Album Review/Dominic Valvona




Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. Ft. Geoff Leigh   ‘Chosen Star Child’s Confession’    (Riot Season)   LP/15th May 2020


Krautrock replicates, bowing in reverence at the temple gates of their German inspirations, but also carrying on the lineage of their native country’s own experimental doyens (groups like Les Rallizes Dénudés and the Far East Family Band), the Acid Mothers Temple have carried the torch for acid-rock, the avant-garde and progressive when forbearers and contemporaries have faded or disbanded. Coming on like a Japanese distortion of Amon Duul II, the group has thrown themselves into the cosmology of moonage daydreams and vortex space rock for the past twenty-five years, through many lineup changes.

Continuing with the renewal incarnation of the legendary acid-rock psychedelic transcendental freak out that played on the 2018 Reverse Of Rebirth monolith, founding instigators of the Mothership, Kawabata Makoto and Higashi Hiroshi, are once more joined by worthy new disciples Jyonson Tso (vocals and ‘midnight whistler’), Satoshimi Nani (on drums) and the mysterious Wolf (on bass). Making this celestial troupe up to a sextet, English avant-garde jazziest and progressive rock doyen Geoff Leigh, of the highly influential Henry Cow icons, joins the ranks as fleeting collaborator; lending warped out, contorting and suffused atmospheric saxophone and flute to the dream weaving psychedelic acid test.

This inauguration of the infamous Japanese legends refreshed and transformed previous sonic stunners and rituals from the extensive Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. back catalogue on the last LP; part of an on-going repackage of the iconic troupe’s music that has recently seen, for the first time, a cassette tape release of both the In C and La Novia opuses by Kamikaze Tapes. Broken in, as it were, Chosen Star Child’s Confession is the troupe’s debut album of new material.

The fruits of a session with Leigh, laid down at a recording studio in London in July 2018 (with further work completed back in Japan in 2019), the Chosen Star Child’s Confession opus ticks all the right boxes in the sphere of cosmic acid indulgence. Oozing from an Egyptology of jazzy spiritual occultism, the opening totem of ‘Nightmarish Heavenly Labyrinth’ features a languid vocal drifting over wisps of flute, rapid noodling bass nuzzles, flaying guitar and cymbal swishes that evoke hints of ADII Dance Of The Lemmings and Yeti, and Embryo. Softer, laidback stirrings appear on the Stereolab acid-jazzy ‘Diamond Eyes Are Hurt’; a sort of staccato shutter echo and mild honked and spirally distant saxophone punctuated vortex of Rite Time Can, Vitamin C period Damo Suzuki, Andy Haas and, when it gets going a bit later on, West Coast acid rock. The rest of the album tunnels and bursts into action across a background of flyby comet wizzes and frizzles, high-pitched frequencies, Hawkwind mad dashes, shimmers, wild guitar, Tibetan and Afghan evocations and contorting saxophone.

If you happen to purchase the CD version, the bonus cosmic mess of eastern brassy resonance and heavy tripping experimentalism ‘Santa Maria Enfance’ is a transmogrified vision of part of Hector Berlioz’s biblical opus: the flight of the holy family from Egypt. Original performances of this suite in the mid 19th century were less than well-received, provoking hostility for its bizarreness and discordance. No wonder it proves fertile material for the Mothers.

Chosen Star Child’s Confession is a celestial rites of passage for the new intake of converts on yet another essential Mothers odyssey.






In these unprecedented times the Monolith Cocktail has never needed your support more:

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

ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





I certainly never planned it that way (honest) but artists from the experimental electronica and ambient music fields dominate this month’s roundup. To start off there’s the all-spanning retrospective collection of the eclectic Finnish electronic one-man cult Jimi Tenor to salivate over; the double album compilation NY, Hel, Barca collects together many of his most seminal tracks from across his first six solo LPs (many of which have been deleted). Finally, after at least four years in the making, Welsh vaporous and diaphanous chanteuse Ani Glass releases her debut album, the cerebral electro pop Mirores. And Rainbow Island produces a colourful fuck-up of cosmic spasmodic bandy effects and break beats on their new LP, Illmatrix.

From the more ambient and understated end of electronic music, there’s the Dan Burwood and James Wilson collaboration for the Tokyo-based obscure label, Kirigirsu Recordings, Singapore Police Background, and musician/composer/sound artist Tony James Morton, inspired by the early developments in Hip-Hop, uses real-time sampled vinyl to create minimalist soundscapes on his new mini-CD release Fragments.

A few exceptions though, including the latest grandiose space opus from the Toulouse trio, Slift, the most recent dreamy shoegaze EP from the Brooklyn trio Vivienne Eastwood and a Turkish-Scandinavian progressive jazz fusion obscurity, Matao with Atilla Engin’s Turkish Delight.


Jimi Tenor   ‘NY, Hel, Barca’
(Bureau B)   LP/6th March 2020


Birthed from a combination of the signature instrument that permeates his omnivorous mixed bag of prolific music and the 70s teen idol, Finnish cult multi instrumentalist and composer Jimi Tenor is unarguably due this double-album overhaul. The later-ego of one Lassi O.T. Lehto, the eclectic ennui-shifting moniker has both absorbed and created a host of fusions over a thirty-plus period – and still continues to do so -, first as the leader of Jimi Tenor And His Shamans and then as both a solo artist and collaborator on a wealth of projects with such luminaries as Tony Allen, Abdissa Assefai, Nicole Willis and The Soul Investigators. From bootyliscious disco funk to Afrojazz and cult soundtracks, Tenor has covered it all. This retrospective spread concentrates on the first six solo albums (of a so far eleven album solo run); covering tracks from the inaugural 1994 Sähkömies album for the Finnish label Sähko, right through to the new millennium and the 2001 album Utopian Dream.

