CHOICE TRACKS OF 2017: PART FOUR
SELECTION: DOMINIC VALVONA, AYFER SIMMS, MATT OLIVER





Wrapping up 2017 with the final part of our quarterly playlist revue, Matt Oliver, Ayfer Simms and Dominic Valvona have chosen another eclectic genre spanning collection of ‘choice’ tracks from the latter end of the year. From the Golan Heights (TootArd) to the cantons of Switzerland (Ester Poly), from weaponised disco pop (U.S. Girls) to attacking vibrant Curaçao electro protest (Kuenta i Tambú), from Gilbert and Sullivan cerebral pop (Sparks) to unearthed lost golden 60s nuggets (Cymbeline), this last curtain call of the year playlist reflects our tastes and opinions, and reflects what has been an anxious, unsettling twelve months.


Tracklist:

Mark Barrott  ‘The Pathways Of Our Lives’
Snapped Ankles  ‘Hanging With The Moon’
Kuenta i Tambu  ‘E Kalakuna’
TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Mustafa Ozkent  ‘Kasap’
Los Camaroes  ‘Mbembe Ndoman’
The Movers  ‘Kansas City’
U.S. Girls  ‘Mad As Hell’
Destroyer  ‘Cover From The Sun’
Wild Ones  ‘Invite Me In’
The Moth Poets  ‘The Shabby Gentlemen’
Ester Poly  ‘Dienstag’
Alpine Those Myriads  ‘Mail Order Doom (WHWGH)’
L’Orange  ‘Cooler Than Before’
Danny Watts & Aye Mitch  ‘Young & Reckless’
Evidence  ‘Jim Dean’
Thavius Beck  ‘Akhenaten’
Ocean Wisdom  ‘Eye Contact’
Antiheroes, Lee Scott & Salar  ‘No Sleep Till Mars’
Psycho & Plastic  ‘Boojum’
Alexander Stordiau  ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’
Solo Collective: Anne Muller & Alex Stolze  ‘Solo? Repeat! (Live)’
Audiac  ‘Gospels Unreal’
Bjork  ‘Arisen My Senses’
Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘I Am That’
Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tanau’
The Cornshed Sisters  ‘The Message’
Girl Ray  ‘Preacher (Radio Edit)’
Wesley Gonzalez  ‘Piece Of Mind’
Cymbeline  ‘Strax Nedenfor Tomen’
Martian Subculture  ‘Chewing Gum’
John Howard  ‘From The Morning’
Sparks  ‘I Wish You Were Fun’

Previous Quarterly Playlists from 2017:

Part 3

 

Part 2

 

Part 1



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CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  TWO:  M – Z
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA, MATT  OLIVER and AYFER SIMMS




M – Z : Mazzi & SOUL Purpose to Msafiri Zawose.

Welcome to part two of our mega ‘choice albums/EPs of 2017’ feature. If you haven’t already checked it out, have a good perusal of part one, as the second part is a continuation, carrying on in an alphabetical order from where we last left off.

The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktailendeavors 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 is more deserving of their fatuous number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 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 have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2017, 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 or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

M.

Mazzi & SOUL Purpose  ‘The Building’  (SOUL Purpose)

“A towering B-boy document gives familiar samples new life and piles banks of bricks and mortar beats and rhymes you can always back to do the business”.  RnV, Feb 17

The Building by established New Jersey movement Mazzi & SOUL Purpose is built on two levels and ends up a skyscraper, to a specification of telepathy that works from close range or miles away. Mazzi as emcee rhymes his ass off for fifteen tracks without leaving you behind (“love what you’re doing and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”) and not without addressing the state of the world, relationship complexities and being prepared to fight (with the listener playing the twelfth man).

The SOUL Purpose movement begins with a mash-up of every essential hip-hop break known to man, going on to cover cavernous, fusionist swells of sound, B-Boy skippers, deep cover gangster business, and samples found in Boots adverts/Sugababes singles and on Madonna tours. That the album was also helping do its bit for good causes added an extra layer to the album’s complete package status. Matt Oliver


Nicole Mitchell  ‘Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds’  (FPE Records)

Taken from a 2015 live performance commissioned by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the erudite American jazz flautist, composer, bandleader, educator, scion of Afrofuturism, former president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and a founder of The Black Earth Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell’s outstanding Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds conceptual suite, straddles two evocatively imagined contrasting worlds: the tumult of a patriarchal world, called The World Union, in decay against the egalitarian desire of the advanced utopia called Mandorla, where technology and nature, freedom and tolerance are in ultimate synchronization.

Set in the year 2099 this multimedia project, which includes a short novella, blurs the line between philosophy, mysticism, modern art, science fiction and radical political critique on what is both a diaphanous and moody groundswell soundtrack of contorting confusion and beautiful flute accompanied polygenesis magic. To suggest this album of instrumental peregrinations and odysseys and poetically conscious soulful lectures and passionate, Last Poets meet Pharaoh Sanders, declarations – courtesy of Avery R Young – can be simply classed as a jazz is to ignore how amorphous the musicality of Mitchell and her reconfigured Black Earth Ensemble is in transcending the genre. With an expansive range of instruments and sounds, including Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi, Renée Baker on violin, Tomeka Reid on both cello and banjo, Alex Wing on electric guitar and oud, Tatsu Aoki playing bass, shamisen and taiko, and Jovia Armstrong handling percussion, the paradise versus dystopia exoticism of the ‘awakening’ simultaneously evokes orientalism, fantasy, nature, the classical and the atavistic.

At its heart, articulating the nervous but adventurous, pinning but diaphanously elevating characteristics of the narrative, Mitchell’s flute performances are stunning and spiritual throughout, even gracious. And the direction of travel is never quite certain, but always impressive and questioning.

As a frame for this conceptual suite, Mitchell asks: “What would a world look like that is truly egalitarian, with advanced technology that is in tune with nature?” We may never know, but the tumultuous journey towards it certainly sounds magnificently ominous and beautifully experimental. Dominic Valvona


N.

Nolan the Ninja  ‘Yen’  (Left of Center)

“Aggressive, eyeballing rhymes to get you bouncing, and beats strategically picking their punches”.  RnV, Oct 17

In his bid “to retire before I’m 35” and “trying to see a million before I go to sleep”, Nolan the Ninja absolutely busts a gut to get his rhymes hurrying up his pension plan. Landing haymakers on dosed up vintage Queensbridge and clatters of muddy kicks and snares that can call up a posse from miles, the Detroit dragon slayer also knows that living by an all-or-nothing mindstate means every single syllable has to have the clarity to rightfully shatter ciphers.

Getting Royce 5’9” to guest on Calisthenics is a smart move in seeing whose chest is first to tighten, and Chess is the least civil checkmate recorded as everything threatens to spin of control. The album actually decelerates – or likelier, gives the music a chance to catch up – to show that the go-for-mine Nolan can manage the throttle when soulful drops start clearing the debris.   MO


O.

Open Mike Eagle  ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’  (Mello Music Group)

“Maintaining his rightful place in the line of ghetto superheroes”.  RnV, Aug 17

Two tracks define the multi-talented emcee’s latest intricacies and humour, cosmopolitan accessibility and underground elusiveness. Open Mike Eagle draws himself from his shell by completely rewriting the rules on what it means to be hard in hip-hop on No Selling. Despite the Dark Comedy compère being a nostalgic peacekeeper for a lot of Brick Body…, capable of bringing up an argument about which condiment is king of the kitchen to prove a greater point, the album’s political piece de resistance, My Auntie’s Building, fights for what he believes in with tangible rage, a housing project held close providing the album with an explosive conclusion that might have got lost further up the album sequence.

