Brian Bordello of the contrary and provocative lo fi rock’n’roll group The Bordellos infamy, takes us on a track by track tour through the band’s latest album Debt Sounds

Words: Dominic Valvona/ Brian Bordello





The Bordellos, the uncompromising bastions of lo fi rock’n’roll, have been chipping away at the peripherals of the music industry for years to no effect. Though this shouldn’t come as much of a suprise; provocative subjects including serial sex offenders Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris, and the languorous drip-fed accusations (whether through a wearing down of malaise or real attempts to shoehorn him out the door in the name of ‘blandifcation’) that the BBC ‘killed John Peel’ don’t exactly help their cause.

From their St Helens base the family band spew and regurgitate a continual flow of musings, lovesick plantive melancholy and cumdrudgry attacks on the state of modern culture. Knocking out releases at a weekly rate, the band could give the late Mark E Smith a run for his money in number of pontification packed rambles.

I’ve probably written more about this contrary group than any other in the last five years plus. Mostly because despite the basic, drone-y and cheap production The Bordellos bare their souls like all the most effectual and best rock’n’roll icons. In a nutshell: songs about broken hearts played on broken guitars. And yet despite this lo fi aesthetic, the band are ambitious; referencing a myriad of musical influences, and incorporating all manner of instruments and sounds into their music.

Their latest LP, Debt Sounds, is no different – a mix between Gene Vincent, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Rey Crayola – in this respect. Fueled once more by the acrimony of tattered relationships, family fall-outs, too many late nights and cynicism, The Bordellos indolently unburden themselves upon the audience.

As no review – and I’ve tried – can really do The Bordellos sound any justice, I’ve asked the band’s elder statesman and steersman Brian Bordello permission to share his inimitable penned notes. A sort of track by track narrative, these descriptions and articulations are worthy of sharing; a window in on the workings and mindset that produced them.

And so without further ado I hand you over to Brian…


The Cast

Brian Shea — vocals – guitar – bass – percussion.

Dan Shea  — vocals — keyboards – violin – percussion.

Gary Storey -bass – guitar.

Ant shea – vocals – percussion – harmonica – pitch pipe.

plus

Brendan Bannon – lead guitar on Rolf Harris, Merseybeat Memories and She in The Sun.

Jade — harmony vocals on seal head on Honeypie.

Leslie o’Brien –harmony vocals on Cloudsounds.

produced by Brian Shea


These are the rules and background:

The idea behind the LP was to get back to basics, so I set down these ground rules, all recorded on old tape 4 track, using microphones and recording equipment bought from pound shops and cash converters [under £5].

1. all tracks recorded on 4 tracks only: no overdubs
2 all vocal tracks would be first take only even if disaster struck whilst recording ,so a lot of these songs have only ever been sang once.
3 all songs recorded would have been written that week. So the rest of the band would never have heard them before recording.
4 every song started would be completed that night so no going back.
It was recorded over 10 consecutive Friday nights. During which there was two romantic break ups – the two ex girlfriends actually sang on some of the tracks to add to the spice. Just before the start a marriage had also just broken up…there was lots of alcohol consumed lots of madness, it is the sound of four people going out of their minds, looking back I wonder how Dan managed as he only turned 17 during the recording of this album, but his teenage angst mixed with our midlife crises made for a very dark work of art.

This was supposed to be our third Brutarian records release , but a label that boasted in its bumph of releasing uncommercial uncompromising music refused to release it as it was too… uncompromising!

I have very fond memories of this lp recording it was a experience that was only matched in madness when recording our Ronco revival sound LP.


The Tracks: 

 1/ Fading Honey written by B shea/G storey
     Brian – vocal. Gary – Bass. Dan – feedback. Ant- percussion

A song inspired by the frustration of being in a band that had released two fine albums that had sold bugger all and the problems that arise from dealing with the music industry and all its evil ways. This subject has reappeared many times over the years on Bordellos LPs . This was the first. “Each night I dream of rats of record contracts.”

2/ Spirograph written by Brian Shea
    Brian – vocals/guitar. Ant – Harmonica. Dan- inaudible harmony vocals.

When this song was being recorded there was a huge Summer thunderstorm and rain started to pour through the roof and down the walls of Ants living room. Due to the bad state of his brickwork. So as I was trying to get my best brokenhearted vocal performance, whilst Ant was running around the house with buckets. Muttering the immortal line “Life is too short for guttering”. This was another no show night from Gary so he is not on it ,and Dan recorded harmony vocals but because of the only one vocal take rule the mic did not pick them up very well ,if you have the hearing of a dog you may hear them. “I look in the mirror and my curse has been reversed.”