Recorded, hence the first location city of this collection’s title, in a New York apartment on rudimentary equipment, Sähkömies spawned Tenor’s first major club hit, the silly but infectious electro-house bouncing ‘Take Me Baby’. A game-changer, this DAF meets Depeche Mode on the dancefloor earworm took off after Tenor performed it at the Berlin Love Parade. It made the charts in the process and led to a three-album deal for Tenor with the iconic Warp label in the second half of the 1990s. That popular dance anthem is unsurprisingly included here alongside the more erratic burbling Bruno Spoerii-rubs-against-early-hip-hop kooky ‘Teräsmies’ and electronic chemistry set space quirk ‘Voimamies’. The follow-up album for the same label – released a year later – Europa, is represented by the Afro-Techno and minimalist Basic Channel apparition ‘Fantom’, the gyrating sexed-up Yello-House ‘A Daughter Of The Snow’, and lush flute-y Library Music with hints of a Japanese Style Council ‘Unmentionables’.

Moving on to Warp in ’97, the first of a trio of albums for the edgy-electronic label, Intervision, lends four tracks of differing creative influences to this compilation. There’s a transmogrified Lalo Schifrin meets Theremin aria quivered homage to ‘Tesla’, the Glam-skulking Alan Vega seedy ‘Sugardaddy’, Shintaro Sakamoto Kosmische ‘Shore Hotel’ and bubbly, filtered Acid-Jazz spruced ‘Outta Space’. Next up in that run, Orgamism is no less escapist and polygenesis. An Afro-futurist safari of clockwork birds-of-paradise, psychedelic folk flute and square-wave buzzes are conduced on the first track of that cusp-of-a-new-millennia album, ‘Xinotape Heat’, which also kicks off this whole collection. Playing up that millennial doomsday, ‘Year Of The Apocalypse’ is a David Axlerod Biblical somehow waylaid to the Paradise Garage – the rapture played out to a Chicago House piano gospel funk. From the same album the compiler’s of this retrospective have also chosen the jazzy lounge Zombies brooding ‘My Mind’; a semi-romantic curiosity that features Tenor on wafting serenaded saxophone duties.





Into the noughties, the final Warp album, Out Of Nowhere, finds Tenor on a funk odyssey vibe, taking Curtis Mayfield on another of those Acid-Jazz and sitar psychedelic trips with the high value production and commercial ‘Spell’. On the same record, Tenor pairs up with the Riga Symphony Orchestra to spin Easy Listening into a Rotary Connection meets Johnny Richards’ thriller of drama and suspense on ‘Backbone Of Night’. By this point we’re long used to the exotic menagerie of styles and crossovers, and by the time we reach the final solo album, 2001’s Utopian Dream, nothing is a surprise to the ears: The tile track, with its cyber elephant nozzle vacuuming, silly robotic voices and flighty saxophone transduces Marshall Jefferson, whilst on ‘Natural Cosmic Relief’ Tenor puts a pseudo Ian Curtis vocal over a kooky Japanese psychedelic backing.

 

As likely to hear Orlando Julius and Don Cherry as the Pet Shop Boys, International Pony or Ennio Morricone on acid, Jimi Tenor can mix the commercial dancefloor hit with the most cult and fused of sounds too. On this mixed bag, which is neither linear or thematic in it’s choosing and alignment, Garage follows Jazz follows Library Music oddities follows Funk follows Psychedelic Soul. A great place to start for those new to the influential composer, NY, Hel, Barca is a great retrospective but also an opportunity to own a load of tracks from a deleted back catalogue. Hopefully this compilation will also rightly cement a fairly underground maverick’s place in the development and story of electronic music fusion. There’s something, nearly, for everyone on this twenty-track purview.





Ani Glass   ‘Mirores’
(Recordiau Neb)   LP/6th March 2020





It has taken a good few years to materialize but finally the gauze-y vaporous debut album from the Welsh synth-pop siren Ani Glass has dreamily emerged. Since being enticed back to the Welsh hinterlands after leaving the frothy pop belles The Pipettes, the Cardiff native has been busy both with post-graduate studies in Urban And Regional Development (graduating in 2018) and involvement in promoting, through her solo musical projects, the Welsh and overlapping Cornish languages – all the way back in 2013, Ani joined the Cornish Corsedh, a group that awards those who’ve contributed to the Celtic spirit and bardship of that atavistic culture. The play on words title from this inaugural LP is itself taken, in part, from that West Coast vernacular: ‘miras’ being the Cornish word for “to look”, the Miró bit a nod to Ani’s favourite artist, the Spanish abstract doyen Joan Miró. Mirores we’re told,’essentially translates as ‘Observer’ thus presenting the album as Ani’s observation of the city in which she was born and now lives.’

Arriving four years after her initial solo EP debut Ffrwydrad Tawel the follow-up arrives in the wake of so much turmoil political and geographical turmoil. Now would seem as good a time as any to push a disappearing vernacular and heritage as Brexit emboldens Welsh nationalism. All this obviously feeds into the gossamer woven translucent ethereal pop of Mirores; an album that is based on a wealth of concepts. One of which is of course preservation, but another, the idea of movement and progress both societally speaking, but also in the sense of a journey; the contours of a picturesque Welsh landscape set against the more churning busy urban soundscape – a counterbalance that you’ll hear for yourselves, suffused throughout the atmospheric undulations of nature and sampled speeches, broadcasts.





After studying it so intensely, it will come as no surprise that another underpinning thread of this album, ‘A reaction to the values of capitalism’s priorities over the valued needs of society’s most unfortunate’, is the American-Canadian author activist Jane Jacobs most infamous polemic blast at the “urban renewal” zealots, The Death And Life Of Great American Cities.