We disagree that “everything is better when you don’t know nothing” – everyone needs Eagle in their corner – but can certainly vouch for the confirmation of “I promise you, I will never fit in your descriptions”. MO


P.

Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Viajando Com O Son (The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session)’
(Far Out Recordings)

Thankfully surfacing forty odd years after the fabled ’76 sessions at Rogério Duprat’s São Paulo Vice Versa studio, the extemporized jazz performances of Hermeto Pascoal and his impressive Paulo troupe sound every bit as fresh and dynamic as the day they were recorded.

Held in high esteem, in the upper echelons of experimental traversing exotic jazz pantheon, anointed by a hyperbolic Miles Davis who called him “the most impressive musician in the world” after catching him play live, Pascoal’s transcendent voyages from Brazil have become the stuff of legends. Crate-diggers and jazz or indeed even world music aficionados have always salivated at the prospect of such material being found and released, and the missing Viajando Com O Son session is up there with the most desired.

Unburdened by such trivialities as time and composition, this four track suite shimmers with the celestial as it dreamily saunters through a tropical rainforest groove on the opening Dança do Pajé; quacks and quivers through a percussive bending bright organ peregrination on Mavumvavumpefoco and mysteriously and surreptitiously explores an exotic landscape, tip toeing and lovingly serenaded by magical flutes, on Natal. However, the main, twenty-six minutes long, expansive highlight, Casinha Pequenina, follows on from the previous tracks with similar leitmotifs played out and taken into ever more experimental directions: from Miles Davis to Guru Guru.

The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session is a lush tropical jazz odyssey from the Brazilian maverick and genius that’s well worth every penny. DV


Piano Magic  ‘Closure’  (Second Language Music)

Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.

Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in his last ever enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.

Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending. DV

Full review…


R.

Reverse Engineer ‘Elusive Geometry’  (Floored Music)

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk is joined by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Muramatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery. DV

 Full review…


S.

Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘Phases In Exile’   (Ascension Hall Recordings)

This music is a cinematic poetic recitation, an eloquent art object; sticking to the blurry lines of your shadow while you float through this existence, this street, this town-deserted-or this day, mundane. That dreamy music with the aura of a long lost ocean is the sound of the beyond: you will see, in a cloud, half stunt postures of people trying to deal with mourning. Their eyes wide open yet unsure of how to breathe. And while they exhale, the music pours as if descending from a kind heaven, nested in peace, cooing for drenched figures of the earth.

Miles Cooper Seaton is the ghost who reaches out, entrusting us with a sensation of hope and relief, tranquility, a loophole, mindfulness. Forgive and forget. In the morning dreamers try to get a hold of their visions, trying to catch a glimpse of that faint reality; Miles’ music is lingering too. It tinkles and echoes with a slowness. This is how the rhythm goes, lingering among a field of green, yellow barns, with an horizon of blue and grey shades, some drops sweep the face of a child who understands it all. The clamorous pearls are just from the fierce-y wind. Inside he is all right. The album is dense and tortured. Inside he is all right; the child has grown, and given us these notes. Ayfer Simms

Full review…


Sentidor  ‘Am-Par-Sis’  (Sounds And Colours)

A most congruous if challenging futuristic Rio de Janeiro psychogeography remix of sounds and ideas, built around the transformed cut-up samples and influence of one of Rio’s most famous sons, Tom Jobim, and his post-bossa nova peak leftfield experiment Passarim, fellow compatriot and burgeoning experimental music star João Carvalho creates one of the year’s most haunting and magnificent lush ambient suites, Am-Par-Sis.

Synonymous and celebrated for bringing bossa nova to the world, Jobim’s explorations outside the genre had gone largely unnoticed. Under his alter ego, Sentidor, Carvalho sheds new light on the legendary artist’s innovative experiments whilst also drawing on the drone, ambient, trance, funk carioca, classical and plunderphonics styles to create a uncertain multi-textured augur for future generations to ponder over.

On, what is the most traversing of ambient and collage concept albums, he poses a number of questions, such as: How would Jobim’s record be interpreted by a new generation whose connection with the past and the rest of the world has been cut? How would the record be used in creating new rituals? How can art be reorganized and rebuilt democratically? It also questions the very ideas of what constitutes as the public domain in the modern world and whether something sacred should be preserved or rather gather dust and slowly turn into something else.

Via the power of a seamless, amorphous soundtrack of ethereal pulchritude, cascading veiled piano, ether Panda Bear like voices and song, atmospheric manipulations, transmogrified melodies, whispery winds, Neu! boat trips, reversed samples and magic Carvalho sets out to mull over and articulate these questions. DV

See exclusive track feature…


Shadow  ‘Sweet Sweet Dreams’  (Analog Africa)

For the first time branching out towards the Caribbean Islands, Africa Analog turn their attention to one of Trinidad & Tobago’s most enigmatic music stars, Winston Bailey, better known as Shadow.

Previously marooned on a desert island of obscurity, panned by critics at the time and failing to sale, Bailey’s bouncing scintillating Soca-boogie and Calypso hybrid lovesick dance floor tracks were ahead of their time. Unlike anything coming out of the islands at the time, these often bright, swaying pop love spurned and springy ballads took the island’s sound into the cosmos.

Bailey started out in the mid 70s reinvigorating the Calypso genre, adding a slick production to the atavistic roots sound that made its way across the Atlantic via the slave trade, and giving it panache and a slinky radiating candour. Though originally used as a tool for social commentary, the synonymous rhythm of the Caribbean is channeled into a number of space age love songs. But despite the lamentable aspects, Bailey’s vocals are sunbaked with ripe swoon and lilting soul, fit for the dancefloor.

A missing masterpiece waiting to be (re) discovered, Sweet Sweet Dreams is simply a beautiful pop album. DV


John Sinclair & Youth  ‘Beatnik Youth Ambient’  (Ironman Records)

Synonymous for steering and kicking out the jams in his short role as manager of Detroit’s renowned rebel rousing motherfuckers The MC5, renegade poet, scholar, activist and establishment rattler John Sinclair is also remembered for his free radical zeal and dalliances with the law – leading to a short spell in the slammer. Keeping his hand in so to speak, but taking up residency in Amsterdam – a much safer bet -, the beatnik jazz sage continued, and as you can hear on this latest recording, continues, to record and perform in a host of setups with a multitude of contributors and backing bands.

The appropriately (in every sense) entitled Beatnik Youth Ambient mini LP is a foretaste, and as the title implies, ambient treatment version of material from a full-length album, released a couple of months later. The “Youth” of that title refers of course to the Killing Joke bassist turn in-demand producer Martin Glover. Arguably one of the most consistent producers over the last few decades in the UK, Glover, under his Youth alter ego, has taken on more or less most forms of music and worked on both commercial and underground experimental projects. He now provides Sinclair’s “literary synthesis” with a suitable “beatnik ambient” soundtrack: a serialism quartet of turmoil, turbulent jazz and dreamier trance.

