New Music Reviews/ Words: Dominic Valvona




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by Stella Sommer, Otis Sandsjö, Yiddish Glory, Yazz Ahmed, Franklin and Qujaku.



In another eclectic edition, with releases pulled together from across international date lines and genres, there’s the beautifully morose Nico-esque Gothic indie solo debut album from Stella Sommer (tipped as one of my albums of 2018 already); a no less striking debut from the Scandinavian jazz saxophonist Otis Sandsjö, who mixes European jazz styles and modernism with the cut-and-paste techniques of hip-hop and electronica in real time on the brilliant Y-OTIS; a remixed treatment EP of songs from Yazz Ahmed’s Arabian jazz suite La Saboteuse; the debut EP, Some Old Tracks, from the polygenesis psychedelic and pool splash electronic sample collage artist Franklin; and an intense dramatic overture like suite of post-punk, drone, Gothic psychedelia and doom from the skulking Japanese troupe Qujaku.

With more serious intentions, shining a light on a lost chapter in WWII Jewish history, I also look at the beautifully produced Yiddish Glory testimony of tragic laments, ballads and elegiac songs written by the Soviet Union’s Jewish community during the barbaric invasion of Russia.


Stella Sommer  ’13 Kinds Of Happiness’ (Affairs Of The Heart)  10th August 2018

 

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

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

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

Rather surprisingly, especially with the influences I’ve outlined, the torment and caustic swirls of the enveloping ominous fog cloaked dramatic title-track, vocally crosses Nico with Tim Booth of James fame. ‘Collapse/Collapsing’ even sounds a bit late 70s Fleetwood Mac, whilst ‘I Take An Interest’, with its ethereal lulling choruses and cathedral atmospherics isn’t a million miles away from a Holy Roman Empire inspired Beach House – imagine that!

The rest of this album is very much in the Germanic mode of religious drama and mystery. Hidden amongst the cloisters, Baroque drones and dark serious conservatism faith and tradition is brighter pop relief and troubadour, even Dylan-esque, odes on love, loss and anxiety. A perfect example of this serious but lilting, Gothic but often melodically harmonious counterpoint is the mellotron entrancing boat ride across a Kosmische river Styx, as painted by Caspar David Friedrich, ‘Boat On My River’. Following in the grand tradition of river songs, or alluding to Germany’s timeless relationship to the waters that run throughout its legacy, Sommer evokes Neu! and Cluster on this foreboding romanticized voyage, yet shows a certain vulnerability and lightness of touch too. That same vulnerability is also in evidence on the nocturnal, birds-of-a-feather duet with (I think) the lead singer (and fellow compatriot) of Tocotronic, Dirk Von Lowtzow, ‘Bird’s Of The Night’.

A curious Teutonic travail of venerable lovelorn despair and modesty, Sommer’s debut LP will take time to work its magic. But work its magic it will. A tremendous talent lyrically and vocally, serious and astute yet melodically enriching and lilted, her sagacious deep tones are starkly dramatic, but above all, rewarding. 13 Kinds Of Happiness is destined for many end of year lists; I for one, living with it for the past two months, find it one of 2018’s highlights, and one of the best debuts I’ve heard in ages. Here’s to a solo indulgence that I hope long continues.






Otis Sandsjö  ‘Y-OTIS’ (We Jazz Records)  1st June 2018

 

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

His debut album, released via the Helsinki festival and label platform, We Jazz Records, is a multilayered serialism suite of ideas and experimental visions. All of which, despite that complexity, keep an ear out for the melody.

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

Sandsjö’s own articulations as bandleader never grandstand or take precedent, let alone dominate; his saxophone in a constant suffused circular and flighty motion, always there yet often drifting and dissipating. Of course there are occasional bursts of flute-y soloing and more rapid energetic squawking.

Tripping both across space, counterpointing Jerry Goldsmith’s optimistic siren-ethereal Star Trekking with Kosmische, yet also inspired by tribal and soulful earthly vistas too, Sandsjö offers up some surprising musical evocations. The avant-garde snozzling, drum rim-tapping and lumbering funk ‘BOO!’ sounds like Tortoise and a chilled Dunkelziffer, whilst the dreamy merging, of what could be two entirely separate tracks, ‘YUNG’, with its elongated rhythms, could be Coldcut going at a warped Mardi Gras Afrobeat inspired improvisation.

Importantly Sandsjö offers a jazz style birthed from an eclectic melting pot of hip-hop, dance music and even more experimental edgier R&B; reorganized into a fresh exploration. If the ACT label, or ECM ever converges with Leaf and Anticon, Y-OTIS might well be the resulting album. As 2018 shapes up to be another great year for jazz releases, the inaugural album from Sandsjö and his troupe looks set to showcase a great talent, and make the end of year lists: it will most definitely make ours.






Yazz Ahmed  ‘La Saboteuse Remixed’  (Naim Records)  10th August 2018

 

 

Working her dreamy enchanted magic, encapsulating a transcendental, exotic version of Arabian jazz, on last year’s traversing trumpet suffused La Saboteuse LP, Yazz Ahmed calls on a congruous trio of remixers and artists to interpret a handful of peregrinations from that well-received suite.

