to reflect various states of emotion: longing, yearning and heartily romantic. Her incredible voice floats or fluctuates over the brassy resonating drones, fluttered and tapped table and the orchestral swells, spirals and moving punctuations.

Deepak’s twenty-year spanning work with the late “ghazel” vocal legend Jagit Singh puts him in good stead for composing the right tones and arrangements for his foil of five years; especially on the adapted ‘Hamari Atariya’ (“come to my balcony”). This lyrical landscape analogy thumri waivers beautifully between Raga, jazz, the classical and balletic. The latter is hardly surprising, as this 19th century form is also associated with dance and dramatic gestures (mind eroticism too!), the name deriving itself from the Hindi verb “thumakna”, which means to “walk with dancing steps so the ankle bells tinkle”. There’s plenty of that going on by the way; shaking, chimed and shimmered danced trinkets and bells.

All of which is augmented and lifted even further by the Daniel Boico led Budapest Symphony Orchestra, those signature Indian sounds and gestures given a greater atmosphere and rousing sense of gravitas. This collaborative merger sounds positively cinematic on the aching, sorrowful mused ‘Saiyaah Bina’, and almost starry on the ascending strings-rich ‘Lakhon Ke Bol’.

It’s a match made in heaven; a passing of the baton to another generation who’ve managed to capture the poetic forms courtly and romantic sensual origins whilst expanding the musical scope and delivery. Inheritance is a lovingly, vocally outstanding, crafted vision of that extraordinary language and art. 

Ismabard Khroustaliov ‘Shanzhai Acid’
(Not Applicable Recordings) 4th March 2022

The award winning, far too qualified, electronic and sound composer Sam Britton is at it again, fusing humankind with the machine in yet another A.I. type project; this time around interacting with modular synthesizers to create some very ‘granular’ fizzled and whirred space oddities.

A serial offender in this department with the notable Long Division and Fake Fish Distribution experiments and through collaborations with such lauded operators as the Aphex Twin (via the Remote Orchestra project) and Matthew Herbert (New Radiophonic Workshop), Britton, under the Ismabard Khroustaliov alias, lets automation, through some guidance, once more lets digital do the talking and thinking. The results of which prove simultaneously quaintly amusing, galactic, supernatural, scientific, haywire and messed up.

Both signals from Geiger-counters and Fortean Times spirit detectors click across a rewired kosmische bed of raspberry blowing electronics, propeller powered leviathans and slithered fuzz on the first few ‘cybernetic’ experiments. After that it’s all disjointed beeper communications, cosmic feedback, flutters, zips, bity-ness, squints and accelerating loop-da-loops.

The notes mention Autuchere and Fennesz, which seems fair, but you can also add a touch of Faust’s synth oscillating maverick Gunter Westhoff’s solo work, maybe some Kluster (when Conrad Schnitzler was in tow) and even some µ-Ziq to that list.

Of course, all electronic music in some degree is autonomous, and has certainly made it easier to replace, make humans surplus to requirement. But in this instance, I’m assured humans won’t be replaced anytime soon. Still, a very interesting project.     

Bank Myna ‘Volaverunt’
(Araki Records/A La Dérive Records (CA)/Stellar Frequencies/Duality Records/Cold Dark Matter Records) 25th February 2022

Highly atmospheric invocations of Gothic, doom and incense-burning Byzantine dark arts are conjured up by the French trio of Bank Myna on their debut multilingual album, Volaverunt (which translates as “they flew away”).

Composed in ‘one go’, an almost seamless five-act singular soundtrack, this mystical suffused esoteric turn is a slow-burning candle lit covenant of wafted ethereal siren vocals and sustained skulking acid-folk, psych-magick and krautrock. A gradual build-up of the Telescopes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor drone sculpting, the entrancing scores of early Popol Vuh and Tibetan evoked meditations of Ash Ra Tempel slowly hit a swelled, dramatic climax of scaling, squalling and heavy-loaded doomy drums as the trio stir the cauldron and cross the Styx. With an assemblage of chiming clocks and noise box effects alongside more traditional instrumentation and summoning vocals (though sometimes they sound like a very removed All About Eve) Bank Myna mix Greek tragedy with the industrial and Acid Mothers as they open up the doors of perception for an epic, progressive score that’s part dread, part allurement, but all very mystifyingly serious. 

Neuro…No Neuro ‘Faces & Fragments’
(Audiobulb Records) 2nd March 2022

Transducing an organized bauble of fizzled, blurred and decaying memories and recollections into a crisper hallucination of mostly clean tubular icicles, crystal bulb arpeggiator, primal pops and liquids, and a general cosmic oddness, the arid-plane based Tuscon, Arizona synthesist, drummer and artist Kirk Markarian delivers an electronic mirage with his new album, Faces & Fragments.  