Running through a vivid purview of postwar counterculture, bringing to life the energy and excitement that writers such as Kerouac (who gets referenced a lot) captured when seeing the Bebop jazz revolution and its great proponents perform, Sinclair delivers a magical enthusiastic experience on another track, evoking Thelonious Monk’s 1957 LP of the same name, Brilliant Corners. Titans of American beatnik and psychedelic literature lineup, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (“…had the ability to park a car anywhere”, just one of his talents alongside his status as the “human bridge between the 50s and 60s.”), rubbing shoulders with jazz music’s new guard Lester Young, Byrd and Gillespie; immortalized by Sinclair to “head music” cosmos of jazzy lamenting woe, ghostly squawking and hooting saxophone and swirling mirages.

If anything, Beatnik Youth Ambient leaves the listener pining for a lost age; Sinclair’s evocative prose and delivery lifted (and cradled at times) by Youth’s congruous seething tensions and floaty dream-like production, which enthrall me to once again get stuck in to the “beat generation” and spin those Savoy label jazz totem recordings again. A prompt for the present times, the zeal of the postwar “baby boomers” (those with a soul anyway) counterculture not necessarily translating to generations X, Y and Z, even if it is needed; Sinclair’s language is nevertheless just as powerfully descriptive and energizing now as it was over forty years ago. DV

Full review…


Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’  (tak:til/Glitterbeat)

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, the Adriatic and the Middle East, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

A most impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail; different from the previous two releases on this burgeoning new imprint, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit, whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes. DV

Full review…


Solo Collective  ‘Part One’  (Nonostar)

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of virtuoso performers/composers Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album. DV

Full review…


Sparks  ‘Hippopotamus’  (BMG)

Bombastically pitched as a “comeback” album, unseasonal followers and those not so familiar with the maverick siblings Sparks career may have been under the impression that the much-hyped Hippopotamus marked some kind of return from an imagined sabbatical, a retirement or an emergence from the wilderness. It was nothing of the sort of course, their last official Sparks albums may have been released in 2008 (Exotic Creatures Of The Deep) and 2009 (The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman), yet they also went on to collaborate with Franz Ferdinand in 2015 for the mighty team-up FFS. Three albums in seven years isn’t bad, considering the rate most groups knock out records these days, and considering Ron Mael is in his early seventies and brother Russell is only a few years behind.

Maybe what the media meant was a return to form. Admittedly – apart from FFS, which made our albums of the year in 2015 – the music hasn’t quite matched the quality of their 70s output or indeed the 2002 triumph Lil’ Beethoven and the 2006 follow-up Hello Young Lovers. Hippopotamus I can thankfully say is very much Sparks at the top of their game.

The Gilbert And Sullivan of cerebral pop music takes the form to ever-new intelligent heights of absurdity and revelation. Daring to merge intellectual ideas and themes into an art form; yet never laborious, condescending or aloof, every song on this latest theatrical rock and pop suite features an infectious melody, satirical but heartfelt clever lyricism and the usual Noel Coward piano witticisms (updated for the modern age of course).

Communicating both the frankly bizarre and the almost insignificant of contemporary foibles (from the middle class anxiety of stylish furniture design, on the Kierkegaard ponders Scandinavian Design, to the difficult to usually rhyme with anything in any song, surreal assortment of metaphorical, or very real, items and figureheads tormenting Russell in his room on the title track), the Mael Brothers frame all their ditties within a melodramatic often plaintive setting of levity.

Minor concertos and pop triumphs abound, as Sparks use the usual assortment of figureheads, including Edith Piaf and an ambiguous French film director auteur, to articulate their feelings on an assortment of theatrical and operatic (the almost aria style domestic imaginings of The Macbeths on the Living With The Macbeths duet) anthems – though of course, Piaf “always said it better”.

Cleverly creating social and political satire and commentary without the rage, finger wagging and virtue signaling, Sparks remain one of the most consistent bands – or duos if you like – in music history; five decades on and still producing epic pop, the likes of which has seldom been equaled. DV


Strange U  ‘#LP4080’  (High Focus)

“#LP4080 has a deftness that allows it to be daft; a first class bizarre ride to and from the far side”. Our Daily Bread 234, Feb 17

It’s always fun and games when King Kashmere/The Iguana Man/Lord Rao starts spraying jocular, juvenile sci-fi syllables and delirious, crowd-pleasing hooks at will. When he hits hyperspace, he’s an unstoppable force of nature few can compare to – “you enjoy buying trainers, a person like me enjoys firing lasers” – though his intergalactic court jester act belies the wicked yarns he spins about our alien overlords and fantastical set-plays (environmental health, relationships, politics) that are closer than you think.

Helming a future primitive craft with Dr Zygote, mechanic to an 8-bit jalopy with head knocks and funky splutters aplenty, Strange U float through the cosmos as an entertainingly erratic two-man crew. Despite being recorded in a studio far, far away, LP#4080 has got its head screwed on with attention to the fundamentals – the MC-producer combination, prime beats and rhymes, a concept that works, and a spectacle promising multiple revisits. MO


T.

Tamikrest  ‘Kidal’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Still without a homeland, though liberated from their draconian partners, the Tuareg are once again left, as wanderers in their own lands, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’n’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge once more from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance”, on their fourth, equally entrancing, album Kidal. Paying homage to the strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town of the title, the highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) Tamikrest exude both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the southwestern Saharan hub that is Kidal: a town which has seen its fair share of fighting, fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home to the Tuareg. This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Preserving an increasingly endangered ancestral culture and language, Tamikrest’s cause cannot be separated from their music. Yet, rather than protest with bombast or angry rhetoric, they articulate their woes with a poetic, lyrically sauntering cadence. Oasmane Ag Mosa’s earthy lead vocals resonate deeply, even if his timbre maintains a stoic dignified pitch. Backed by Aghaly Ag Mohamedine and Cheick Ag Tiglia on backing and duets, a lulling sweetness transcends, which on occasions adds a certain romanticism to the impassioned struggle. Swaying effortlessly between the meandering and up-tempo, the accentuated dynamics of Mosa and Paul Salvagnac’s entwined, untethered and contoured guitar work, Mohamedine’s “gatherer” Djembe rope-tuned goblet drumming, Nicolas Grupp’s askew backbeats and Tiglia’s smooth, free-roaming bass lines transport the listener to the mystical topography of the desert.

Assiduous, confident and articulate, the musicianship shows not so much a progression as a balance between the meditative and rock’n’roll spirit of the Tuareg musical resistance. Tamikrest are as brilliant as ever musically, and Kidal is, despite its plaintive and lamentable subject woes, a beacon of hope in an ever-darkening world of uncertainty. DV

Full review…


Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’  (Six Degrees Records)

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to the acclaimed producer Ian Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the Standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory. DV

Full review…


Terry  ‘Remember’  (Upset The Rhythm)

The disarming world-weary punk and quirky pop touting quartet of Melbourne scenesters, banding together under the ubiquitous Terry moniker, follow up a prolific run of 2016 EPs and their debut LP with another acerbic witted, snappy melodious release of profound disenchantment and wistful “wish fulfillment”.

Continuing with the shared girl/boy dynamic of lulling, placeable idiosyncratic vocals and flexible punk, country and new wave bubblegum backing, Terry look to expand their repertoire on Remember. The combined musical savvy and experiences of band members Amy Hill (of Constant Mongrel and School Of Radiant Living), Al Montfort (UV Race, Dick Diver, Total Control), Zephyr Pavey (Eastlink, Russell St Bombings and also Total Control) and Xanthe White (Mick Harvey, Primo) push the quartet into all kinds of nonchalant mischief. The gang embraces nonplussed French new wave chanteuse vibes on the brilliant breezy, mosey country lilting, Toy Love meets Serge Gainsbourg Take Me To The City (one of the tracks of the summer), and snappy, bouncy indie synth pop on Rio. At their most raucous, rough and ready to tumble, Terry softens the edges of The Damned on both their keystone kops rave-up Start The Tape and spiky frazzling Give Up The Crown.