This new EP of re-contextualized voyages and evocations also features, a sort of, new production hybrid that uses Ahmed and her producer Noel Langley’s self-sampling and deconstructing techniques to refashion a ‘fourth world’ sound collage. Inspired in part by Jon Hassell’s amorphous ‘possible musics’ experiments and the equally polygenesis floatisms and shifting lingers of Flying Lotus, ‘Spindrifting’, as the title suggests, languorously drifts between gauze-y environments and borders; re-placing fragments and textures from the La Saboteuse recordings.

Reflecting a constant unending journey of interpretation, filtered through ‘alternative visions’ and ‘perspectives’, burgeoning South London DJ and graphic artist Hector Plimmer, who released his debut LP Sunshine last year, cuts down and transduces Ahmed’s original lengthy ‘The Lost Pearl’ into a nuanced tropical lilt and itching understated electronic shuffler. Whereas, self-proclaimed ‘Afro-futurist’ beatmaker DJ Khalab, takes the Arabian delights and Tangier trumpet suffusions of the original ‘Jamil Jamil’ into the cosmic ether on his treatment. The Italian DJ undulates that belly-dancing souk vista with moody pulses, kinetic connective beats, vapours and starry space atmospheres.

Originally a tub-thumping percussive and trumpet heralding panoramic meditation, ‘Al Emadi’ is given a buoyant dub wafting veil by the Lisbon trio of brothers and close pal Blacksea Não Mayo. DJs Noronka, Kolt and Perigoso add a bounce and short yelp like punctuations to that vision; moving it closer towards classy electronica dance.

An articulate extension of Ahmed’s original album template, her already traversing evocations are taken on vaporous and often subtle cosmic and dreamy detours by this carefully chosen cast. A parallel navigated piece of escapism rather than enhancement, the remix EP enervates the jazz for a more electronic music feel to guide Ahmed’s 21st century Arabian imaginations across new boundaries and vistas.






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

 

Few albums can stir the soul let alone give a voice to such harrowing anguish as the sacrifices made by the Soviet Jewish community during one of history’s most brutal conflicts – 2.5 million poor souls from this Jewish community would perish in the European territories of the Soviet Union alone. A forgotten chapter, expedient to Stalin and his successors own tyrannical political airbrushing of events, 440,000 Jewish citizens from all corners of the then Soviet Empire enlisted to fight the Nazis during the 1940s.

Though an integral part of the Bolshevik revolution that preceded it decades earlier – the Jews often suffering under the Imperial regime of the Tsars and Tsarinas in countless programs over the centuries; Tsar Nicholas II no better than previous holders of the title, stirring up hatred towards the faith by propagating the most fatuous blood libel and protocols of Zion conspiracies as proof of his own idiotic prejudices and envy -, the Jewish population that survived the second World War soon found themselves the victims of Stalin’s purges.

Despite the paranoia, mistrust and the megalomaniacal politics of one of the most murderous regimes in history, the Jews of Russia have always remained loyal. Even during the enlightened age of Napoleon, with his promises during the misconceived and doomed invasion of Russia in 1812 of liberating not only the population from serfdom but also the Jews (Napoleon having kept his word in freeing the Jews from the various ghettos they found themselves herded into throughout Europe; Venice being one the most famous examples), Russia’s Jewish population remained stoic in their support of the homeland.

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

Decades later in the 1990s, the Soviet archives now under the ownership of a collapsed Communist state, as the Iron Curtain finally tumbled, librarians from the Vernadsky National Library Of Ukraine found these lost treasures in unlabeled boxes. One of these librarians, Lyudmila Sholokhova, would catalogue these findings – just one of the many cast members in this story. Fast-forward another decade and by coincidence, one of this project’s eventual instigators, Anna Shternshis, stumbled upon these treasured songs whilst visiting Kiev. Highly fragile, deteriorating quickly, these original notes (some handwritten, others typed) opened up a whole undiscovered chapter in Jewish history to both Shternshis and her eventual colleagues on this project, musician Psoy Korolenko (known in his academic life as Dr. Pavel Lion), Al and professor of Yiddish Studies and Director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre For Jewish Studies at the University Of Toronto Malka Green, and musical director and violinist Sergei Erdenko.

Transcribing these laments and firsthand accounts of endurance (many of which included testament evidence to various Nazi atrocities) would take patience, skill but above all respect. The results of this this most tragic desideratum, entitled Yiddish Glory, are underscored by an Erdenko-led stirring accompaniment ensemble of classically trained instrumentalists   and singers, brought together by the producer Dan Rosenberg.

Challenging perceived conventions throughout this magnificent suite of eighteen songs, silencing detractors now as it would have back then, amongst the laments are stirring motivationals that adhere to a long lineage of Jewish and Russian history. Weaving in one of the revered fathers of the Russian classical school of music, Mikhail Glinka’s 1840 ‘The Skylark’ tune with a rousing call for his fellow Red Army comrades to support their Jewish compatriots, Odessa soldier (known only by his first name) Yoshke answers the anti-Semitic propaganda that ‘Jews don’t fight in war’ with his, perhaps not so lighthearted as it would seem from the title, ‘Yoshke Fun Odes’. The accompanying linear notes – featuring the lyrics to all the songs (in most cases) in Hebrew, Cyrillic and English – tell us that Yoshke is himself fighting to ‘avenge his brutally murdered Jewish family’. Though as it would prove, when the survivors of this war returned home, the Jewish population would have to once more fight for their lives, but this time against many of their Russian comrades: tragic when viewed form our vantage point, as many would end up arrested or liquidated on the most spurious and paranoid of charges; Stalin’s position after WWII solidified, clearing the path for his many sweeping purges. Showing every bit as much passion for and attachment to their country and regime as any hardline dye-in-the-wool Communist, songs such as the panoramic ‘Kazakhstan’ – possibly written, we’re told, by one of the 250,000 Polish Jewish refugees that survived the war – could have been ripped from the very soil itself. Two different vocalist versions of this minor opus feature on this album; the one sung by the smoky jazzy and commanding singer Sophie Milman is a personal dedication to her grandmother, a Soviet Jewish refugee survivor in Kazakhstan, but also a wider tribute to the millions of women who were involved in the war effort; the second version, sung by Erdenko, pays homage to the often forgotten Roma community, murdered in great numbers in the ensuing Holocaust.