3/ You Better Run written by Brian Shea/Dan Shea
     Brian– vocals/guitar.  Dan– vocals/keyboards/percussion. Ant — vocals/percussion.

There was originally 4 verses written for this song as each verse was meant to be sung by a different band member but this was another Gary no show night so we just replaced his verse with Dans fine garage punk influenced keyboard solo. The Seeds where a huge influence on this track. “I felt so alive I feel dead now.”

 4/ Rolf Harris written by Brian Shea
    Brian -vocals/guitar. Brendan Bannon– lead guitar.  Gary- bass. Dan – percussion/violin.

This song was written many years before Rolf Harris became a known sex pest ,but I always thought there was something slightly sleazy about the man. My irish cousin who was over visiting Brendan plays the lead guitar on this track and it is he you can hear laughing in the background when I sing the line Rolf Harris is my sexual hero. This was a very drunken night; Gary turned up already pissed as a newt and proceeded to lay down the bass even though he had never heard the song and we were drunk enough to let him, so it was recorded in one take. Dan was the only sober member and told me the story of Gary insisting in cleaning up Ants house after I left and before Ant got home from a gig which consisted of him just extending all the mic stands fully pointing at the ceiling, after doing that he proceeded to record a 20 minute bass instrumental, which sadly has been lost in the mists of time. “I cum before two little boys comes on so I can sing a long.”

 

5/ Sealhead written by Brian Shea
Brian – vocals/ guitar. Gary – electric guitar. Ant- pitch pipe.  Dan percussion/harmony. Jade- harmony vocal.
This was a strange evening for Dan. He had spent the previous hour walking around a supermarket with british comedy actor Ted Robbins who was his then girlfriends uncle, Dan and Jde then turns up at the session to find us recording a psych folk song about a sexual predator who can only reach climax if his partner wears a seal mask. Dan and his girlfriend Jade then add there harmony vocals. Jade is the second cousin to Beatle Paul, so this is the first occasion a member of the Beatle bloodline appears on a Bordellos release. “Dry your eyes with a tissue of lies.”

 

 

6/ She’s An Artform written by Brian Shea
Brian -vocals/guitar. Gary- bass. Ant – percussion.
Written whilst walking up to Ants house to record. Influenced by Billy Childish I was listening to the twenty years of being childish CD a hell of a lot at the time. The slightly recorded underwater feel on this track was down to my total ineptitude at working the four track. This is the only LP I have ever produced for a reason. “Never too old to rock n roll.”

 

7/ Homeless Bound written by Brian Shea
 Brian – vocals/guitar. Gary- bass. Ant – percussion.

Another song written on the subject of being in a unsuccessful struggling band trying to make ends meet, at this time I was wrapped up with dealing with business with our then record label Brutarian and their distribution worries and the lack of success in getting reviews, radio play and such [nothing changes]. “I suffer for my art though they won’t stock it at Walmart.

 

8/ I May be Reborn written by Brian Shea
  Brian – vocals/guitar. Gary- guitar. Dan – keyboards.

Probably my fave Bordellos song and many other people’s. A song of tender reflection. I remember recording the vocals as Gary and his young son Tom came crashing through the front door. The look I gave them must of been daggers like as they stopped in their tracks – for obvious reasons it cannot be heard on the recording. This song is made by Dans excellent keyboards. We have tried this song many times and never recaptured the magic on this first version. There was magic in the room that night. “Every smoking chimney my statue of liberty.”

 

9/ Dead Friend Don’t Leave Me Hanging written by Brian Shea/ Gary Storey 
 Dan — vocals. Gary – lead guitar/bass. Brian – guitar.

Yet another song about the music business and predicting its decline and the sorry state it is in today. One of my favorite lyrics, I remember being astounded at Dans vocal, his first ever lead vocal and being so impressed with his delivery: he was only sixteen at this point. I remember Ant sulking because there was no room for a bongo track, us deciding a lead guitar track would be more effective, there only being 4 tracks. “The stroke of my quill just ain’t paying the bills.”

 

10/ Cloudsounds written by Brian Shea
Brian – vocals/guitar.  Dan – percussion. Ant – harmony vocals/ plastic whistle. Leslie- harmony vocals.
Another no show night from Gary, but Ants then girlfriend [only for a few more weeks] Leslie was in attendance and she added some lovely harmony vocals to this summery ode to my fave podcast at the time Cloudsounds. Ants plastic whistle attempt at sounding like a train is a joy to behold. If all trains could sound like this the world would be a better place. “Remember kissing in the long grass sound tracked by a passing train.”