Suggesting nothing more rebellious than a cheeky smoke behind the bike sheds, the group’s knockabout catchy hooks and charm cloak a personal profound response to the political and personal anxieties and dramas of the times. And they do this with a certain aloof coolness and adroit ear for a great tune, making this 2017’s most melodious and catchy album of knowing pop slanted punk. DV

Full review…


Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’  (Six Degrees Records)

 

A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Vieux Farka Touré’s latest album 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 part about allowing an audience into 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.

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. 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. DV

Full review…


V.

VVV   ‘Bozo Boyz’  (VVV)

“The trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar”. RnV, Nov 17

Preceded by Apocalypse Trent poking fun yet completely understanding modern hip-hop’s rules, the Nottingham trifecta of Vandal Savage, Cappo and Juga-Naut are a heavy rotation of individual voices.

Rhymes and word associations – pop culture, mind’s eye observations, opaque battle bars covered in enough 80s hairspray to tear the ozone layer a new one – jut out at free-flowing, at times unworkable angles, yet are held together by undeniable dope infused with a carried over drop of cheek.

Flicking VVVs at club beats, a slim line 80s synth chassis is rolled out to maximum effect (an evolutionary eye-opener for East Midlands rap fans – this won’t be their usual milk and two sugars). Both chilled and chilling, sonically Bozo Boyz lives an alternate life of soundtracking a slasher movie making a wrestler’s entrance to the ring. One of the more idiosyncratic hip-hop picks on this list, it’s VVV for victory. MO


Various   ‘Hidden Musics 4: Abatwa: Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Ian Brennan, yet again, probing the furthest, most inhospitable and outright dangerous places in the world to record marginalized voices, journeys to the post genocide borderlands of Rwanda on the fourth volume of Glitterbeat Records illuminating Hidden Musics series.

Taking the unmarked, haphazard, road (less traveled) to the edges of Rwanda, avoiding the animosity and embers of vengeance that still burn and remain between the country’s minority Tutsis and majority Hutu communities, Brennan visited and recorded for posterity the Abatwa tribe’s seldom heard lament, anger and incredible soulful, if raw, blues.

The Abatwa name remains mostly unknown outside Africa, that’s because, due to their limited growth, we know them better as the ‘Pygmy’. A derogatory name loaded with infamy, yet preferred by the very people it derides, the tribe rather that put-down than (as Brennan puts it) “the official PC mouthful/post-genocidal replacement: The people who were left behind because of the facts of Rwandan history.”

What you get from this community is battery powered electronics and rusty, ramshackle dusty instruments coming together in hybrids that evoke ritual, the ceremonial but equally the blues, soul and hip-hop; all played with an undeniably emotional Rwandan verve and lilt. Make no mistake; this is performance in its most deconstructive raw form. Devoid of embellishments and overbearing production, recorded in situ with only the rudimentary elements and atmosphere for company, and it sounds great. It is nothing short of revelatory; field recordings of hope and recovery created in the face of despair. DV

Full review…


Various  ‘Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976-1984’
(Analog Africa)

The latest in a tenure adventure of excavating lost treasures from the African continent; Analog Africa’s main man Samy Ben Redjeb once more digs deep, sifting through a daunting mountain-size pile of records and recordings as he draws the spotlight on Cameroon’s Makossa scene of the 70s and 80s.

Originally the traditional rhythm and funeral dance of Cameroon’s Sawa and Essewé peoples, later transformed in the country’s cities as it collided with everything from merengue and rumba to Highlife and disco, Makossa, which means, “to dance” in the Cameroon Douala language, is a highly loose and adaptable style: as you will hear on this twelve-track collection of hits and rarities from the golden era of pop makossa.

Honing in on the period when makossa rubbed-up against funk and disco, this balmy dance beat compilation’s pulse is luminous and fluid and most importantly, funky. This is in major part down to some of the most smooth, bouncing, slick and relaxed but constantly busy of bass lines – Cameroon’s bass players rightly revered as among the best throughout the world – and the constantly shuffling hi-hats, tom rolls and splashing drums.

Every bit as “invasive”(and infectious) as the extended album title suggests, the classy pop massoka sound – once considered the unofficial national sound of Cameroon – is waiting to be rediscovered and let loose once again. In what seems like a recent shift in direction at the Analog Africa label, with the emphasis on the late 70s and 80s – from last year’s Space Echo collection from Cape Verde to reissues of Trinidad & Tobago star Shadow’s Sweet Sweet Dreams and the Benin solo singer Vincent Ahehehinnou’s Best Woman – this latest survey continues to unearth musical treats from the same era, albeit in different geographical settings, yet sharing many of the same production and trends traits. In short, another classy sun-basking exposé of the most sauntering, scintillating African pop from one of the top labels in the field. DV

Full review…


Vukovar  ‘Puritan’  (The Brutalist House)

Following in the tradition of their three-syllable sloganist album titles, Vukovar’s fourth LP drums home the Puritan mantra and analogies; a cleansing if you will of the status quo, a year zero, and perhaps also a return to the roots and communal deliverance of protest in music – not, I hope, the ‘puritanical’ steeple hat and buckle shoe wearing bible bashing of zealots, burning heretics at the stake, nor the bloody zeal of so many badly turned-out revolutions that end up creating just as terrible a reign of tyranny. The only fires here are the metaphorical kind; a funeral pyre of mediocrity, a bonfire of vanities, the-bland-leading-the-bland towards a conversion of raw intensity, dangerous, shamanistic performed anarchistic rock’n’roll: well I think that’s the idea.

As the band’s previous album, Fornication showed, Vukovar have at least listened to many of the right bands; released at the start of the year, this amorphous, transmogrified covers style collection featured reconfigured homages to a host of iconic luminaries including David Sylvian, Coil, The Monks, The Birthday Party and Neu!. Cultish in a manner, the band’s influences and manifesto statements of propaganda intent, plus allusions to cultural regicidal and ability to shrink from publicity – even self-sabotage any signs of success or promotion – suggests a band that takes itself very seriously. Yet even with countless references to history’s outsiders, philosophers, discontent mavericks, revolutionaries and demons throughout their previous trio of albums, and the elegiac resignation that shadows them, they waltz sublimely (for a majority of the time), rather than rage in romanticized contempt, as Olympus slowly grumbles.

Between the Gothic skulking and crystalline rays of shared 80s synth new romanticism Vukovar wander transfixed in a nightmare state of both despair and indolent antagonism; with stark lyrics more descriptively visceral than forced down the listener’s throat. Donning the vestiges of the Puritan, the front man, an amalgamation vocally of both Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner, sets the scene (“I am a sinful man, yet an honest man”) to a backing track of slung low growled bass, Jesus and Mary Chain’s bastardize Spector drum death knells and the miasma threat of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds on the opening inflicted and gradually ascendant Nietzsche propound Übermensch.

The most complete and best produced encapsulation of Vukovar’s sound and venom yet, balancing both their experimental raw and ritualistic live performances with melancholic post-punk, and even brooding new romanticism pop, Puritan offers a travail through the dirge and gloom of our (end) times with all its sinful and cleansing, often biblical, connotations and language. Though it also often sounds like some kind of personal tortured Nick Cave love requiem, unfolding in the midst of chaos, looking over the edge into the abyss, the heretics taking over the asylum. DV

Full review…


Y.