In the interregnum between releases Ani learnt a good deal about production. And on Mirores she’s borrowed from some of the best purveyors of synthesized music: Vengalis, Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and Arthur Russell. The results of which send Ani through the looking glass of air-y untethered dreaminess. The arty wispy ‘Peiriawaith Perffaith’ (Perfect Machinery) has a touch of Kylie, even a Welsh Carol Rich, about it; the slightly more fearful and less lyrical ‘Cathedral In The Desert’ bears shades of both Soft Cell and early OMD. Taking a vignette style break from the veiled Celtic Avalon synth-pop, Ani merges South African Township gospel with choral Welsh colliery protest yearn on ‘I.B.T.’.

From the glassy transparent to more hazed-dream weaving, from homages to minimalist abstract painter Agnes Martin to lulled activism, Ani Glass’ patience has paid off with a disarmingly sophisticated pop album of subtleties that gradually seep into the unconsciousness.



Slift   ‘Ummon’
(Stolen Body Records)  28th February 2020





The Titan themed Ummon is a supersonic Hawkwind, with Steve Vai in tow as a band member, catching a lift on the Silver Surfers’ board, on an adventure into deep space. I could leave it at just that, but I feel duty bound to expand. So here we go. In search of one of the original heaven and earth usurpers, the Titan seer’s Hyperion (god of heavenly light, father to sun, moon and dawn deities Helios, Selene and Eos), the Toulouse trio of Slift go full on space rock opera with an interstellar epic of doom metal and heavy psychedelic prog.

Trudging with ominous intentions as it is grandiose and squalling in a vortex of bombast, this lengthy conceptual opus swirls around a milky way inhabited by our makers: A universe that, as it happens, rocks to a sonic soundtrack of the Cosmic Dead, Ipsissimus, Sabbath, the Black Angels, Dead Meadows, Pink Floyd, the already Hawkwind, and at its most star-gazing, Spiritualized. Though that’s only half the story. It’s a bastardization of Viking pagan-metal and psych on the fantastical salute to the gods, ‘Thousand Helmets Of Gold’; ‘Width Of A Circle’ era Ronson battles a subdued motorik Can and baggy Stone Roses on the three-parter, ‘Citadel On A Satellite’; and a Teutonic bashing version of The Skids and Saints on the cosmic-punk curtain closer ‘Lions, Tigers And Bears’.

Galactus sized riffs and crescendos are numerous as the stars in the Mother Sky on this Moorcockian misadventure. Ummon is a solid heavy trip with plenty of space dust and ethereal dreamy escapism to break-up the onslaught. Slift go big and bold as the entice Hyperion back from exile to clear up the mess and spread some light on a space-rock epic that is anything but pompous. Slift, we salute you in your endeavor. Keep up the good work.




Singapore Police Background   ‘Antiworlds’
(Kirigirisu Recordings)   Out Now





Quiet of late even for a label that operates under the radar in relative obscurity, Neil Debnam’s (of cult favourites Flying Kites and, post-accident, Broken Shoulder fame) Tokyo-based label makes a welcome return in 2020 with another understated ambient exploration of soporific entrancing unease. The brilliantly named Singapore Police Background is a collaboration between Dan Burwood of Calm! and James Wilson of Opt Out; two artists that have previously both released ambient peregrinations on the Moonside Tapes facilitators.

Methodology wise the pair recorded together but polished off their evanescent ‘hypnagogic’ (the state immediately before falling asleep) experiments separately. This process results in an indolent suite of purred and murmuring ambient drone ‘Fragments’ and sedative induced reverberating lingers. Antiworlds is in most cases disarming and drifting; the barest traces of piano and guitar hidden beneath hazy square waves transmitted from the ether. Haunted, often creeping, elements of uncertainty can be found on the wearily entitled ‘See The Conkering Heroine Comes/Watching Newsnight Taking Valium’ couplet of malaise. This is continued on the equally entrancing ebb and flow sonic diptych ‘Iridescent Bodies/Under The Awning’. Standing out some what from the Boards Of Canada, sound In Silence and Eno-esque dreamy traverses, the beautifully contemplative ‘Outside The Blossoming Trees Wept Like Waiting Room Laughter’ is a conjuncture of a musical haiku, a scene from post WWII art house Japanese cinema and something lamentably and resigned, dreamt up by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. There are actually some real nice understated melodic evocations to be found on this languid affair: the opening fragmentary drone being a prime example.

Intermittent signs of the elements and humanity often surface among the oscillations and dissipated swathes on an album by a collaborative partnership that shows potential and promise. Hopefully we’ll hear more from this effective duo in the future.



Tony James Morton  ‘Fragments’
(Focused Silence)   Mini-CD/17th February 2020





It might not sound apparent but the cylindrical generated ambience, opaque minimalist stirrings and waves of the musician/composer/sound artist Tony James Morton’s latest ‘fragmentary’ experiments are, process wise, inspired by techniques used in the early development of Hip-Hop; namely, creating new improvised sonic traverses in real time from samples taken directly from vinyl.

‘A fragmented interpretation’ as the PR spill describes it; Morton passes his sources through a custom-built sampler using a specially created visual programme language for music, the Max/MSP. That technique and method is interesting enough, pitching, as it does, Morton as a kind of conceptual DJ. But the most important thing is: how’s it sound.

Well, the sound is quite subtle with soundscapes materializing slowly, building towards fizzled peaks before dissipating gradually. ‘Fragment #1’ of this gently spinning moiety features enervated cause drones and crystallizations that eventually go on to form a heavenly momentum of cosmic rays. The second Fragment has a rotor like motion that turns out a vaporous melody. A distant muffled thunder acts as a deep bass whilst the dreamy and mysterious are evoked from Morton’s sustained pulses and buzzes.