Nothing could be more heart wrenching than the plaintive ‘My Mother’s Grave’, originally penned by the ten year old Valya Roytlender, a native of Bratslav in the Ukraine. Channeling the loss but also survivor’s guilt, the youngest of the ensemble cast of vocalist (five in total), Isaac Rosenberg, gets the bottom lip quivering and the tear ducts ready to flood with lines as moving as, “Oh mama, who will wake me up [in the morning]? Oh mama, who will tuck me in [at night]?”

Many of the songs are surprisingly violent in retributive prose – a result of Soviet censors adding the revengeful party line to every song; part of the state machinery’s propaganda in stirring up hatred towards their enemies, but also a nationalistic fervor -, the language of dehumanization prevalent throughout: the Nazis often referred to as vermin to be eradicated and shown no pity. Considering the Nazi’s barbarity, but also Stalin’s own ineptitude and grasp of unfolding events, caught by surprise at Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, it’s hardly surprising to find such encouragement in these songs. Yet it often feels, as it turns out, to have been added in many cases later by the state, to be in contradiction to the sentiment. Whilst certainly ready to pick up a machine gun in a heartbeat, going as far as to even taunt on songs like ‘Mayn Pulemyot (My Machine Gun)’, the lyrics often attempt to make sense of what is…well, a senseless brutalism.

An equal opportunity employer in carnage and slaughter, the stoic, hardened women of the Soviet Union feature just as heavily and prominent as the men in these songs: ‘Chuvasher Tekhter (Daughters Of Chuvashia)’, penned by a young Communist League member from Kharkov in 1942, bares testament to those women from the region of the title who were drafted into the Red Army to fight on the frontline; just a small fraction of the 900,000 women who would eventually join the rank and file.

The stars ask me [to speak]: “Tell us!
Who is marching so late at night?”
The answer: “Chuvash daughters
Preparing themselves to go into battle.”

Other songs pay homage to those women working on the production lines. All of which offer words of encouragement to their lovers to fight the good fight.

Firsthand accounts of atrocities appear on both ‘Babi Yar’ and ‘Tulchin’; the first of these harrowing laments and ballads referring to the massacre of the titular ravine near Kiev, where an astonishing 33,771 Jews were shot in 48 hours, in the September of ’41, the second, dedicated to the small Ukrainian town of the title, which lost its entire Jewish community.

Later on though, as if in a chronological timeline, there are songs celebrating the end of WWII; the finale, ‘Tsum Nayem Yor 1944 (Happy New Year 1944)’, featuring the full cast and singing circle, ushers in the New Year and ultimate victory over fascism that would soon follow.

Enough crying over our beloved dead,
The Red Army has the upper hand now.
Hitler can only kill us at night in our dreams.
Woe will be upon him, when we have peace!

Despite the materials obvious harrowing and tragic nature, the music throughout is a dizzying, waltzing mix of Yiddish, Roma, Klezmer, folk and even jazzy cabaret that’s often upbeat. The band does a sterling job in breathing life back into historical testimony; giving voice to those suppressed individuals and the songs that were believed lost forever, destroyed by a regime that would treat its loyal Jewish community, many of which made the ultimate sacrifice, little better than the Nazis they so valiantly overcame.

This is a poignant reminder that we should do more to educate ourselves on lost histories such as this; especially in the times we find ourselves with anti-Semitism once more on the rise and in the news (especially in the UK). Yiddish Glory is not just a reminder however, or even just a revelation, but a beautifully produced performance.






Franklin  ‘Some Old Tracks’  Out now

 

Keeping the brief scant but candid, the artist(s) behind this project create a bright polygenesis EP out of frustration: ‘After a truly terrible session with an artist trying to force me to copy a hook from The Chainsmokers, it was enough for me.’ Bounding back from one too many constrictions, Franklin, in a manner, returns to its youth and the music that soundtracked it. Never able to afford the clearance but carrying on nevertheless, the spark of inspiration that now ignites Franklin, sampling montages and collages, is brought together once more and made into a vibrant psychedelic pool party splash of filtered funk, staccato House and light breeze West Coast hip-hop.

Criss-crossing genres at will over a quartet of tracks on the Franklin debut, tunes and samples, loops and ideas seem to melt and merge harmonically. For instance, the opening track ‘Frankie’ swims along to a fragmented cut-and-paste dance groove of moody breaks, shuffles and a hooting Afro sax honk, whilst the soulful plaintive tropical flavoured ‘Hate Myself’ sounds like a surfing International Pony.