Your Old Droog   ‘Packs’  (Fat Beats)

“Working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, with a penchant for humour and words to the wise on a varied album with no time to waste”.  RnV, Mar 17

Your Old Droog’s crowning glory pays the utmost attention to album constructs. Packs is 11 tracks all vying to be the jump-off, featuring skits that help rather than hinder, and guests like Danny Brown and Edan giving the action a hot cameo.

In running his own Grand Theft Auto route through New York (if there’s ever a Baby Driver sequel, or Marvel need a new street hero, surely Droog’s your man), storylines find time to dispense worldly wisdom that you’d be foolish to leave unheeded, and punchlines show that firing from that borderline meh mouth of his, is always smarter than letting off a few from the trigger finger. A 30 minute car chase always in complete control, cool with wrenching the steering wheel off-road before resuming its day-to-day cruising, and whose crucially compact composition makes it a red letter day for the rewind button. The Nas comparisons are now ancient history. MO


Z.

Msafiri Zawose  ‘Uhamiaji’  (Soundway Records)

Handing on the baton, so to speak, to another generation, the late great Gogo Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose’s equally talented son Msafiri takes up the reigns on his latest album for Soundway Records, Uhamiaji.

From the heartlands of Tanzania, Msafiri in collaboration with the much-respected Santuri platform – enablers and promoters for a much neglected East African music scene – and SoundThread’s Sam Jones has created a vibrant and sauntering, drifting adventure in dub and Afrofuturism jazz from the gogo traditions. Building to a degree on his father’s own 2002 experimental collaboration with ambient electronica producer Michael Brook, on the album Assembly, Msafiri takes his heritage into new and expansive sonic territories whilst intrinsically sounding African.

Buzzy, bright, hypnotic and at times trickling like watery vibes, this amorphous album is an odyssey of the lilting, danceable, meditative and peaceable. A peregrination of mystery, a journey across acoustic and electric frontiers musically and vocally, Uhamiaji is both a most beautiful and imaginative album. DV


REVIEWS ROUNDUP 
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Right, quick as you like, look lively. We have a lot to get through this month.

Part catch-up and partly featuring releases to come, the latest TOF review includes the latest poetically alluring and chorister evocations suite, Circuits, by Rowan Coupland; a new mix of electronic music and Curaçao traditions, colliding in a sonic explosive protest, from the Amsterdam-based Kuenta i Tambú; an esoteric and spooky seasonal EP of curios, Little Legs For Little Eggs, from the mysterious Quimper; strange cartoon Moog soundtracks and space japes from the late Guatemala electronic composer Emilio Aparicio; a collection of lost recordings from the bucolic and fuzz psych Swedish trio Cymbeline; the Anglo-German experimental triumvirate of Anne Müller, Sebastian Reynolds & Alex Stolze, with their first collective album of neo-classical and ambient performances, Part One; and form the Edinburgh-based sonic experimentalist Reverse Engineer a stunning low key album of transitional electronica and field recordings, Elusive Geometry.

I also have singles and EPs from pianist and troubadour extraordinaire John Howard, releasing his cover of Nick Drakes diaphanous From The Morning; the latest track, Mastakink, with accompanying remixes, from the cerebral electronic duo Room of Wires; and the debut EP of thrashing indie and new wave rock from Oxford’s Easter Island Statues, Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?.

Read on…



Kuenta i Tambú  ‘Rais’
Buchi Records,  15th November 2017

Fired-up and blazing out of Amsterdam, the Dutch-based (‘major leaguers’) Kuenta i Tambú, with their collision of dance music and Afro-Caribbean hard-hitting sonic triggers and attacks, make an explosive impression with their latest global beat travailing Rais album. Apparently attempts have already been made to frame this force of nature with a coherent or trendy tag: ‘new sound global bass’ and ‘tambútronic’ being the frontrunners, the former a bit clumsy, the latter more catchy and closer to the truth.

Built around the Dutch-Caribbean island musical traditions of the group’s founder Roël Calister, a native of Curaçao, the group uses the indigenous Papiamento language and dialect of that island not only for their moniker, which translates as ‘Tales and Drums’, but the title too, which means ‘Roots’: The ‘Tambú’ part of that band name also refers to a particular Curaçao style of dance and music, named after the drums that accompany it. You can hear those traditional hand drums pummeling away throughout this exuberant, restless but directed chaos of strutting synthesizer betas and earthy echoes of the ancestors.

Transfusing the signature sounds, from reggae to dancehall, with a dose of Major Lazer and MIA, Calister and his troupe pays certain homage to those ‘roots’, energizing and keeping ‘alive’ the sound of that southern Caribbean island –name checking notable Curaçao artists such as his sister Izaline Calister, Grupo Issoco and Elia Isenia – whilst blasting it forward into a polygenesis futuristic fusion.

Amplifying into a twerking, booty-shaking voodoo summoning bombast of rapping, spitting and soul-with-attitude vocal led charges, traditions come alive; those tribal atavistic themes entwined with the galloping urgency and incessant vibrations of dancefloor protest. A call-to-arms in one sense with its fierce shouts, laser strafing and pneumatic drilling bass, Kuenta i Tambú sound like a tropical island Die Antwoord, at other times, especially on the bottle-tapping and hand drum blitz Roll like the Ghana’s King Ayisoba.

Truly omnivorous the group throw Bhangra, R&B, Techno and Samba carnival saunters into a mix of swaggering male vocals, a local children’s choir and the equally ferocious, though also sultry and lulling, voice of Diamanta Kock. Recording half the album on Curaçao itself, soaking up the atmosphere, Kuenta i Tambú’s lively fervor propels the local culture forward into the 21st century with a spirited, even rebellious injection of loops, effects and colliding rhythms. In the words of the group, they are, in a manner, more “like a Caribbean punk band”, going “harder and harder, louder and louder!” Rais proves a perfect testament to that.







 

Rowan Coupland   ‘Circuit’ (Album and Illustrated Book)
27th October 2017

It’s the voice of course that draws you in: that ability to convey deep, though eloquently lights, descriptions so effortlessly whilst trilling and cooing between the role of chorister and Medieval bard, countercultural folk troubadour and earnest poet. The highly capable Rowan Coupland lets the words tumble and fall with great care, even when he packs those articulate observations into a cramped bar or two, as he does on occasion almost without taking a breathe, his diction natural and unhurried.

Difficult to define in an era in which artists can easily cross boundaries and take inspiration from anyone, Coupland’s voice is rich with both traditional and modern influences. Some of which are merely aspirational, whereas others colour each and every line. Indebted to the relatively obscure though highly influential 60s/70s English folk singer/songwriter Anne Briggs, who’s list of followers and admirers is both lengthy and legendary (Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny for starters), and the starry folklore of Shirley Collins (The Power Of True Love Knot for sure) there’s also mentions of the powerful atmospheric bowed and quivered music partnership of Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, and similar tremulous waning violin work of John Cale on this most impressive songbook. In the modern camp, echoes of I Poo Clouds, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley waft through the undercurrents.

Expanding his repertoire and progressing forward gaining more experience and skills, Coupland has gone from a formative home-recording artist and Brighton scenester to polygenesis singer/songwriter/composer. Moving from his native Bath to Berlin in 2010, Coupland’s global travelogues – touring Canada and Europe – are enriched by his numerous collaborations, many of which relate again to the past: including the renaissance madrigal group Garland Hearse, folk singer Mary Hampton and the Vancouver gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Gita Asmara.

