Reviews Column
Dominic Valvona

Regular followers may have picked up that my Tickling Our Fancy roundup is mostly an albums heavy affair, and that I’ve tried to post (quite sporadically) a separate singles, EPs, videos and one-offs style column (the Perusal) in the past. Due to the demand and fact that I’m just knackered keeping up, I’m going to try out a new format of sorts, to include everything in one place. With that in mind, there’s new singles from HighSchool, Sebastian Reynolds, and Escupemetralla. And both a performance excerpt and EP from the Jerusalem sludge rock outfit Andarta.

Albums wise we have the long-player debut from agit-soul-punk ensemble Iklan, epic45 ruminate with a wash of rural House indie and nostalgic gauzy tones on their new album Cropping The Aftermath; a most experimental overlap of Afro-Caribbean and Panamanian jazz from the dynamic Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes union (a side excursion to their part in the Irreversible Entanglements quintet); and John Lane, as the menagerie A Journey Of Giraffes, soundtracks a mindful escape on his latest suite for Somewherecold Records, Sunshine Pilgrim Map. Also, we have Spacelab on a mission to delve through alien soundscapes and mischievous foolery on their new oeuvre Kaleidomission, and Blang Records celebrate fifteen years in the business with another label compilation of maverick antifolk, punk, indie and underpass soul.

Singles.

Escupemetralla ‘I Always Reivindico El Nail Art’
3rd October 2020

You can try to describe and explain the crazy that is the organism, organization, the fiendish underground hub of the disturbing avant-garde and experimental, the makers of sound bites and broadcasts, the damned hub that is Escupemetralla (Spanish we’re assured for “spits shrapnel”) but no one can quite put it like those anonymous miscreants themselves. Just take a gander at this following description for the nail painting muse single ‘I Always Reivindico El Nail Art’.

“Our new track benefits from the wonderful collaboration of the sublime, immeasurable and chiripitifláutica plutonic artist known as Rosalía, muse of surrealism since Salvador Dalí walked her half dressed in Granollers (province of Barcelona) on the back of a giant plastic camel in one of his well-known happenings of the ‘60s. After her glittering appearances in corpore glutinoso at the Latin-Chichimeca Kilogrammy Awards and her yelling participation in some plumbeous works by illustrious rappers, trappers, folk singers and flamenco artists of every moral and amoral nature, our singer blesses us with her archangelic presence in this melodic song by Escupemetralla, with whom she has signed an exclusive contract for the next four or five years.

Ever since Dalí roared that famous mantra, “Booterrflaí, booterrflaí” [that is, “Butterfly, butterfly” as pronounced by a Spaniard not trying to sound British] live on TV, only Rosalía managed to condense so much chestnut-flavored Spanglish into a single sentence: “I always reivindico el nail art” [that is, “I always vindicate nail art”]. With this phrase she revealed to us once and for all the sources from which she draws the inspiration with which she commits her outrages: Fu Manchu, Freddy Kruger and Edward Scissorhands.”

I don’t believe a word of it. But who cares when such disturbing Fangoria nightmarish hallucinatory surrealisms sound this great. A perfect fantasy in time for Halloween.

Sebastian Reynolds ‘Diving Board’
(Faith & Industry) 9th October 2020

In the run-up to next year’s Nihilism is Pointless EP (released 29th January 2021), the highly prolific Oxford-based polymath keyboard player, pianist, producer and label owner Sebastian Reynolds is releasing a number of singles from this evocatively sweeping and sophisticated multi-layering suite during 2020. The first of which is the semi-classical quivery swelled spatial drama with moments of grinded and sparked dissonance ‘Diving Board’.

Following on from his recent The Universe Remembers EP – a philosophical, religious and metaphysical cosmological junction of dystopian literature and Buddhist Eschatology – and the incredibly personal stand-alone single ‘Heartbeat/My Mother Was The Wind’, Reynolds once more sends out the mind-expanding frequencies, channeling, as he puts it, “…the altered states of consciousness experienced through meditation, cold water exposure and prayer, it represents the deep breath before taking the plunge.”