A mysterious French soulstress can be heard meanwhile at the start of the low-rider ‘L’aéroport De Paris’, which in spite of its title evokes a sense of Japonism – J Dilla on a slow boat to Shogun Japan. ‘Clear My Name’ is more in the dance-y mode however; warping bowed and wooden sounding beats and enveloping waves around quasi-80s House.

This debut EP reconnects with the past to go forward. Stripped of hubris and baggage, and restriction, a breath of fresh air, it is beyond being, as the title suggests, just Some Old Tracks, and is instead an exploration of those imbued sounds and what they represent, restructured into a contemporary eclectic psychedelic dance and pop record.




Qujaku ‘Qujaku’  (So I Buried Records)  16th August 2018

 

Occupying both the spiritual and cosmic planes, emerging from the gloom and holy sanctuaries of the dead, the brooding Hamamatsu-based Japanese band Qujaku are back with a second grand opus of Gothic psychedelia and operatic doom post-punk. Gathering together titular EP tracks from the last couple of years and new material, this eponymous entitled epic thrashes, rattles, drones and skulks with sonorous intensity throughout. The opening ‘Shoko No Hakumei’ suite, more an overture, is itself a full on Ring cycle (as conducted by Boris) that is dramatic and sprawling: running almost the entire length of a full side of a traditional vinyl album.

On a very large foreboding canvas, Qujaku build-up an impressive tumult across the album’s nine-tracks of prowling esotericism and galloping drum barrage immensity. Between crescendo-bursting three-part acts and shorter volatile slabs of heavy caustic drone rock, the group often evokes an Oriental Jesus And Mary Chain, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Spacemen 3, or Nine Inch Nails when at their most enraged. Psychedelic in the mode of The Black Angels, but also straying at their most languid and navel-gazing towards Shoegaze, Qujaku’s dark spanning cacophony of throbs and trembles bear many subtle nuances and becalmed breaks amongst the masses and maelstroms. A balance between those forces is struck for instance on the dreamy plaintive love-crushed ‘Yui Hate No Romance’ and Spiritualized hymn-like finale ‘Sweet Love Of Mine’.

Vocally obscured by the cyclone of screeching feedback, grinding, spiraling ritual and creepy atmospherics the band’s mix of saddened male sung lovesickness and dystopia, and female ethereal sirens often invoke a ghostly, doomed horror soundtrack: The spirits in communion; floating and cooing, always present.

Though heavy-going for sure, even stifling in places, this ceremony come seething dark alchemy of an album is a brilliant minor masterpiece of Gothic, doom, psych and progressive pretensions. Limited physically to only 500 copies, this cultish group and album will sell-out quick, especially off the back of the band’s upcoming European promotional tour. On an epic scale, dreaming big and intensely, Qujaku perform the most dramatic of daemonic theatre.



Words: Dominic Valvona

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Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup.





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

I have a truly international spread of releases for you all, even more than usual with one band in particular, the backpacker collective The Turbans, featuring band members from the UK, Eastern Europe, Levant, Africa, Balkans and beyond. I take a look at their borderless debut album for Six Degrees Records. From Mexico way, there’s the b-movie space mambo and cumbia occult of Sonido Gallo Negro: newly signed to Glitterbeat Records and releasing their third album Mambo Cósmico. Uniting for the second time together on a recording, Welsh harpist maestro Catrin Finch and Senegal kora star Seckou Kieta reunite for diaphanous and reflective celebration of the two instruments and their respected native homeland’s heritage on SOAR. Closer to home there’s the latest inimitable psychedelic pop album, Natural Causes, by Anton Barbeau; an EP of blossoming, Kaleidoscopic dance pop from the Leeds duo Lost Colours; the first solo album project to see light after the break-up of The Liars, with Aaron Hemphill’s Nonpareils solo debut Scented Pictures; Sebastian ReynoldsMahajanaka odyssey, now finally getting a soundtrack release; and the tortured industrial noise and biblical raging of the Boston duo Water Fragment.


Nonpareils   ‘Scented Pictures’   Mute,  6th April 2018

With the Liars now, more or less, the sole concern of Angus Andrew, the first fruits of the schism that split the original band up is now unveiled in the shape of Aaron Hemphill’s solo nom de plume Nonpareils: chosen because it’s a “name that didn’t evoke a single person or a producer name, but hopefully something that sounded more like a group or a band…something plural.”

Moving to Berlin in 2015, a year before he left the Liars, Hemphill has had a good two years break from his former band mate, but instead of reflection or acrimonious scorn he’s decided to deliver a cyclonic churning and confusing barrage of sonic displacement; a window in on the woozy state of Hemphill’s mind, all those ideas, snippets and memories channeled through a abstract and broken staccato and heavy reverb obstruction that’s still capable of throwing out some pretty good hooks and tunes.

‘Metaphysically reconstructed pop’ as Hemphill himself calls it, the druggy feel and lingering traces on his inaugural solo debut, Scented Pictures, was all recorded in Berlin using the most haphazard and off-kilter of processes. Recording ‘stacks’ of acoustic instruments whilst ‘doing the silliest’ of experiments upon them, Hemphill also encouraged the engineer on these sessions to distract and hinder him as he bashed away on the drums (without a click-track), and set up the microphones, when on the piano, to deliberately “fall away from the body of the instrument.” And so there is a strange disconnection and time-lapse, in which everything sounds like it’s running away from its main source or languidly slurring, that runs throughout this album. It ties in to the theme of “time-accelerating” and Hemphill’s premise of a “sensory experience of memory”, which encourages the brain to fill-in the gaps of what is a constantly trudging, stuttering soundtrack of disorientated peculiarities. None more so than The Timeless Now, which sounds like a churned and slurred breakdown of time itself, set to eternal damnation and spinning like a centrifugal space sequence.