In fact modernity seems somehow out of place in the beautifully doleful geography of Circuit. A wistful, uneasy balance exists then between age-old sentiment and scenery and the encroachment of technology: the poetically endeared ephemeral observations of a scenic bicycle ride, the spell of which is interrupted by mono-crackled noise emanating from the mobile phone of a passing jogger, to the metaphorical lamentable changing facades of a community, encapsulated in the ebb and flow of one transient culture replacing a more entrenched one; a history of displaced people taking root from another time (“burnt out synagogues”) replaced by one of “internet cafes” and “late night casinos”.

On the weary chamber weepy The Canadian Whole Earth Almanack, which includes a diaphanous classical piano guest spot from Sr. Charli, Coupland waxes lyrical about legacy: both his own and that of mother natures. Meandering through a geologically descriptive rich terra firma, dotted with Arthurian like references to a poisoned chalice nee cup and his own mortal fate, he offers up the old adage that “You can’t take out what you didn’t put in.” Indeed.

Imbued with a sense of the ancestral, with vague evocations to a variety of mixed-up chapters and atmospheres from across the ages, Circuit’s moody but always gently majestically played accompaniment also has a timeless quality. So it comes as no surprise that parts of the album were recorded in the hallow sanctity of an ancient church, in the Brandenburg village of Grüneburg. You can hear Coupland tapping into those venerable surroundings on the sorrowful, Medieval echoed suite, Opening.

The landscape and architecture of the main recording location, in and around the artist’s Berlin home, can be felt too; the language, music and expressions evoking the beauty and isolation of the central northern belt of Europe and the Flemish countryside, framing songs such as Frozen River in the snowy Bavarian expenses like a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting.

Though recorded in fact in the summer, there are countless references and a prevailing mood of winter, the wilderness and harsh but breathtaking panoramas of Coupland’s other topographical inspiration, Canada.

Saving perhaps the best until last, the less morbidly curious and more pep in his step version of Leonard Cohen (another tie to the Canadian landscape, albeit a cultural one) tiptoeing finale Puzzle Pieces is an inquisitive wondering and plaintive curtain call; lightly and gently stirring, Coupland doles out some great lines on this classically theatrical star turn: “I cried like a child on the day we left, I cried the same again on a day to forget. I cried like the sound of upturned teacups, like fallen turrets of conversations out of earshot.”

Circuit is an ambitious suite (an accompanying book of illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Eva Dominelli expands upon and adds an extra interpretative layer of meta to Coupland’s concepts) that showcases Rowan Coupland at his best and most intelligent, both lyrically and musically. This is a most rewarding and impressive album.







Room Of Wires  ‘Mastakink’
30th October 2017

Featured a few months back in one of my last round-ups, and on the last Quarterly Revue playlist, the Room Of Wires duo impressed with their sophisticated amalgamation of cerebral techno, dark beats and corrosive mind and outer body soundtracks rich Black Medicine EP. Little is known, or at least volunteered, information wise about this cloaked in mystery duo; only that they work apart in isolation, in different locations. Whatever the methodology: it works. And works well.

Their latest bandcamp release, Mastakink, is a single and trio of remixes: each one varying in abstraction and intensity. The original version is a hollowed-out sonar rotating dance track of unidentified voices, expanding chrome machinery, ascending and descending tetchy techno and dubstep beats and blips. MTCH’s transmogrification, imbued with a hint of acid, bit-crushing, rebounding warping Aphex Twin, is first up and stretches the effects with a breakdown of alien interference. However, Vlnc Drks applies a mistier, veiled cosmic trance treatment; adding slithery reel-to-reel – almost slithering off the tape spools – sounds, a sort of quasi-UNCLE like slower beat breakdown and laser quest zaps.

Wolf Asylum goes all out with a cacophony of speed-shifting effects, busy kinetic beats, and rapid breakbeat drums. Reshaping the original and having fun at the same time by the sounds of it, the Wolf’s remix sounds like a missing Polygon Window track.

They used to call this sort of beats programming, or something very similar, ‘intelligent techno’ back in the nineties; a term that quickly lost its original elevation for pretension. Yet it does prove a handy if glib label for the sophistication of this and many of the duo’s output. And that should be taken as a compliment.







Quimper   ‘Little Legs For Little Eggs’
14th October 2017

It comes as no surprise to find the mysterious maverick duo that is Quimper paying a near nonsensical homage to one of the Surrealists – and for that matter the German titan of late twentieth century conceptual mayhem, Martin Kippenberger – favorite symbols, the egg, on the latest in a series of curio EPs.

Their third such collection of 2017, Little Legs For Little Eggs, errs towards the haunted with its vaporous, mumbled and wafting esoteric siren call and undulating foggy horror schlock synth.

Released in time for Halloween, Jodie Lowther relays her vocals from beyond the ether; her musical foil John Vertigen, in the role of spiritualist, channeling those ethereal coos and nursery rhyme coquettish voices via the Ouija board.

Ominous though as it may sound, these little eggs and spooky shtick companions are often whimsical; the shocks, such as the black cat tip-toeing over a grave spine-tingling notes, aria like ghostly calls and ectoplasm dripping atmospherics are more in keeping with the Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle than the wrenching doom and harrowing bestial augurs of Scott Walker and such Fortean Times ghost hunters as the Crow Versus Crow label.

Information, such as it is, remains scant, but the former Soft Bodies Record instigators, Lowther and Vertigen, offer a smattering of influential references” Lynch and Broadcast being two of the most obvious from a list that also includes The Associates – the closest they come to that is on the Eastern-tinged strange opener, Thomas Egg Has Little Legs, which channels Billy Mackenzie through Coil. Lynch creeps from the gloom, his presence just hanging there, on the Carpathian choir, ring modulating Halloween treat Shrike, whilst the much fated Broadcast influence can be heard throughout the rest of the EP’s trio of lilting spooky visages. However, there’s a strong whiff of the grand doyen of 70s and 80s horror soundtracks, John Carpenter, on the miasma heartbeat drum throbs Cut Below The Knee, which pairs the composer with a miserable, malcontent version of Clannad.

Difficult to frame or pin down, Quimper’s strange traverses are translucent, untethered and evanescent, threatening to float away or evaporate on touch. Little Legs For Little Eggs is part avant-garde chanson, part witchery synth and completely weird.







Cymbeline   ‘1965 – 1971’
Guerssen,  16th November 2017
Emilio Aparicio Moog   ‘Expansión Galáctica’
Mental Experience,  16th November 2017

 

Proving themselves a regular provider of the forgotten (sometimes for a good reason) and weirdly kitsch, Spanish vessel Guerssen has surprised as much as amused me with their busy 2017 release schedule. From thrift shop mid 80s garage to Franco era holiday resort disco flamenco, the crate-digging enthusiasts have resuscitated some astounding eclectic deadbeats, mavericks and, occasionally, pioneers from their metaphorical deathbeds of obscurity.

From the latest batch, all released during the next two weeks, I’ve picked out the primordial and Kosmische koolaid electronic nonsense 70s recordings of Emilio Aparicio (released through Mental Experience, and fed through the Guerssen promotion hub) and the, as it happens, pretty decent 60s/70s psych, bucolic folk home recordings of the Swedish trio Cymbeline to chew over. Though there is a bounty of odd and strange compilations also worth checking out.