 

11/ Merseybeat Memories written by Brian Shea
  Brian- vocals/bass. Dan– percussion. Brendan Bannon — guitar.

Yet another no show night from those part timers Gary and Ant. They where not a fan of the lo/fi recording method and the slapdash one vocal take rule, they much prefered recording in the 32 track barn studio we recorded our previous two albums. I think the tension actually added to the feel of Debt Sounds. I remember Gary saying we needed a new mic and me replying just gaffer tape the fucker it will do. So for this session it was just myself Dan and cousin Brendan; a song written after having a long conversation with former member of The Big Three and Faron’s Flamingos, the man Faron himself and how never making the big time still haunted him. “Oh how the memories linger just want to be Faron’s Flamingos to be free.”

 

12/ I Dream Of Jimmy Campbell And Rocking Horse written by Brian Shea
Brian – vocals/guitar.
My tribute to the great Jimmy Campbell one of my favorite songwriters, another man who deserved much more success than he received, he recorded with a number of mersey bands in the 60s and recorded three classic solo LPs in the late 60s early 70s and also made the wonderful power pop album Yes It Is with the band Rocking Horse. Sadly he is know longer with us. “He should have been a star just like me.”

 

13/ Captain Coma written by Brian Shea
 Brian- vocals/guitar. Gary– Bass. Dan- percussion. Ant – Percussion.

This track was recorded towards the end of the ten weeks if I remember correctly, and we were at the stage of equipment falling apart, and part of the percussion on this was Dan beating Ants settee with a broken mic stand whilst I was strutting around the room with the other part of it in a Freddie Mercury type way recording the vocals. “But I kept my shirt on.”

 

14/ New York Girl written by Brian Shea/ Gary Storey
   Dan- vocals/violin. Gary- guitar/bass. Ant -percussion.

I did not play on this as Gary was a much better guitarist than me. Another case of the vocal mic not working and it kept cutting out as we recorded it, but due to me insisting we stick with the only one vocal take allowed we have this strange slightly scary take. Dan was as mad as hell by the end of it as you can tell with the last line; probably the only line that is fully audible. This is one of my fave tracks on the LP.  “As my pathetic life unfurls.”

 

15/ She In The Sun written by Brian Shea
   Brian- vocals/guitar. Dan -percussion. Brendan Bannon – Lead Guitar.

Another song with cousin Brendan on lead guitar. Recorded the same night we did merseybeat memories  – not my fave song on the LP, my vocal really is quite poor. The percussion is Dan playing a Wok with a wooden spoon: just give me some of that wok n roll music. “She walks in the summer rain and confuses my religion.”

 

16/ Fine written by Brian Shea
Brian- vocals/guitar.  Dan – Keyboards/effects.  Ant/Leslie breaking up.

This was another no show night by Gary. Ant was there with his soon to be ex girlfriend. A song about the coming to the end of a relationship was ideal for this nights recording as the atmosphere was pretty hostile around Ants that night. I recorded the vocal whilst accompanied by Ant and Leslie giving each other death stares. They had an argument in the kitchen which myself and Dan recorded on one of the tracks unknown to them and we used it very quietly running throughout the finished song. A work of true darkness. “There’s no passion anymore just friction. When did this habit turn from a addiction.”

 

17/ Honeypie written by Brian Shea
Brian/vocals/guitar/percussion. Gary – bass. Dan- percussion/screams/violin. Jade- vocals.
A track you will either love or hate Dans then girlfriend Jade shared the mic with myself and I found it quite awkward singing such a suggestive song with my sons 17 year old girlfriend, but it again added to the tension. I wanted this song to sound like an outtake from the Velvet Underground white light white heat album; something quite hard to listen to. We recorded everything live on the vocal mic and then just played it back loudly and redid the instrumental parts recoding it all over again. It worked; it gave the feeling of chaos and also fed back like fuck. After we finished recording I remember Gary coming up to me and saying “now you have that out of your system can we go back to writing and recording properly like we used to?” He left a year later. 

This was my LP really: like Brian Wilson used the Beach Boys to make Pet Sounds, I used the Bordellos to make Debt Sounds.

 

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Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

Read original review here


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

‘Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.’  Dominic Valvona

 

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen once more extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



Bitori  ‘Legend  of  Funaná –  The  Forbidden  Music  Of  The  Cape  Verde  Islands’

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

Read original review here


CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.’ DV

From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.

Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

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Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

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Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

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Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

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John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

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Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

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J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

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Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

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Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


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