Amongst the reversed effects, stumbled drums, tetchy loop oscillations there’s hints of Mogadon induced Atlas Sound (on the surprisingly Spector trippy dream pop plaint Makes Me Miss The Misery Girls), a Coil/John Cale hybrid (Cherry Cola), vaporous synth (ala the Eno-esque Press Play), Alan Vega (more specifically the title track, which also includes a subtle trace of Neukölln Bowie, but his ghostly presence can be heard on many tracks) and R. Stevie Moore.

Often resembling a scratched CD having a fit of the jitters; often obscured under a veil of languorous multilayering; often sounding distant; Hemphill still retains an ear for melody, combining the abstract with post-punk, rock’n’roll and techno to produce something dreamy. His ideas are distilled into a seething disorientation of time and memories; tapping in to the anxious and confusion of our times. Not so distant from the Liars sound, yet different enough to be challenging, Scented Pictures is an enigma waiting to be unraveled.






Sonido Gallo Negro  ‘Mambo Cósmico’   Glitterbeat Records,  6th April 2018

Serving up a mystical occult of a third album, the sauntering Sonido Gallo Negro take a trip aboard one of Erich Von Däniken’s ancient astronaut controlled UFO to draw in a wealth of cosmic affected South American styles and exotica.

Slinking all the way the nine-piece outfit reach out beyond the Mexican borderlands to embrace the multicultural dance rhythms brought to the Americas via Africa and the Middle East and of course the centuries ingrained influence of the Hispaniola.

Already interpreting and reframing the popular cumbia – what was originally the folkloric rhythmic dance practiced by the Africans who were en mass displaced and brought to work in Columbia – and mambo on previous records, the group now include a hybrid mix of ‘cha cha’, the Mexican ceremonial dance known as ‘danzón’, and the Sinú River sprung brass orchestra come Caribbean region of Colombia ballroom style ‘porro’.

Oscillating over the Nazca Lines or creeping through the Theremin quivering sorcery mists of Catemaco, every song has an exotic but kitsch like charm; no more so than with the world famous cover of the Mexican bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz’s mambo turn crooner swaying Quién Será?, covered and transformed into an almost comic dash, with Farfisa organ prods and Dick Dale tremolo.

Encompassing Santo vs. the creatures from Mars b-movie cosmic effects (Mambo Cósmico, but also throughout), deity worshipping ritual frazzling (Cumbia Ishtar), bird-like trilled exhales from the cha cha hot-stepping carnival (La Foca Cha Cha Cha), sultry ballroom with Spanish flair (Danzún Fayuquero) and Surf twanged otherworldliness (Danza del Mar), Sonido Gallo Negro perform everything with a lively flair; both busy but controlled.

Like a Mexican Head Hunters celebrating the rich musical diversity and occultist symbolism – from the mysterious allure of Mesoamerican pyramid building societies to magic shamanism – of the Americas, Sonido Gallo Negro meld all their influences together in one big bubbling melting pot of fun.






The Turbans   ‘The Turbans’   Six Degrees Records,  6th April 2018

Collecting band members as they busked together in such exotic locations as Kathmandu, the two instigators, and fellow ‘half-Iranian/half-British nomads’, behind the international backpackers The Turbans, (the self-confessed ‘seventh best guitar player in the band’) Oshan Mahony and violinist Darius Luke Thompson, have amalgamated countless styles and cultures towards a largely upbeat celebration of borderless solidarity.

The term for this cross-pollination of the Levant, Balkans, India and Africa, coined by the group’s Kurdish percussionist Cabber Baba, is ‘music from manywheres’, though their base and center for at least half the time when not on tour is Hackney in London – the other half spent in Goa. They sing of this attachment to Hackney, celebrating its multicultural allure and spirit to a loose backing of electrified souk rock and jostled hand drums on the paean tribute song of the same name.

It would take an age to document each of this globe-stretching group’s credentials and heritage, let alone mention all the additional guests that make this, The Turbans, debut album so richly amorphous, traversing as it does so many cultural and national references. Songs such as the folkloric wandering Sinko Moy, written by the group’s former Bulgarian pop star and Django Ze front man, Miroslav Morski, for instance features the lulling atmospheric choral backing of The London Bulgarian Choir, who project us the diaspora and view from the Carpathians, but then other elements of musicality and tone hint at Cairo, Timbuktu and even Ireland. This shifting sense of location is The Turbans signature; one minute gazing from atop of a camel, searching over sand dune landscapes, the next, regaling a romantic atavistic paean to Flamenco accompaniment in Moorish Spain.

Featuring a rambunctious mix of characters, from Belarus oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki to guembri maestro Simo Lagnawi, the group throw Tuareg blues, gypsy music, Moroccan pop covers, colonial Tunisian lounge music and Greek folk into one gumbo pot of both harried japes and more serene contemplation.

Political by being so diverse in a climate of hostile nationalism and closed borders, The Turbans don’t so much push an agenda as reference the various travails by which many of its members had to overcome to reach these shores. And so this album is more a celebration of universal collaboration.