The Fragments material is a stimulating, stirring couplet of improvisations; an evanescent passing of sound that has its moments.


Matao with Atilla Engin   ‘Turkish Delight’
(Arsivplak/Guerssen)   LP/19th February 2020





It won’t surprise you to learn that this latest obscure quirk from the Guerssen hub (this time via the Arsivplak label) is yet another example of a record that didn’t quite make the grade; a strange brew from the edges of jazz-fusion, close but not close enough technically, artistically or inventive wise to break through a crowded market.

A Turkish Delight from the Danish recorded union of the Matao trio and Atilla Engin, this rare (intentionally I’m sure) convergence of Turkish traditional music and progressive jazz, bordering at times on cult library music and at others on Krautrock (Agitation Free, Xhol Caravan) was only ever released in Denmark, but never, surprisingly, released in its spiritual home of Turkey. An exotic shimmy of belly-dancer sequins and trinkets, noodling and whirling between souk rock and sublime porte kitsch, Engin’s rootsy Turkish galloping and rattling percussion goes up against the 5/8 signature wah-wah, fuzzed and choppy electric guitar and clavinet-like electric piano on a series of instrumental jams that ape Santana, Pink Floyd, Passport, Elias Rahbani and Mustafa Ozkent.

Taking another punt a year on, the label is now releasing this exotic curio on limited vinyl, and again via the usual digital channels. Whether you need this Turkish flavoured fusion in your life or not remains debatable. However, that’s not to say there isn’t some interesting highlights or fine playing as the mixed Scandi-Turk quartet certainly stoke up a far zappy progressive noise and dynamic enough rhythm.

Anyone recently introduced to such modern Turkish psychedelic movers like Altin Gun will love it.




Vivienne Eastwood  ‘Home Movies’
EP/2nd January 2020





Appropriating the grand disheveled dame of punk couture, but with a slight change in compass point direction, the gauze-y American dream-wave and shoegaze band Vivienne Eastwood have drifted into my inbox of submissions this month with a melodious, submerged in a dreamy liquid EP of sepia Home Movies. With scant information it seems the trio have been knocking around the lush flange-reverb coated scene of hazy guitar pop for eight years.

Progressively more dreamy in a wash of phaser drifting echo, previous releases have been more cause, fuzzy and distorted compared to this six-track of lo fi diaphanous malingering. Less Ariel Pink or No Age and more Lowtide and Slowdive, Home Movies’ sound spirals in a mirror-y fashion between the veiled layering pop of Sam Flex meets Lush opener ‘Hanging Gardens’, and the John Hughes soundtracked by Holy Wave ‘Afterall’. Nearer the backend of the EP, ‘No Toes’ seems to slide towards acoustic grunge.

It’s a lovely dream-pop, with certain post-punk edge, kind of EP, rich with wafting recollections and yearnings.





Rainbow Island  ‘Illmatrix’
(Artetetra)  LP/2nd February 2020





For a label synonymous for the chthonian and dangerous, the latest spams of omnivorous derangement from the sugarcoated named Italian quartet Rainbow Island at least finds some cosmic levity amongst the despair of the age. Though the recondite facilitator label responsible for this, as usual, limited release – the Italian experimental underground specialists Artetera – says it features darker, heavier sonorities than usual, Illmatrix rebounds across a frazzled bubble bath of bandy and bendy effects and off-kilter drum breaks. Certainly under a multitude of stresses and contorted manipulations, the fucked-up matrix has its moments of tangible rhythm and even melody to lock onto.

From a polygenesis source, with all four members spread throughout the UK, Thailand and their native Italy, the Rome conceived Islanders have pulled and stretched in all directions. Somehow it all comes together though, in an admittedly weird fashion. The opening candy kook ‘Jesterbus Ride’ is simultaneously lax, primal, Kosmische and psychedelic; a spherical chemistry of ever-shifting ideas that sounds like a Trip-Hop meets Library Music remix-in-motion by Andrew Weatherall. Elsewhere you hear what sounds like someone repeatedly hitting plastic tubes with a paddle reverberating beats, obscured masked voices and conversations, the clashing of blunt swords and menacing vacuum reversals.

It’s an odd sonic world indeed; a cosmology that harries the more mysterious sedation of Cluster with a 2-Step Dub beat (‘Simmia’), evokes the spasm-industrial sound of Populäre Mechanik (‘Cacao Hip Mini’) and plays Ping-Pong with Autechre and Unlimited outtakes Can (‘Dropzone’). It’s dance music on the verge of a nervous breakdown in one instance, utterly fucked-up the next, a deranged colorful information overload transduced into a concentrated energy of warped brilliance.

If you find Rainbow Island somehow cute, then you can always try the more sobering augurs of apocalyptic doom from label mate and fellow compatriot Giancarlo Brambillia. Released at the same time as the Illmatrix LP – a double bill if you like – the Milan-based maverick pitches the end of the “human epoch” on his limited cassette tape discourse Bee Extinction. Under the Kuthi Jin moniker, the drone-monger gives a less than optimistic outcome to our chances of survival.

Both albums from Artetetra inhabit a similar anxiety yet couldn’t sound more different. Go seek out, and whilst you’re at it take a perusal of the label’s entire back catalogue. You won’t be disappointed.








The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi

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

Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup





Another fine assortment of eclectic album reviews from me this month, with new releases from Papernut Cambridge, Sad Man, Grand Blue Heron, Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, Junkboy, Dr. Chan, Minyeshu, Earthling Society and Brace! Brace!