Nihilism is Pointless and the new single are being released via producer Capitol K’s Faith & Industry label, the release platform for Capitol K’s output as well as John Johanna, Blue House, Thomas Nation (all three of which have featured on the MC and made our “choice” albums of the year) and Champagne Dub.

Expect a full review in due course next year.

See also…

Sebastian Reynolds ‘The Universe Remembers’  (here..)

HighSchool ‘New York, Paris And London’
(Dalliance Recordings) 16th October 2020

After making a splash with their debut broody bounced and hazed Joy Division meets The Cure debut single ‘Frosting’, the effortlessly cool Melbourne duo have signed to the UK label Dalliance Recordings for the aloof triple-cities of culture entitled follow-up, New York, Paris And London. Exuberating a kind of bonus-of-youth with states of indolent dependency, the post-punk naval gazers explore the “pendulum that swings between social anxiety and elation” on this languorous new single that bares hints of The Smiths, Strokes and, again, The Cure.

The single was recorded by noted engineer Naomune Anzai (Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, The Teskey Brothers) and mastered by Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control) – the Total Control reference there making perfect sense when you listen back to New York, Paris And London. Anyway I think they’re bloody great; and I’m quite excited about what they’ll release next.

See also…

HighSchool ‘Frosting’  (here…)

Andarta ‘Live at Studio Straus (an excerpt)’
‘ST’ EP

More miscellaneous then single/album whatever, I just had to share this incredible dark, grinding, thrashing lumbering concentration of dragging doom from the holy center of the impending Biblical Armageddon, Jerusalem. Andarta, which sort of means memorial statue in Hebrew, is a causal union of friends corralled by local label honcho and drummer Itai Anker. Here I’ve included them in live mode and the link to their most recent EP. The spoils of one of their most recent ritual interactions are expressed as a weaponized vision of morbidly curious early Bad Seeds, Swans and dark metal sludge. 

ALBUMS..

Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes ‘Heritage Of The Invisible II’
(International Anthem) October 23rd 2020

Channeling a combination of Panamanian and Afro-Caribbean heritages, the trumpet and percussionist duo of Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes come on like an abstract Latin version of the Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell union with their experimental jazz partnership. A side excursion, exploration from the duo’s membership of the burgeoning freewheeling avant-garde quintet Irreversible Entanglements, the Navarro-Holmes combo brings a partnership that began and took root when the two were studying at the New England Conservatory back together for an untethered gyration, contortion of “existential joy”. For this is a sort of escapism from the Irreversible mood of political angst and dissonant freefalling for something approaching improvised “jubilance”. 

Navarro and Holmes feed off their polygenesis upbringings and travails with a sound imbued by the luminaries of the Panama jazz and Latin scenes, the experimental doyens of America’s Mid-West and East Coast, and the Caribbean; all of which sprung or progressed from Africa. Navarro, who’s principle instrument is the trumpet but also proves a deft touch on the upright piano (like a saloon style Oscar Peterson), Moog and Juno synths, was born in Toronto; his family uprooted from their Panama home during the murky Manuel Noriega chapter, the fall out of which saw America invade the Central American canal corridor in the late 80s. He proved a real talent, studying with compatriot trumpeter and Fania All Stars luminary Victor “Vitan” Paz and composer, saxophonist Carlos Garnett. Holmes meanwhile was born into the Pan-African community of Brooklyn; revolving around the spiritual Ausar Auset Society and his family’s Bennu Auser Dance Company. The blossoming energetic drummer, percussionist was encouraged to study by his cultural arts programmer mum and classically trained pianist uncle (and this is where the two crossover) from Panama.  Both future explorers of contemporary jazz would meet in Boston whilst studying, forming a congruous union that holds together an amorphous dynamism of the strung-out and incipient.