Recorded, of all places, in a previously abandoned 500 year old property on the borders of Scotland and England, in the Northumberland farmhouse turned community arts centre where the group’s co-founder Mahony grew up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more international sound right now.






Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita   ‘SOAR’   bendigedig,  27th April 2018

 

Only two releases in and the bendigedig label – an independent partnership between Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan, Wales and ARC Music – is already proving to have erudite tastes for the finer examples of beautifully-crafted folk and traditional music from the versants of Wales and beyond. Following on from the recent Gwyneth Glyn album Tro, the internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch once more draws parallels musically and culturally between her native Wales and the West African homeland of musical partner Seckou Keita, on the working duo’s second album together, SOAR.

In a similar vein to her fellow compatriot, Glyn, who just as effortlessly blended her Welsh lilted tones with those of the Indian ghazal singer Tauseef Akhtar on the Ghazalaw LP collaboration and has also supported Keita on tour, Finch merges the angelic elegance of the harp with the equally elegant, spindly diaphanous sound of the harp-like Kora, as played by the maestro from Senegal,

Combining the two distinct, but as you’ll hear highly congruous, instruments together and bringing both experts extensive knowledge and talents to the fore (and the bios of these two practitioners is highly impressive and wide), the duo weave an intricate melodious album that celebrates both their diversity and shared goals.

Originally coming together for the award-winning Clychau Dibon LP in 2013, the harp partnership continue with that album’s avian theme, using it as a springboard for another articulated series of paeans and serious reflections. Though it might not be the most obvious of geographical connections, both artists seamlessly tie their respective backgrounds and heritage together, starting with the divine ‘soar’ and flutter of the Dyfi Osprey on the opening bird of prey homage, Clarach. Immortalizing the first Osprey in modern times to be born in Wales after an absence of 300 years (persecuted to extinction by the end of the 17th century), its survival and 3,000 mile migration to West Africa is celebrated by mirroring its travail between the two continents; this majestic creature’s freedom finds solace and respect through the duo’s charming melodies and interplay. It’s a forced migration, and the theme of colonization, that’s given a more jazzy-blues harp voice on the trembled-held poignant 1677. Tilted after the year that Vice-Admiral Jean Il d’Estrees stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorèe off the coast of Keita’s birthplace of Senegal, captured in the name of his master King Louis XIV, it marks the point in history where rule in the region passed to France. Gorèe would become a notorious slave trading port over the next century. Capturing the motion of rocking boats in the interaction between the two instruments, the duo mimic a murky back and forth pattern in plaintive remembrance to those who have left the West African coast behind for a better life, and for those who weren’t so lucky.

Staying close to Keita’s heart, they also perform a reinterpretation of the lovely tribute to Yama Ba; written by Keita’s uncle and fellow kora maestro Solo Cissokho as a paean to the woman who believed in him when times were tough, and was willing to invest in his future, buying him the equipment he needed to amplify his instrument. From the semi-nomadic Fulani people who live all over West Africa, Yama Ba is given a peaceable, softly accentuated homage, with Finch replacing and transforming the original melody played by Cissokho’s bassist Kevin Willoughby. There’s also an inviting gesture of effortless warmth on the Senegal split-language entitled Tèranga Bah: A nod to the country’s version of ‘great hospitality’, Tèranga translates as ‘hospitality’ in the Wolof dialect, Bah as ‘great’ in Senegal’s other most common tongue Mandinka. And one of the oldest tunes in the Senegambia kora repertoire, the difficult (only played we’re told by experienced practitioners) Baisso is twinned with an excerpt from Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the surprisingly seamless and classical reverent turn joyfully serene Bach To Baisso hybrid.

Back to the valleys of Wales, and one of the album’s most serious tunes, Finch commemorates an event, a catalyst for an insurgence in Welsh nationalism that led to a groundswell of protest and even sabotage. Cofiwch Dryweryn is a gorgeous lament to the flooding in 1965 of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales; flooded to create the Llyn Celyn reservoir that supplied water to the city of Liverpool. Those unfortunate enough to have lived or worked its land were forced to leave; an action that led to much resentment and went towards a revival in self-determination – though it would of course take a further forty years for Wales to get a devolved powers from Westminster. Here, lost almost in the flow of the watery gushes and drama, Finch’s whispery tones echo the feelings, “remember Tryweryn”, as Keita lends a yearning vocal and kora pinning accompaniment.

It’s often difficult to hear when one instrument begins and another ends, the kora and Welsh harp in such synchronicity. The earthy spindled kora and plucked ebb and flow of the serene harp both prove the most complimentary of companions. The two heritages and ancestral combine for a united front on the plight of not just a migratory bird but people and ideas too. The exchange articulated with beauty and élan.






Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Mahajanaka EP’  Nonostar, 20th April 2018

Finally releasing the soundtrack part of his beautifully transcendental Mahajanaka odyssey style dance and music collaboration, the Oxford musician/composer/promoter and member of the Flights Of Helios collective Sebastian Reynolds launches an EP’s worth of variations to promote the upcoming live performance of the Mahajanaka Dance Drama at the Wiltshire Music Centre 2nd April 2018. The beautifully softly malleted and chiming peregrination original is transformed subtly and serenely over the course of a live performance – performed with his Solo Collective triumvirate band mates Alex Stolze, Anne Müller and Mike Bannard – and two remixes.