In brief there’s the saga of belonging epic new LP from the Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu, Daa Dee, a second volume of Mellotron-inspired library music from Papernut Cambridge, the latest Benelux skulking Gothic rock album from Grand Blue Heron, another maverick electronic album of challenging experimentation from Andrew Spackman, under his most recent incarnation as the Sad Man, a primal avant-garde jazz cry from the heart of Trump’s America from Don Fiorino and Andy Haas, the rage and maelstrom transduced through their latest improvised project together, American Nocturne; and a bucolic taster, and Music Mind compilation fundraiser track, from the upcoming new LP from the beachcomber psychedelic folk duo Junkboy.

I’ve also lined up the final album from the Krautrock, psychedelic space rocking Earthling Society, who sign off with an imaginary soundtrack to the cult Shaw Brothers Studio schlockier The Boxer’s Omen, plus two most brilliant albums from the French music scene, the first a shambling skater slacker punk meets garage petulant teenage angst treat from Dr. Chan, The Squier, and the second, the debut fuzzy colourful indie-pop album from the Parisian outfit Brace! Brace!


Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music) 26th October 2018

From the tentative first steps of childhood to the sagacious reflections of middle age, the sublime Ethiopian songstress Minyeshu Kifle Tedla soothingly, yearningly and diaphanously articulates the intergenerational longings and needs of belonging on her latest epic LP, Daa Dee. The sound of reassurance that Ethiopian parents coo to accompany their child’s baby steps, the title of Minyeshu’s album reflects her own, more uncertain, childhood. The celebrated singer was herself adopted; though far from held back or treated with prejudice, moving to the central hub of Addis Ababa at the age of seventeen, Minyeshu found fame and recognition after joining the distinguished National Theatre.

In a country that has borne the scars of both famine and war, Ethiopia has remained a fractious state. No wonder many of its people have joined a modern era diaspora. Though glimmers of hope remain, and in spite of these geopolitical problems and the fighting, the music and art scenes have continued to blossom. Minyeshu left in 1996, but not before discovering such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele; all of whom she learnt from. First moving to Belgium and then later to the Netherlands, the burgeoning star of the Ethiopian People To People music and dance production has after decades of coming to terms with her departure finally found a home: a self-realization that home wasn’t a geographical location after all but wherever she felt most comfortable and belonged: “Home is me!”

The beautifully stirring ‘Yetal (Where Is It?)’ for example is both a winding saga, with the lifted gravitas of swelling and sharply accented strings, and acceptance of settling into that new European home.

Evoking that sense of belonging and the theme of roots, but also paying a tribute and lament to the sisterhood, Minyeshu conveys with a sauntering but sorrowful jazzy blues vibe the overladen daily trudge of collecting wood on ‘Enchet Lekema’; a hardship borne by the women of many outlier Ethiopian communities. Though it can be read as a much wider metaphor. The blues, in this case, the Ethiopian version of it (perhaps one of its original sources) that you find on ‘Tizita’ (which translates as ‘longing’ or ‘nostalgia’), has never sounded so lilting and divine; Minyeshu’s cantabile, charismatic soul harmonies, trills and near contralto accenting the lamentable themes.

There is celebration and joy too; new found views on life and a revived tribute to her birthplace feature on the opulently French-Arabian romance ‘Hailo Gaja (Let’s Dance)’, and musically meditating, the panoramic dreamy ‘Yachi Elet (That Moment)’ is a blissed and blessed encapsulation of memories and place – the album’s most traversing communion, with its sweet harmonies, bird-like flighty flutes and waning saxophone.

Not only merging geography but musical styles too, the Daa Dee LP effortlessly weaves jazz (both Western and Ethiopian) R&B, pop, dub, the theatrical, and on the cantering to lolloping skippy ‘Anteneh (It Is You?)’, reggae. Piano, strings and brass mix with the Ethiopian wooden washint flute and masenqo bowed lute to create an exotic but familiar pan-global sound. Minyeshu produces a heartwarming, sometimes giddy swirling, testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling our various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to those Ethiopian roots.





Don Fiorino and Andy Haas ‘American Nocturne’ (Resonantmusic) 16th September 2018

 

Amorphous unsettling augers and outright nightmares permeate the evocations of the American Nocturne visionaries Don Fiorino and Andy Haas on their latest album together. Alluded, as the title suggests, by the nocturne definition ‘a musical composition inspired by the night’, the darkest hour(s) in this case can’t help but build a plaintive warning about the political divisive administration of Trump’s America: Nicola Plana’s sepia adumbrated depiction of Liberty on the album’s cover pretty much reinforces the grimness and casting shadows of fear.

Musically strung-out, feeding off each other’s worries, protestations and confusion, Fiorino and Haas construct a lamentable cry and tumult of anger from their improvised synthesis of multi-layered abstractions.