Sparring at different intensities, speeds and signatures the duo keep various off-the-grid tangents, visions, together; combining acoustic improvisation with overdubs of synth, vocals, additional instrumentation and recurring snatches of musing conversations. Some of this comes from a guest list that includes the Spanish poet Marcos de la Fuente, pianist Nick Sanders (who plays a Thelonious style jazzy blues mosey on the album’s honky-tonk and Savoy label roll back ‘M.O.N.K (Most Only Never Know)’), Panamanian “mejuranero” (a folkloric five-string chordophone carved from a single block of wood) player Ricardo de León, and the soulful tripping vocalist Brigitte Zozula. A further guest spot arrives in the form of an Autechre-crosses-streams-with-DJ Shadow acid gauzy Techno transformation from the Philly-based composer and electronic artist Madam Data.  A barest semblance of the duo can be heard in a repeating loop to infinity that echoes throughout a wobbly warping dance mix of pulsing futurism.

The rest of this album features profound poetics reverberating in a play-off between Holmes thrashing rolling tight breaks, cymbal splashes, rattles and twills and Navarro’s blurts, spirals, airy ascendancy and short, repeated bursts. The opening meditational reading pitches Gurumanix and Kosmische undertows of slithery acid-synth against “unstructured” Cecil Taylor. And on the “celebration of life” framed optimistic augur of hope and unity, ‘Pueblo’, a lilted Latin Herb Albert teams up with Don Cherry. It’s a constant shifting balance of falling and less chaotic, more rhythmic sparring.

Empirical memories and reverberations of recognizable voice, instrumentation in the most abstracted passages merge with tightened pliable performances. Technically brilliant; pushing at the perimeters without losing the listener, the duo have an exceptional feel and relationship, guiding as they do, each other towards such recondite extremes of experimentation and articulation.

Lending the language of the avant-garde jazz of their heritage, the “invisible” people whose contributions to the form and beyond go largely unnoticed, emerge to inspire this impressive album; a sort of Clouddead of jazz every bit as progressive and interesting as their contributions to the Irreversible project. Whilst that unit’s live tour has been put on hold, a pandemic-imposed reality has concentrated the minds of the duo and given them space to experiment and follow a different path: A really clever one at that.

epic45 ‘Cropping The Aftermath’
(Wayside & Woodland Recordings) 23rd October 2020

From those stuck-in-the-sticks bedroom music dreamers epic45, another expansive gauzy soundtrack of translucent gazing and pastoral electronica dance music with whiffs of nostalgia and ruminations on the, all too quick, passing of time. Yes, Ben Holton, Rob Glover and long-term collaborator James Yates articulate an abstract longing for less dreadful times with a wash of diaphanous atmospherics, radiant House music sparkles, Bloc Party indie breakbeats and trance.

Framed, at least in the promotional email, as a kind of trip back down memory lane, the roots, blossoming of epic45’s inception – a creative escapism from the boredom of life in the middle-of-nowhere – in the 90s starts the ball rolling with reminiscing tones. Musically the lads evoke a redolent soundboard of 808 State, Bowie’s more downbeat moments on Earthling, the softened lingering’s of the Durutti Column guitar, shoegazing and the Aphex Twin. That’s some spread, and one that’s wrapped up in a lush dreamy drift of both the audibly and more hushed whispered, reverberated meanderings and heartened sensibilities of the vocalized sentiments. 

The second project from epic45 in 2020, Cropping The Aftermath continues with the sonic scenic illusions of their We Were Never Here photo book; snapshots and longer gazes from the past, entwined with moods transduced into shimmery mirages and rainstorms. Feeling at times like another summer of love, there’s a real sense of that late 80s club and indie sound so beloved of Madchester: radient-House you could call it. ‘Garage Days’ actually sounds like the band remixing themselves on an acid-soaked glide of oceanic techno, ghostly vocal traces and electronic bobbing toms. Those Bloc Party-esque indie breakbeat drums busily work away (sometimes venturing into d’n’b and even jazz) throughout the album as the washes and gossamer synthesized orbiting shimmers and sweeps waft around in the foreground. There’s a moment when it even all evokes a kind of Ibiza indie mirage; the sort Tim Burgess has been found to swim around in.