Under the binary Neuro…No Neuro alias Kirk, we’re told, ‘illuminates fragments of memory and speech, as they wander out of focus in the growing aperture of time’.  This translates into 12 tracks – the final track and thirteenth, ‘And The Energy Goes Back To The Ground’, is the one exception (relatively a sci-fi ambient etude with orbiting synthesised waves) – of gate-clipped and interrupted Mouse On Mars bleeps, Sakamoto’s most far-out early 80s experiments on his new computer, cult library music, a futuristic scoring Vangelis and slurred, slowed down voices from inside the machine.

Fragments then of fuzzy hive buzzes, cartoon sounds and sub-bass grumbles flicker in and out of Kirk’s mind. A trip switch makes sure that the flow is, although mostly liquefied and spongy in sonic shaping, constantly stopped: Just as one detuned loop, Forbidden Planet power source, blob-y collection of notes, clicks and retro computer calculus appears it’s soon cut off. A strangely disrupted soundtrack appears like a futuristic dream from a broken feed. Kirk does however shine, illuminate with certain clarity on the most clean if weird of radiating abstract electronic navigations.

It’s as much down to his painter’s eye as it is his ear that these electronic episodes prompt the ‘synesthete’ in me: a mix of pastel-shaded pink oblongs and washed-out red cylinders and round bottomed shapes if you must know; not unlike Kirk’s album artwork itself. Colours, shapes, memory chips have never sounded quite so interesting.

Le Pietre Dei Giganti ‘Vetie e Culti’
(Overdub Recordings) 25th February 2022

The Florence quartet find runes, mystical masks and portals to other worlds instead of love seats or lovers initials craved into the trees of the esoteric forest they traverse on their second album, Vetie e Culti (or in English, “vetoes and cults”). For this is album is an atmospheric balance of dark arts and the light: the dreamy too.

Almost organic, naturel, a bridge between the surreal and magical characters of the artist alchemist DEM and us humans, this album proposes a sort of ‘co-existence’ between the Chthonian and Apollinarian: with all its crushing doubt dread and escapism. Latin deamonic and primal rituals meet on the forest pathway; the wild, barely tamed caravan of romanticists and philosophy bookworms invited to take leave of their hangups for a both supernatural and dramatic musical journey of highs and lows.

Le Pietre Dei Giganti embark on a successfully well-planned, thought out epic of Medieval romance, the classics, Dante’s Inferno, woodland folklore and grinding bestial black magic – like a doom-metal version of Aphrodite’s Child ala 666

If a Gothic Piano Magic led by a Tarot card fatalistic Mighty Joe Moon era Grant Lee Buffalo ever existed on some imaginary plane, this is what it would sound like. That and a spell of Soundgarden, Audioslave, Royal Blood, Muse, Mazeppa, Wovenhand and Pink Floyd. Actually, a lot of Floyd, albeit one lurking under dark forest canopies, ritualistically reaching out to the underworld, rather than setting the controls for the heart of the sun. 

Progressive then in parts, dragging a leaded coffin over crushed bones in others, this heavy vision also offers ambiguous monastic throat singers, timeless interludes, poetic Jeff Buckley vocal highs, shimmers of radiance, and on ‘Polvere’ (“dust”) even a brief glimpse of soft, languid hazy Bacharach trumpet.

I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but Vetie e Culti is a powerful grinded and enlightened fantasy from the Italian group; serious, pained yet open to far more optimistic escapism.

Gidouille ‘Zineogenesis’
(Wormhole World) 25th February 2022

It’s been a long since I’ve seen a Marshal McLuhan quote, let alone hear a record inspired by the media Cassandra. My own knowledge is rusty (it was over twenty years ago, in my formative years at art school since I studied him), but I’m surprised the 20th century philosopher’s soothsayer pronouncements haven’t gained more traction in a world he had foreseen; especially his good old maxim that ‘The medium is the message’ one-liner.

Falling out of style perhaps, his tracts on the future of media, its delivery, aren’t even disputed. Here, on Gidouille’s new release, Zineogenesis, his ‘laws of media’ are cut-up into quarters and represented through the prism of the ‘fanzine’; the physicality, attachment of which kept the avant-garde group going during the lockdowns.