A keen enthusiast of eastern and oriental cultures, especially Buddhism, Reynolds travelled to Thailand a while back as part of a British Council/Arts Council England funded trip. During that visit he laid down the groundwork for the Mahajanaka project, a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened.

Partners on this reimagining project include Neon Dance and the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun, and on the score itself, features both long-term collaborator Jody Prewett (keyboard) and the Thai pop group The Krajidrid Band under the direction of composer/producer Pradit Saengkrai. Recorded playing the classical Thai “piphat” ensemble music, The Krajidrid Band’s evocative sacred finger cymbal chimes and peaceable soft mallet accompaniment is sampled and looped by Reynolds to produce a gently overlapping and mysterious ambient flight of fantasy. It certainly creates the right mood, successfully merging the source material with the atavistic, transformed by Reynolds’ signature process of reinvention.

Featuring his chamber electronic partners from the already mentioned and most brilliant Solo Collective project, there is a trembled bow and gentle stirring strings version, included alongside the original. Performed at the Roter Salon, Berlin on the 6th February 2017, this live recording adds a gently lilting undulation of European cello and violin, courtesy of Müller and Stolze, to the ceremonial Thai drones and lush divine resonance. Taking it in another direction, albeit subtly, the Emseatee remix adds a ice-y vapour and tight enervated clattery beats, ala Bonobo, to the Southeast Asian suite, whilst the Atlasov remix subtly wafts this soundscape towards a gauze-y The Orb and Artificial Intelligence era Warp label direction. Though nothing quite matches the original Jon Hassell like venerable peregrination, a most beautiful evocation of the Buddha enlightenment transported to another realm.




Anton Barbeau   ‘Natural Causes’   Beehive/Gare du Nord,  13th April 2018

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. Posing in a not too dissimilar fashion to Julian Cope on the cover of his latest (and 23rd) album Natural Causes, he looks to all intents and purposes, standing amongst the long stones, like nature’s son on a Ley Lines trip. You can hear a hint of the arch druid of heads own, more, digestible and melodious brand of psychedelic pop running through Natural Causes, but not exclusively, as he opens up to the 12-string élan of the decade he was born in to: the 60s.

Not so much softening up as choosing a more personal, peaceable approach to ‘glorious sounding’ maverick pop, Barbeau has produced something quite stunning and timely (Barbeau fast approaching his 50th birthday): a cerebral album both instantly memorable, melodic and yet adventurous and inventive.

The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. In part a request from Barbeau’s French label Beehive (released in conjunction with Monolith Cocktail favourites, Gare du Nord), the album that would eventually grow out of the abandoned Applewax would include remakes of past classics alongside new material.

Having another bite at old faithful, Magazine Street, he amps up the jangle factor and production on this country-rock Byrds meets Green Pajamas classic. There’s also reinforced crisp breezy versions of Creep Tray – this time featuring the lush undulated backing vocals of Karla Kane, who guests on a quintet of songs, adding everything from harmonies to “OMs” – and the fuzzed-out vortex, Just Passing By.

In between the all too fleeting to be effective as anything other than paused intermission style vignettes, Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that sparked interest in the young Barbeau, on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation, which evidently does have a tenuous link to the Beatles, featuring as it does McCartney (and Pretenders) wingman Robbie McIntosh on 12-string guitar. Meanwhile, the discombobulating time-signature Coffee That Makes The Man Go Round is humbly declared to feature the “second greatest riff ever”, and is in part inspired by one of the 60s most underrated bands, Family.

Perhaps one of the most touching declarations and attempts at a lilting anthem, Summer Of Gold, which features Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw of Bevis Frond fame, and Michael Urbano who works with Neil Finn, sounds like Crowded House backed by a Mellotron accentuated rich Amon Duul II. Adopting an entirely different sound, Barbeau covers a strange space in which Sparks collaborated with Squeeze on Secretion Of The Wafer, and channels George Harrison (yes another Beatles link) on the Krishna referencing peaceful Mumble Something.

Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius.






Lost Colours   ‘A Different Life EP’   61seconds,  14th March 2018

Featured last month, Lost Colours’ life-affirming cosmos pop single One Space Left sits at the center of their new follow-up extended EP, A Different Life. That debut song, a visceral explosion of colour encapsulating the Leeds-based duo’s optimistic abandon in producing psychedelic pop, with a lilt of globe-travelling trance, to put a smile on your face.

Featured either side of it is a trio of similar universal voyages and a number of various remixes, starting with the slow boat to Goa via the South China Seas caressed and lingering Organic Adventures. Building a relaxed soundtrack into a stronger, more rallying trip-hop explosion, the scale of this adventure expands to include waves of indie rock guitar, strings and crashing drum breaks. On a more jazzy soul trip, part Chemical Brothers, part Acid-jazz, the title track and Technicolor High both feature the earthy indie soulful vocals of Sam Thornton. The first of these is a horns, flute accented cyclonic propelled thrust through “the cosmos”, the second, an indie-dance Coldplay traverse.

A Different Light receives two remix treatments, both of which stretch, chop up or strip the original; the Abstract Orchestra transformation slinky but sharp and optimizing the jazz elements; the Night Stories, amping up the swirls and adding velocity drum’n’bass to the mix. Technicolor High is given the LC Nightshades Euro club treatment, with bongos, vapour trails and ambient pauses.