In between we have those lingered pastoral sets. As the name obviously suggests, ‘Waking Up In A Field’ is full of chirping morning bird choruses and the dewy sounds of, well, a field, but interspersed with fleeting reversal effects and a synthesized come-down.

The passing of time and the profound acknowledgement of reaching middle age with all its realizations is a right inevitable bastard to wrestle with. But few manage to fit it in such a picturesque soundtrack of gauzy, hazy yearnings. As that old adage goes: don’t grow up, it’s a con (or words to that affect). epic45 have come a long way since those bedroom music making days, yet that early wonder, hunger and camaraderie in hasn’t diminished one bit; the lads pushing the envelope as ever with a flair for producing minor rural electronic yearnings of profound veiled beauty.   

Iklan ‘Album Number 1’
(Soulpunk) 19th October 2020

Despite the attitude and volatility, this assembled cast of pissed-off musical malcontents sounds surprisingly controlled and soulful when chucking a proverbial Molotov into the current incendiary mix of division and pandemic.

Under the collective platform of Iklan, Mercury Prize winning producer and four-decade-plus stalwart of the underground music scene Timothy London, singer-nurse Law Holt and, on backing vocals, 90s one-hit wonders Jacqui and Pauline Cuff (aka the Leith Congregational Choir and before that “Hippychick” hitsters Soho) come together to fire off sonic and verbal broadsides at the current shower. For his part, London brings a sophisticated edgy production of tetchy, piston tapping Trip-Hop, House and both synth-pop and synth-sinister to the mix, whilst Holt brings fire and soul in equal measures; switching from meandrous spiky R&B to rap. Accentuating or punctuating those vocals, the Cuffs offer a suffused chorus that sometimes borders on dark cyber-gospel.

The name of the label for this venture coins the group’s sound well: “soulpunk”. It certainly has the spirit of punk (and post-punk for that matter), and is extremely, despite the rhetoric ad flippant birdfinger “fuck u”, delivered with a soulful wandering pitch.  Despondent as much as incandescent with rage, Iklan come across as a kind of subtle TV On The Radio. Better still, Young Fathers – which isn’t surprising as Law has appeared with the Edinburgh group on a number of occasions and is part of that capital’s much-talked about scene. You could also throw in FKA Twigs, Tamar Kaman (of the Van Allen Belt), Tricky and even a wallowing, more foreboding version of tune-yards to that list. Though the Iklan sound is a mostly ominous one, full of futuristic dystopian warpings and woozy despondency; wrapped up in a subtle deep groove and staggered sound bed of meticulously techy beats, buzzes, sirens and metallic percussion: A record that looms large in the stairwell of a broken estate, yet shakes, dances and thumps with a f-bomb littered fury that proves far more articulate and rhythmic than you’d expect.

Law struts as much as riles in encapsulating her daily life experiences as a young black woman and nurse in the increasingly hostile environment of a pandemic gripped city – there’s even lyrical references to a shooting. It’s antipop in a way; the message delivered in a velvet gauntlet of R&B infused rioting. An album fit for the times we’re living through.

Also see..

Iklan ‘Suffer 2’ Single (here…)

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Sunshine Pilgrim Map’
(Somewherecold Records) 23rd October 2020

From the very beginning of the Monolith Cocktail a decade ago, the career of the sonic explorer John Lane seems to have tied in with our own development: from the very first Beach Boys lo fi seashell bedroom symphonies of John’s first submission to the blog under the Expo moniker, through to his ever more experimental peregrinations under the menagerie A Journey Of Giraffes, and his most recent blossoming releasing music with the Somewherecold label.