Guatemala seems both the most unlikely and obvious fertile environment to find an odd burbling Bruce Haack like Moog classic. Seldom making headlines, for better or worse, the Central American country – part of the umbilical shaped cord that tethers the North and South American continents together – shared a common revolutionary zeal with its Latin neighbours. Simultaneously enjoying an economic boom whilst the local branches of the Revolutionary Movement fought a guerilla war, Guatemala’s youth, well some of them, tuned into America’s counterculture. With ties to a fortune, or at least a family of drinks maker industrialists, Emilio Aparicio, under the patronage of fellow compatriot, the painter and producer Roberto Abularach, created some of the country’s most curious electronic music compositions and exotic flights of fantasy. Lucky enough to have Abularach sipping from the same magic cup, – both, along with a number of Guatemala bohemians and ‘heads’, indulged themselves with copious amounts of LSD and Datura in the lead up to these recordings – the producer on his return from a trip to New York in 1969, where he met Robert Moog himself, brought back home two of the newly-fangled analogue synthesizers, one of which he presented to Aparicio as a gift.



After two years of stimulant induced experimentation, and released staggered over just a month-long window, the resulting Moog recordings were far too loony, zany and futuristically strange for the Guatemalan market. And so, pressed privately as a series of 45” records, some given away as part of a drink’s promotion for that family connection’s business (in exchange for four corks of the local brew), these oddities have remained stored away and mostly unheard: none of them ever making the record stores.

Long forgotten, copies so scarce that it took this compilation’s architect, Ruffy Tint (of Discodelic) some serious excavation work amongst the rat dung and dusty grotty basement of a rock-o-la machines distributor in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango to find the missing and complete set of Aparicio recordings that make up Expansión Galáctica (no translation needed).

Undulating between transmogrified library music and a Latin variant of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, these curios range in cosmic kitsch influences; from primordial Joe Meek crouched in a moist subterranean space vault to bubbly candy Zuckerzeit period Cluster. The two finds that initiated this collection, Brujería and Transfiguración del Iniciado pitch the ritualistic and bewitching in an acid-dandy vision of Hanna-Barbera haunted house spell casting, the first of which conjures up a misty spooky soup of babbling, trips-y beats and yawning silly gaping cries from the dungeon, the second, more serious but no less kitsch saunters towards the altar of some cultish brethren.

Goggle-eyed bossa nova wobbles, warbles and bleeps permeate the Moog modulated scenery of a space chasm Sputnik era version of space. And for the most part it seems quite quaint. As an exotic example of Moog performed exotica and weirdness, the late Aparicio’s recordings could be considered a rare missing link in electronic music. The travails of saving these obscure quirks has been worth the effort, and in a small way brought attention to a scene few had ever even heard of. Just don’t get too excited about it; Guatemala’s part is a footnote not a game changer.





Meanwhile back on European soil, the equally obscure Swedish trio Cymbeline were, in-between their respectful gigs for a host of Scandinavian beat groups, producing a variety of recordings during the 60s, which would remain mostly unheard as demos and home recordings collecting dust, until forty years later. Laid dormant until founding member, the former lead guitarist of The Rovers, Michael Journath retrieved them from the loft and begun digitizing and uploading to Youtube, these increasingly – as the years went on during the band’s six-year history – professional recordings and extemporized experiments came to the attention of the Guerssen label, who quickly realized they’d found some gems.

Mostly recorded at the home of the group’s co-founder Anders Weyde (another lead guitarist, notably with Swede outfit The Scarlet Ribbons), this mix and match of styles, quality and line-ups follows the trajectory of a band finding its sound over one of the most changeable, rich periods of music development in history. Originally formed out of a yearning to write and perform their own material in 1965, bored with covers, Journath and Weyde along with old classmate Lars Hygrell, holed-up in the home studio, began aping the Rolling Stones and skulking moody garage rock of the States on their first records, the melancholic Everly Brothers harmony Look At The Stars and lamentable bucolic, Lady Jane-like haunted, Imagination.

At the same time however they also started improvising; incorporating their surroundings, from furniture for drums to the sound of birds, an electric cocktail mixer and even a refuse chute. The results of these expansions and melodious meanders were filed at the Image title series, of which the Third, Fifth and Sixth survived and are gathered together on this collection – the latter is a re-recorded 1970 version of the original. Starting with a bass guitar line, riff or plucked classical prompt these images were allowed to wander and end-up where they may: Fifth being a sun-dappled pastoral dreamy garage psych track that wouldn’t seem to out of place on an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Third a hoof-footed Electric Prunes in Allan Edgar Poe mayhem, and Sixth, a Moody Blues pastoral paean to love amongst the elements, which appeared on the group’s only single as the flipside to the ’71 released New York.

As time went on and improvements were made at Weyde’s home studio, Cymbeline adopted more folksy and progressive influences, looking across to the tapestry bucolic of England and the American West Coast, and to the wah-wah psychedelic songs of Jimi Hendrix, who’s famous standard The Wind Cries Mary is covered and given a gentle, almost muffled treatment by Cymbeline. Echoes of Donavon, Buffalo Springfield and backward/forward dreamy guitar-pedal effects feature through the trio’s late 60s repertoire. Some of which is mere pastiche, others, pretty decent, including the brilliant Traffic-esque Motala Ström from ’68.

A whiff of late success beckoned when Ulf Ryberg joined the trimmed-down to a duo Cymbeline in 1970, his amiable proto-glam meets Manfred Mann style acoustic rhythm travelogue New York became the band’s only official release. Prospects for an album in ’71 saw the trio locating from the industrial town of Norrköping for the Europa Film Studios in Stockholm to record a number of demos. Supposedly channeling the feel of the band’s live performances, a couple of tracks seem to be all that remains from this period; one of which is a more urgent but still wistful fuzz and shimmering cymbal retake of an earlier Stolta Vingar, the other, the more Amon Düül II acid-prog Strax Nedanför Tornen. Unfortunately during this late surge the band split up indefinitely before an album could be finished.

Obscurity and the right to be forgotten seems an impossible option in the internet age, and so even a lost box of nuggets as this Cymbeline collection can reach an audience previously cut-off through third parties (take your pick, from labels to management and radio) or the inactions of the group itself. Just when you believe or hope there’s nothing left to drag or dig up – thinking you may have finally got a fix on the whole Scandinavian folk and psych scene of the sixties – something comes along that grabs and surprises you into reevaluating what you know. Cymbeline is another one of those ‘what ifs’, though both good enough to have certainly gone further than they did, you can also see, in a crowded market, how they could so easily be lost and passed over for the multitude of quality that defines the whole era.







Easter Island Statues   ‘Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?’
15th December 2017

Bonding over a shared passion for the music of The Pixies (plenty of that on display) and the Neutral Milk Hotel (not so much), amongst a variety of other similar bands, in 2015, the Oxford trio of Easter Island Statues Donald Campbell, James Askwith and Tom Hitch are set to release their debut EP, the five track Why Don’t You Live In The Garden?, next month.

Leading single Bow & Arrow, which has been doing the rounds recently, has already pricked the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson with its lively maelstrom of shimmery crashing cymbal and rapid-fire tight drums, The Walkman like angulated thrashing guitars and serenaded Mexican trumpet accompaniment. Running moodily over the downs the trio create a busy but perfectly executed slice of rambunctious Pixies via The Manics style alternative rock single bursting with energy, moodiness and elan.

In a similar vein the opener, Jousting Colours, offers little in the way of chivalry, but plenty of thrashing spiky punk and post-Britpop American rock: early Franz Ferdinand, The Buzzcocks and The Strokes to name just three.