Each heading (Enhance, Flip, Retrieve and Obsolesce) is discussed, treated across an experimental, atmospheric and often kosmische or krautrock art school sound and talked collage. From the mouths of four chosen fanzine heads, thoughts and documentary style encapsulations of the whys and wherefores of producing the tangible in the Internet age (a place in which long term relationships with creators is scarce and where the transient, surface is overpowering anything more meaningful and deeper) are merged with sound-effects and streams of consciousness music. In an era of click validation, the art of small interest fanzines reminds us of what we’ve lost; the ease, democratization (to a point) of blogging having mostly replaced those cottage industries. And so, it’s refreshing to hear such dedicated ventures, immortalised as they are on this homage (of a kind).

Invited to offer their perceptions, processes, self-awareness is TQ Zine’s Andy Wood, Letomagic Zone’s Jan Stöver (who also produced the artwork for this album), Curious British Television Zine’s Ben Ricketts and Breath Like The Trunk Of A Tree and a myriad of illustrative zines creator Jean McEwan. Their words are looped, often obscured, and melded with a highly experimental soundscape of constant Xerox photocopier printing, analogue bubbled pops and clicks, Morse and Geiger counter signals, lingering’s of saxophone and flute, and coarse electrode scratches. Distant suffusions of the heavenly, supernatural and mechanical appear throughout on four pieces of strange abstract curious devices; a meeting of underground figures in an ether of Cage, Froese, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Faust, Throbbing Gristle and the Italian and Spanish agit-political tape cultures of the 70s and 80s.

A celebration of that whole zine culture then, each participant in this exploration echoes, in their own inimitable fashion, McLuhan’s principles, augurs. In a nutshell, that every form of media ‘enhances’ something, can ‘flip’ it, ‘retrieves’ something from the past and makes something ‘obsolescent’ – the end process of the obsolete, outdated and no longer used. That final marker hasn’t quite come to fruition, as these zinesters are still hard at it, sharing their thoughts, writing, and producing art through a physical format: though Andy Wood brings up the idea of maybe creating a PDF version of his zine, already using the ‘flip’ principle by producing a CDR copy of a “virtual gig”. Jean McEwan for her part describes a whole list of reasons why she produces zines, seeing it as “a real valuable way of processing an experience”, of “exploring a thought”, “communicating and idea”.  But also, as a diary, a space in which to process and reflect.

Thank god such tactile souls exist. Ironically this review appears online, but the sentiment remains, as Homeboy Sandman and Edan once rapped in unison, “never use the internet again”. Down with the empirical and fatuous and viva the fanzines, because even in the face of an ever-growing screen-obsessed society these guys are fighting back with something far more tangible.

Park Jiha ‘The Gleam’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 25th February 2022

Into a fourth year partnership with the instrumental, exploratory tak:til label – a sister act to Glitterbeat Records – the adroit South Korean musician Park Jiha turns attention to the light on her third international solo album The Gleam.

The light in question, from the first gleams of sunrise to the last gleam of light that dies away as the day turns to night, is captured by Jiha who transduce’s the changeable, fleeting patterns and impressions of that source on a number of textures both naturalistic and coarse.

Previous albums have featured a number of collaborators, but this time around Jiha flies’ solo with a contemplated octet of suites; taking up a solitary position as a light gazer, recording what we often take for granted, the play, the natural geometric shapes of light and they way it indicates, measures time.

Unsurprisingly Covid had a lot to do with the manner in which The Gleam was fashioned: pushing back a performance of the ‘meditative improvisation’ ‘Temporary Inertia’, destined for a bunker-like designed space by the architect Ando Tadao. This frayed minimalistic encapsulation of daylight from the artist/observer brings this emotive, transporting album to a close, but it acts as a leitmotif, thematic inspiration for the rest of the album’s considered performances.

Jiha’s transformative sound is created by the use of a distinctive sounding ‘piri’ double-reed bamboo flute, the soaring twanged ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ, softly paddled ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer and the glockenspiel. Played separately, in couplets or together these mostly southeast Asian instruments can sound very exotic, and always atmospheric: ‘At Dawn’ evokes a sonorous, sometimes piercing, roused from sleep scenery that’s ancient and serene, whilst searing ray-lit mirrored ‘Sunshine; A Song Of Two Humans’ (originally created as a live soundtrack for the black and white movie of the same name) is almost venerable with the light pouring in through a stained glass window.

Park Jiha successfully and intricately conveys a sprawling, fanned and also singular evanescent light source that never quite falls upon the array of surfaces or in the spaces that the artist instinctively reflects, in the exact same way twice.

Something we often take for granted – painter’s aside – is made melodically and sonically eternal on yet another highly tactile, resonate album that pushes the boundaries and our understanding of South Korean music in the 21st century.

In these troubled times, with so much stacked against independent, unsponsored voices, you can help us to continue probing and delivering great new music:

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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