Providence wise, Haas, who actually sent me this album after seeing my review of a U.S. Girls gig from earlier in the year (he was kind enough to note my brief mention of his Plastic Ono Band meets exile-in-America period Bowie saxophone playing on the tour; Haas being a member of Meg Remy’s touring band after playing on her recent LP, In A Poem Unlimited), once more stirs up a suitably pining, troubled saxophone led atmosphere; cast somewhere between Jon Hassell and Eno’s Possible Musics traverses, serialism jazz and the avant-garde. The Toronto native, originally during the 70s and early 80s a band member of the successful Canadian New wave export Martha And The Muffins, is an experimental journeyman. Having moved to New York for a period in the mid 80s to collaborate with a string of diverse underground artists (John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Thurston Moore and God Is My Co-Pilot) he’s made excursions back across the border; in recent times joining up with the Toronto supergroup, which features a lion’s share of the city’s most interesting artists and of course much of the backing group that now supports Meg Remy’s U.S. Girls, the Cosmic Range (who’s debut LP New Latitudes made our albums of the year feature in 2016). He’s also been working with that collective’s founder, Matt ‘Doc’ Dunn, on a new duo project named KIM (the fruits of which will be released later this year). But not only a collaborator, Haas has also recorded a stack of albums for the Resonantmusic imprint over the years (15 in total), the first of which, from 2005, included his American Nocturne foil, Fiorino. An artist with a penchant for stringed instruments (guitar, glissenter, lap steel, banjo, lotar, mandolin), Fiorino is equally as experimental; the painter musician imbued by blues, rock, psychedelic, country, jazz, Indian and Middle Eastern music has also played in and with a myriad of suitably eclectic musicians and projects (Radio I Ching, Hanuman Sextet, Adventures In Bluesland and Ronnie Wheeler’s Blues).

Recorded live with no overdubs, the adroit duo is brought together in a union of discordant opprobrious and visceral suffrage. Haas’ signature pained hoots,   snozzled snuffles and more suffused saxophone lines drift at their most lamentable and blow hard at their most venerable and despondent over and around the spindly bended, quivery warbled and weird guitar phrases of Fiorino. Setting both esoteric and mysterious atmospheres, Haas is also in charge of the manic, often reversed or inverted, and usually erratic drum machine and bit-crushing warped electronic effects. Any hint of rhythm or a lull in proceedings, and it’s snuffed out by an often primal and distressed breakdown of some kind.

Skulking through some interesting soundscapes and fusions, tracks such as the opening ‘Waning Empire Blues’ conjures up a Southern American States gloom (where the Mason-Dixon line meets the dark ambient interior of New York) via a submerged vision of India. It also sounds, in part, like an imaginary partnership between Hassell and Ry Cooder. ‘Days Of The Jackals’ has a sort of Spanish Texas merges with Byzantium illusion and ‘New Orphans’ transduces the Aphex Twin into a shapeless, spiraling cacophony of pain.

With hints of the industrial, tubular metallic, blues, country, electro and Far East to be found, American Nocturne is essentially a deconstructive jazz album. Further out than most, even for a genre used to such heavy abstract experimentation, this cry from the bleeding heart of Trumpism opposition is as musically traumatic as it is complex and creatively descriptive. Fiorino and Haas envision a harrowing soundtrack fit for the looming miasma of our times.



Papernut Cambridge ‘Mellotron Phase: Volume 2’ (Ravenwood Music/Gare du Nord) 5th October 2018

 

A one-man cottage industry (a impressively prolific one at that) Ian Button’s Eurostar connection inspired label seems to pop up in every other roundup of mine. The unofficial houseband/supergroup and Button pet project Papernut Cambridge, the ranks of which often swell or contract to accommodate an ever-growing label roster of artists, is once again widening its nostalgic pop and psychedelic tastes.

Following on from Button’s debut leap into halcyon cult and kitsch library music, Mellotron Phase: Volume 1 is another suite of similar soft melodic compositions, built around the hazy and dreamy polyphonic loops of the iconic keyboard: An instrument used to radiant, often woozy, affect on countless psych and progressive records. That first volume was a blissful, float-y visage of quasi-David Axelrod psychedelic litany, pop-sike, quaint 60s romances and a mellotron moods version of Claude Denjean cult lounge Moog covers.

This time around the basis for each instrumental vision is the rhythm accompaniments from Mattel’s disc-based Ontigan home-entertainment instrument. These early examples of instrumental loops and musical breaks were set out across the instrument’s keys so that chord sequences and variations can be used to construct an arrangement. Mellowed and toned-down in comparison to the first volume, though still featuring drum breaks, percussion, bass and on the Bacharach-composes-a-screwball-tribute-to-French-Western-pulp-fiction (Paris, Texas to Paris, France) ‘A Cowboy In Montmartre’, an accordion. If the French Wild West grabs you then there’s plenty of other weird and wonderful mélanges to be found on this whimsically romantic, sometimes comically vaudeville, and often-yearning fondly nostalgic album. The swirling cascade of soft focus tremolo vibrations of the stuttered ‘Cha-Cha-Charlie’ sounds like Blue Gene Tyranny catching a flight on George Harrison’s Magical Mystery Tour. The Sputnik space harp pastiche of ‘Cygnus Probe’ is equally as Gerry Anderson as it is Philippe Guerre, and ‘Boss Club’ reimagines Trojan Records transduced through lounge music. Kooky Bavarian Oompah Bands at an acid-tripping Technicolor circus add to the mirage-like mellotron kaleidoscope on ‘Sergeant Major Mushrooms’, Len Deighton’s quintessentially English clandestine spy everyman, as scored by John Barry, cameos on the clavinet spindly and The Kramford Look-esque ‘Parker’s Last Case’, and Amen Corner wear their soft soul shufflers on the Tamala backbeat ‘Soul Brogues’.

A curious love letter to the forgotten (though a host of champions, from individuals to labels, have revalued and showcased their work) composers and mavericks behind some of the best and most odd library music, Mellotron Phase will in time become a cult album itself. As quirky as it is serenading, alternative recalled obscure soundtracks that vaguely recall Jean-Pierre Decerf, Jimmy Harris, Stereolab, Jean-Claude Vannier and even Roy Budd are given a fond awakening by Button and his dusted-off mellotron muse.






Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’ October 2018

 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017. Many of which have featured in one form or another in this column.