Things get interesting with the split and changeable Little Bird/Ballerina, which runs through a number of musical changes, from Interpol style post-punk to senorita yearning brass, country and crashing indie. Holy Day is another sea change with its acoustic treatment, plucked prangs of ascending strings, funeral pyre analogies and mandolin. It’s is one of the best and most original, most mature and sophisticated tracks on the EP. The finale, Street Static, is a mix of all the influences in a way, controlled yet just as lively, with hints of R.E.M. and the same crashing, full-on alternative rock guitar riffs and crescendos as Jousting Colours and Bows & Arrows.

An impressive debut indeed from the often crashing and blasting, but thoughtful and assured trio.





The Reverse Engineer   ‘Elusive Geometry’
Floored Music,  24th November 2017

Both in the moniker by which the Edinburgh-based ‘sonic experimentalist’ Dave House is known by, and deduced from the title of his latest album, Elusive Geometry, we can view the sound-artist’s music as a restructuring of sounds and mechanics.

House unravels, strips and inverts his apparatus of field recordings and sampled instruments to reconstruct new, often mysterious and at times foreboding soundscapes; some of which recall Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Musics explorations: a trace of the Javanese or Malay can be heard like a veil hanging over the uneasy densely packed traverse of cascading crystal droplets, marimba and tubular echoed Proto, and a similar, familiar yet obscured sense of place can be heard on the bamboo shuttling Insider, which also features the bobbing and dipped percussion and tablas of sound-designer and producer Pete Vilk.

Exotic sensory concepts of reimagined ‘possible musics’ and places can also be detected in the transduced display of dreamy African plain aria, scatting, soaring and soulful vocals by the jazz vocalist Matty Eeles, on the down tempo shuffling minimalistic Metastability. Fluidly interchanging between the soothed and soaring, Eeles’ voice is manipulated until her diction become almost alien, animalistic, stripped to just vowels sounds and exhales. And whether it’s meant to or not, the glass-bottle tapping and hand drum patterned Rhythmed has an air of the Haitian about it.

A transformation of House’s themes of ‘transition, self (re)discovery and moving on’, the precise chemistry of his compositions and use of collaborators – the already mentioned Vilk and Eeles are joined by harpist Esther Swift and BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Murumatsu – sends these explorations off into numerous nuanced, but untethered, atmospheres. Masked looming leviathans, honked saxophone like probes, coils and springs, stone and vegetation, the odd guitar strike drift over or interweave through sophisticated minimalist beats and breaks – the most abstract and discordant drum break of which features on the hallucinatory Decoherence -, with the mood fluctuating between both controlled uncertainty and more deconstructive chaos.

The closing arched trembled cello etched and splayed crunched beat peregrination Post is a perfect example of the kind of beauty, emotion and trepidation that permeates throughout this ‘elusive geometry’. It ends with the line, “It’s so beautiful here”, which appears out of the embers of a fading strung-out breakdown, drone and melancholy dreamy ambient wave.

Fashioning his own sonic descriptions; sending us off into our own space to contemplate and picture these re-engineered imaginations, House’s photographer brother John has even created a series of limited edition prints, created in response to the music – though these are only available as part of the ‘special’ CD edition. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired such artwork photography, those low key but expansive, often dreamy and gauze-y sonic journeys evoke all manner of emotion and narratives, both introspective and worldly. Elusive Geometry will tease out and reveal its textures and intricacies slowly, each listen drawing your attention to some other interesting interplay and sparse sound. House has in short created a brilliant album of thoughtful, moody transitions and discovery.








 

John Howard   ‘From The Morning’
John Howard Label,  1st December 2017

A signature adroit, deep piano and wise but lightly sprung vocal performance from John Howard, covering – as so many have tired before – one of England’s most tragic introverts, the late Nick Drake, on his first solo release-proper since 2016’s beautifully expansive masterpiece, Across The Door Sill (which rightly made our ‘choice albums of 2016’ features). Howard’s Waterboys style, enervated gospel organ undertone version of Drake’s original diaphanous but so obviously sorrowful From The Morning marks a subtle change in Howard’s methodology; releasing, as he will on December the 1st, this homage paean single style precursor to next year’s extended five track EP of similar inspired covers, Songs From The Morning.

A virtuoso, seldom matched, both technically and creatively – not just because he could confound or at least make it difficult to replicate his music, using as he did his own tuning methodology – the shy and fatefully mentally-anguished Drake, who took his own life at the age of 26, is an obvious muse for Howard whose own debut Goodbye Suzie, and most iconic album, Kid In A Big World, share a unique sense of isolated detachment from the music scene of the times, and were also overlooked commercially, though critically applauded.

Taken from Drake’s final album, Pink Moon, From The Morning is rendered a venerated rolling, tambourine-shaking dawn chorus by Howard; guiding the original towards an awakened brighter day.




 

Solo Collective   ‘Part One’
Nonostar Records,  10th November 2017

Gathered together in a congruous union under the Solo Collective umbrella, the Anglo-German partnership of Anne Müller, Seb Reynolds and Alex Stolze take turns in the spotlight and provide supporting roles with a cast of additional collaborators on the chamber pop meets traversing evocations suite Part One.

An interconnected triangle of familiar themes and musicality, with each musician also individually experimenting and creating their own solo pathway, in their respective field, all three artists have crossed paths and worked together previously on a variety of projects; some of which, in alternative neo-classical stripped versions, appear on this album. For instance, the original pizzicato acoustic-electronic Don’t Try To Be, from the violinist Stolze’s 2016 EP, Mankind Animal, now features Müller’s yearning emphatic cello, and is striped of its synthesizer electronics in favour of woodblock percussion and doleful low bass notes to create a more tragic and sad version.

No stranger to the Monolith Cocktail, Reynolds has been one of the most prolific polymaths to feature on the blog over the last couple of years, whether its for his work as a solo artist, producer, promoter, remixer or collaborator – which includes his recent Thai-inspired gamelan peregrination collaboration with the Neon Dance Company, Mahajanaka and Puzzle Creature. It’s as an exploratory avant-garde with classical inclinations pianist that Reynolds appears on this collective experiment however; his, depending on how you hear it innocent (if foreboding) transcendence or fear-evoking prowl of a drone looming overhead, gradually ascending and descending ambient traverse Ascension features both Müller and Stolze but also Mike Bannard. Rotating the line-up, Reynolds beatific undulating opuscule Holy Island retains both Müller’s beautifully pining presence and Bannard’s but also features Jonathan Quinn and Andrew Warne helping to perform one of the album’s most ethereal highlights.

Going ‘solo solo’, Müller, who has toured and recorded with Agnes Obel and is a regular musical foil to Nils Frahm, provides the tubular chimed expansive air Silbersee, and Stolze, a stalwart of the Berlin techno scene but also a violinist virtuoso pushing the instruments boundaries, provides the classically 18th century attuned stirring melodious meets twanged, crushing abrasive, approaching leviathans, Cell To Cell. Both also perform as a duo on the opening Philip Glass evoking elegant and quivery Solo Repeat!.

A showcase for a particularly harmonious partnership of individuals with a pan-Europa vision of collaboration and crossing sublime musical boundaries, Part One – of what I hope will be a continuing venture – proves to be a stirring neo-classical ambient collection of solo and ensemble performances; each artists sharing and pooling their obvious talents to find a common interplay and a bond to create a challenging but mostly beautiful album.





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