The Lost Colours duo, already lively for the past few years on the remix scene themselves, have been biding their time, steadily building up material for their move over into producing their own original blossoming, Kaleidoscopic material. They sound to be on the right path, their debut and new EP an unashamed joyful and lifting experience of psychedelic and exotic trance dance music.




Waterman  Fragment   ‘Waterman  Fragment’   Available now on Bandcamp

Though something of an unknown entity, I do know for certain that the often brutal and discordant Waterman Fragment convincingly grind through the miasma, shock and stresses of our unstable, conflict-beckoning world on there recently released self-titled LP. Started by two self-confessed “music survivors” of the 90s New England noise/skronk scene, the Waterman Fragment duo have moved on to summon forth a caustic barrage of demons with this incarnation of metal pummeling, warped and tortuous flagellation.

Quite vivid and fired-up, when you can hear them, the mostly spoken (or barracked through a megaphone) lyrics have a real depth and poetic menace. Layers of meaning and references strike at the bowels of hell; the aftermath of an aerial bombing raid that hits a zoo becomes a quasi prose style menagerie version of Guernica, on the hypnotic quagmire dissection of death from above, A King And A Smak In A Calm. Warning it’s strong stuff, but here’s an example of that distressing vivid lyricism: “Beneath deep rubble reptiles squirm. The aquarium explodes. Monkeys and gorillas flee, hair singeing as they run. Shattered glass aviaries empty themselves. Trapped in their temple, elephants die. Rats work the huge rib cages and mounds of entrails to make a golem, filling its head with flies, as the city shines red through a gate knocked off its hinges in the background.”

The finale, which almost bounces and shimmer along by comparison to the rest of the album, moving along to a double-time mix of the Moon Duo, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Suicide and The Normal, is an elegiac unflinching discourse on the Crystal Meth epidemic sweeping America (but the rust belt in particular): “A lumber saw took his leg, lost all his teeth to crystal meth.”

Harrow be thy name and all that, there’s plenty of Biblical quotation or allusion to it anyway to be found; extracts of Psalm 51 can be found on the fork-tongued exorcism at the foot of the Babel Tower, The Hyssop – a reference to the brightly coloured shrub found in Southern Europe and The Middle East, mentioned in the bible, known for its medicinal properties as an antiseptic. The Swans argue with 4AD era Scott Walker soundtrack certainly sounds like a brooding combat between the esoteric bible and dark forces. There’s plenty of rage, a lot of the daemonic, and plenty of the Old Testament prophecy amongst the blood and guts and tearing flesh.

A theme of breaking free, shouted over the white noise, and the need to breathe; shedding the old skin, escaping the augurs of destruction; and escaping the Skynet possible future of automation and our robot overlords on the repeated steel ring fence kicking and foot pedal throbbing industrial Function: “Come meet the robot god, your soul’s entrusted to take off his metal mask. I’m staring back at you. I am the function of pure self destruction, anti-reproduction, and pro-automation.”

Sawed, drilled, stamped, teared, hammered and bashed, you really will feel like you’ve been savaged and beaten by the time you reach the end. A challenge certainly; the paranormal, biblical, esoteric no match for the realities of human nature and its darkest misdeeds, distilled through the harsh Gothic and industrial noise soundtrack of the uncompromising Waterman Fragment duo. For those who embrace the gloom and mire consider this a most heavy serious recommendation from me.




ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’
Six Degrees Records,  12th May 2017

Lucky enough to have witnessed firsthand the erudite guitar majestic skills of one of Mali’s leading artists last year, as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival line-up, I still find myself decidedly jealous of the intimate small audience that were invited to Vieux Farka Touré’s Woodstock Session later that same year in October. A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Touré’s latest blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s on allowing an audience in to the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

 

Still a commanding presence, though he makes it look easy and so serene, emanating almost uninterrupted waves of phaser-effect guitar permutations and nuanced fretboard noodling, Touré continues to languidly merge his own lyrical form of worship and goodwill with the blues, rock and R&B. Often alluded to as some kind of Saharan Hendrix, his heritage and reputation is actually linked to the more urbane capital of Bamako in the southwest of Mali, which has its very own amalgamation of styles and unique history. Still, those desert blues styles, synonymous with the Tuareg especially, do crossover and can be detected in Touré’s music.

 

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. In the mode of a praise song, the spindly weaved heartfelt Mariam pays homage to the last born of the family, his youngest sister, but is also by extension a paean to both the women of the Peule and “all sisters of the world”. Samba Si Kari, based on a song Touré’s grandfather used to sing to him as a child, pays a reflective impassioned tribute to his parents. Expanding the goodwill further, to those outside the ancestral line, he’s also penned, what sounds like, a hoof-cantering percussive camel ride with celestial desert sky illuminations keyboard – courtesy of old pal Idan Raichel –, sweet dedication to his manager and friend Eric Herman’s daughter Maya. The press release offers a further subtext to this particular song, one of multifaith cohesion; Touré a Muslim and Herman a Jew, spreading a message of tolerance.

 

Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

 

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar.

 

Originally scheduled for 2015, the Woodstock Session would have still been a revelatory showcase and classic, but with that extra year, with the travails of being in constant demand on the road and the rapid turn of events Samba in 2017 makes even more sense, resonating with a message of respect, peace and tolerance.





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