The latest and possibly most restive of all his (if you can call it that) albums is the spasmodic computer love transmogrification ROM-COM. An almost seamless record, each track bleeding into, or mind melding with the next, the constantly changing if less ennui jumpy compositions are smoother and mindful this time around. This doesn’t mean it’s any less kooky, leaping from one effect to the next, or, suddenly scrabbling off in different directions following various nodes and interplays, leaving the original source and prompts behind. But I detect a more even, and daresay, sophisticated method to the usual skittish hyperactivity.

Showing that penchant for exploration tracks such as the tribal cosmic synwave ‘Play In The Sky’ fluctuate between the Twilight Zone and tetchy, tentacle slithery techno; whilst the shifting bit-crush cybernetic ‘Hat’ sounds like a transplanted to late 80s Detroit Art Of Noise one minute, the next, like a isotope chilled thriller soundtrack. Reverberating piano rays, staggered against abrasive drumbeats await the listener on the sadly melodic ‘King Of ‘. That is until a drilling drum break barrels in and gets jammed, turning the track into a jarring cylindrical headbanger. ‘Coat’ whip-cracks to a primitive homemade drum machine snare as it, lo fi style, dances along to a three-way of Harmonia, The Normal and Populare Mechanik, and the brilliantly entitled ‘Wasp Meat’ places Kraftwerk in Iain Banks Factory.

Almost uniquely in his own little orbit of maverick bastardize electronic experimentation, Spackman, who builds many of his own bizarre contraptions and instruments, strangulates, pushes and deconstructs techno, the Kosmische, Trip-Hop and various other branches of the genre to build back up a conceptually strange and bewildering new sonic shake-up of the electronic music landscape.



Grand Blue Heron ‘Come Again’ (Jezus Factory) October 19th 2018

 

Grand Blue Heron, or GBH as it were, do some serious grievous harm to the post-punk and alt-rock genres on their latest abrasive heavy-hitter, Come Again. Partial to the Gothic, the Benelux quartet prowl in the miasma; skulking under a repressed gauze and creeping fog of doom as they trudge across a esoteric landscape of STDs, metaphorical crimes of the heart and rejection.

Born out of the embers of the band Hitch, band mates Paul Lamont (who also served time with the experimental Belgium group and Jezus Factory label mates, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen) and Oliver Wyckhuyse formed GBH in 2015 as a vehicle for songs written by Lamont. Straight out of the blocks on their thrashing debut Hatch, they’ve hewn a signature sound that has proven difficult to pin down.

Both boldly loud with smashing drums and gritty distorted guitars, yet melodic and nuanced, they sound like The Black Angels and Bauhaus working over noir rock on the vortex that is ‘Wwyds’, a grunge-y Belgium version of John Lyndon backed by The Pixies on the controlled maelstrom title-track, and Metallica on the country-twanging, pendulous skull-banger ‘Head’. They also sail close to The Killing Joke, Sisters Of Mercy (especially on the decadent wastrel Gothic ‘The Cult’), Archers Of Loaf and, even, The Foo Fighters. They rollick in fits of rage and despondency, beating into shape all these various inspirations, yet they come out on top with their own sound in the end.

Playing live alongside some pretty decent bands of late (White Denim, Elefant, The Cult Of Dom Keller) the GBH continue to grow with confidence; producing a solid heavy rock and punk album that reinforces the justified, low-level as it might be, hype of the Belgium, and by extension, Flanders scene.






Dr. Chan ‘Squier’ (Stolen Body Records) October 12th 2018

 

Keeping up the petulant garage-punk-skate-slacker discourse of their obstinate debut, the French group with just a little more control and panache once more hang loose and play fast with their spikey influences on the second LP Squier.

Hanging out with a disgruntled shrug in a 1980s visage of L.A. central back lots, skating autumn time drained pools in a nocturnal motel setting, Dr. Chan crow about the transition from adolescence to infantile adulthood. Hardly more than teenagers themselves, the band seem obsessed with their own informative years of slackerdom; despondently ripping into the status of outsiders the lead singer sulkingly declares himself as “Just a young messy loser” on the opening boom bap garage turn space punk spiraling ‘Wicked & Wasted’, and a “Teenage motherfucker” on the funhouse skater-punk meets Thee Headcoats ‘Empty Pockets’.

The pains but also thrills of that time are channeled through a rolling backbeat of Black Lips, Detroit Cobras, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Hunches, Nirvana and new wave influences. The most surprising being glimmers of The Strokes, albeit a distressed version, on the thrashed but polished, even melodic, ‘Girls!’ And, perhaps one of the album’s best tracks (certainly most tuneful), the bedeviled ride on the 666 Metro line ‘The Sinner’, could be an erratic early Arctic Monkeys missive meets Blink 182 outtake.

The Squier is an unpretentious strop, fueled as much by jacking-up besides over spilling dumpsters, zombified states of emptiness and despair as it is by carefree cathartic releases of bird-finger rebellious fun. Reminiscing for an adolescence that isn’t even theirs, Dr. Chan’s directed noise is every bit informed by the pin-ups of golden era 80s Thrasher magazine as by Nuggets, grunge and Jon Savage’s Black Hole: Californian Punk compilation. The fact they’re not even of the generation X fraternity that lived it, or even from L.A. for that matter, means there is an interesting disconnection that offers a rousing, new energetic take. In short: Ain’t a damn thing changed; the growing pains of teenage angst still firing most of the best and most dynamic shambling music.





Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana) 12th October 2018

 

Looking for your next favourite French indie-pop group? Well look no further, the colourful Parisian outfit Brace! Brace! are here. Producing gorgeous hues of softened psychedelia, new wave, Britpop and slacker indie rock, this young but sophisticated band effortlessly melt the woozy and dreamy with more punchier dynamic urgency on their brilliant debut album.

Squirreled away in self-imposed seclusion, recording in the Jura Mountains, the isolation and concentration has proved more than fruitful. Offering a Sebastian Teller fronts Simian like twist on a cornucopia of North American and British influences, Brace! Brace! glorious debut features pastel shades of Blur, Gene, Dinosaur Jnr., Siouxsie And The Banshees (check the “I wrecked your childhood” refrain post-punk throb and phaser effect symmetry guitar of ‘Club Dorothée’ for proof) and the C86 generation. More contemporary wafts of Metronomy, Mew, Jacco Gardner, the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Deerhunter (especially) permeate the band’s hazy filtered melodies and thoughtful prose too.

At the heart of it all lies the subtly crafted melodies and choruses. Never overworked, the lead-up and bridges gently meet their rendezvous with sweet élan and pace. Vocals are shared and range from the lilted to the wistful and more resigned; the themes of chaste and compromised love lushly and wantonly represented.

This is an album of two halves, the first erring towards quirky new wave, shoegaze-y hearty French pop – arguably featuring some of the band’s best melodies -, the second, a more drowsy echo-y affair. Together it makes for a near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment.






Junkboy ‘Old Camera, New Film’Taken from Fretsore Record’s upcoming Music Minds fundraiser compilation; released on the 12th October 2018

 

Quiet of late, or so we thought, the unassuming South Coast brothers Hanscomb have been signing love letters, hazy sonnets and languorous troubadour requests from the allegorical driftwood strewn yesteryear for a number of years now. The Brighton & Hove located siblings have garnered a fair amount of favorable press for their beautifully etched Baroque-pastoral idyllic psychedelic folk and delicately softly spoken harmonies.

To celebrate the release of their previous album, Sovereign Sky, the Monolith Cocktail invited the duo to compile a congruous Youtube playlist. Proper Blue Sky Thinking didn’t disappoint; the brothers’ Laurel Canyon, Freshman harmony scions and softened psychedelic inspirations acting like signposts and reference points for their signature nostalgic sound: The Beach Boys, Thorinshield, Mark Eric, The Lettermen, The Left Bank all more an appearance.

A precursor to, we hope, Junkboy’s next highly agreeable melodious LP, Trains, Trees, Topophilia (no release date has been set yet), the tenderly ruminating new instrumental (and a perfect encapsulation of their gauzy feel) ‘Old Camera, New Film’ offers a small preview of what’s to come. It’s also just one of the generous number of tracks donated to the worthy Music Minds (‘supporting healthy minds’) cause by a highly diverse and intergenerational cast of artists. Featuring such luminaries as Tom Robinson, Glen Tilbrook and Graham Goldman across three discs, the Fretsore Records release coincides with World Mental Health Day on the 12th October.

Sitting comfortably on the second disc with (two past Monolith Cocktail recommendations) My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics and Yellow Six, Junkboy’s mindful delicate swelling strings with a hazy brassy, more harshly twanged guitar leitmotif beachcomber meditations prove a most perfect fit.






Earthling Society ‘MO – The Demon’ (Riot Season) 28th September 2018

 

Bowing out after fifteen years the Earthling Society’s swansong, MO – The Demon, transduces all the group’s various influences into a madcap Kool-aid bathed imaginary soundtrack. Inspired by the deranged Shaw Brothers film studio’s bad-taste-running-rampart straight-to-video martial arts horror schlock The Boxer’s Omen, the band scores the most appropriate of accompaniments.

The movie’s synopsis (though I’m not sure anyone ever actually wrote this story out; making it up in their head as they went along more likely) involves a revenge plot turn titanic spiritual struggle between the dark arts, as the mobster brother of a Hong Kong kickboxer, paralyzed by a cheating Thai rival, sets out on a path of vengeance only to find himself sidetracked by the enlightened allure of a Buddhist monastery and the quest to save the soul of a deceased monk (who by incarnated fate happens to be our protagonist’s brother from a previous life) killed by black magic. A convoluted plot within a story of vengeance, The Boxer’s Omen is a late night guilty pleasure; mixing as it does, truly terrible special effects with demon-bashing Kung Fu and Kickboxing.

Recorded at Leeds College of Music between November 2017 and February of 2018, MO – The Demon is an esoteric Jodorowsky cosmology of Muay Thai psychedelics, space rock, shoegaze, Krautrock and Far East fantasy. Accenting the mystical and introducing us to the soundtrack’s leitmotif, the opening theme song shimmers and cascades to faint glimmers of Embryo and Gila; and the craning, waning guitar that permeates throughout often resembles Manuel Göttsching later lines for Ash Ra Tempel. By the time we reach the bell-tolled spiritual vortex of the ‘Inauguration Of The Buddha Temple’ we’re in Acid Mothers territory, and the album’s most venerable sky-bound ascendant ‘Spring Snow’ has more than a touch of the Popol Vuh about it: The first section of this two-part vision features Korean vocalist Bomi Seo (courtesy of Tirikiliatops) casting incantation spells over a heavenly ambient paean, as the miasma and ominous haze dissipates to reveal a path to nirvana, before escalating into a laser whizzing Amon Duul II talks to Yogi style jam. The grand finale, ‘Jetavana Grove’, even reimagines George Harrison in a meeting of minds with Spiritualized and the Stone Roses; once more setting out on the Buddhist path of enlightenment.

Sucked into warped battle scenes on the spiritual planes, Hawkwind (circa Warriors On The Edge Of Time) panorama jams and various maelstroms, the Earthling Society capture the hallucinogenic, tripping indulgences of their source material well whilst offering the action and prompts for another set of heavy psych and Krautrock imbued performances. The Boxer’s Omen probably gets a much better soundtrack than it deserves, as the band sign off on a high.





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