His homage love Haiku to Susumu Yokota Kona album and ambitious atavistic Caucasus purview Armenia probably two of his best ambient oeuvres both arrived with little fanfare in the last year. His fourth, and diaphanous, album for that label is no less impressive: an “archipelago of the mind” evoking sunshine pilgrimage, soundtracked by the tropics and fantastical.  

Drifting across a translucent ocean to a virtual oasis, John lures the listener away from the pandemic suffocation of reality. As castaways in our own thoughts, pilgrims to, perhaps, an as yet unspoiled island, we’re submerged in a gently unfurled soundscape of mystery; an ambient wash of mirror-y love letters to Bamboo music and Sokamoto, metallic industrial scored dramas and weather reports. It’s a microcosm of Japanese referenced sparks of inspiration, profound philosophical island paradise references and contemplation; a world in which idiosyncratic oriental art forms (“Kintsugi”, the art of replacing broken pottery of all things) and fortune cookies crumble into a Bermudan dreamy islet, probed by a Kosmische accompanied submersible dive into the depths of the cerebral.

Pitched between the golden radiance of Laraaji and the more mysterious ghostly soundtracks of Brian Reitzell, there’s also a nod to John’s Brian Wilson influence, with a transformed vision of Pet Sounds acid-tropical tremolo, vibrato and shaking percussion signature on the album’s finale, ‘Asana The Giant’.

Tunneled drones, submerged obscured marine life, oriental chimes, crystallizations, rain patters on metal surfaces, moist droplets, cyclonic vapours, rolling storm clouds, glassy scribbles, insect chatter all converge to form a most subtly mindful safe zone: a hideaway from the real world. How John can continue to be overlooked in the world of ambient and experimental music is beyond me. He seriously deserves recognition, support and above all else, credit. I can only help continuing to spread the word. Get on the Sunshine Pilgrim tour and discover for yourselves.

See also…

Expo ‘She Sells Seashells’ (here…)

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Sandy Point’ (here…

‘Kona’  (here…

Spacelab ‘Kaleidomission’
(Wormhole Records/HREA-M Recordings) 16th October 2020

A sort of Faust Tapes of out-of-context dialogue samples, fucked-with drum breaks and Kosmische otherworldliness, the new experimental album from Spacelab runs through a thirty-nine spanning track list of fleeting incipient ideas and the strange. Some of which last less time than it takes to pronounce the title. There’s even tracks that seem to exist purely for their visual mirrored effect on Soundcloud: The piques of the reversed then switched back around ‘Goodbye’ creating a nice symmetrical image. 

“The soundtrack to an extra-terrestrial journey from a time unknown”, Kaleidomission runs and also peruses a both thoughtful and more oft-hand exploration of minimalism, ambient and cosmic dreamy space music. Early traces of Popol Vuh (before the heavens parted era), Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Mythos and, well, a Kosmische(olgy) of inter-dimensional travellers can be heard permeating this galaxy quest.  There’s even a title nod to those miscreants of Krautrock and beyond, Faust (‘We Love Faust’) that kind of orbits their sphere of magic box sonic experimentation: Spacelab’s homage features a repeating timeless acoustic guitar motif that echoes against a rising and falling away ambient field of melodious illusions. 

Those titles more or less sum up the intention behind each of these acid tripping film dialogue snatches, majestic floats through the heavens, crystal mirages and more cartoon scores. Some act as a breather, whilst other leaps out of a mystique void. There are also spells of a supernatural kind (an obvious one, ‘Trick The Devil’) to be found in the album’s darker recesses.  

From lunar caves to magic woods, astral gateways and the fatuous, Spacelab prove sonically creative and mischievous in producing a cosmology of investigation worthy of attention. It’s Kosmische music but not quite as we know it.  

Various ‘Scratchcard’
(Blang Records) 16th October 2020

An anti-establishment of malcontents and those without a musical home, the Blang label, as purveyors of the “antifolk” scene, has offered sanctuary and comradeship for cross-generational bands and artists like the psych rock ’n’ roll maverick Tav Falco and cult London troupe David Cronenberg’s Wife.

Fifteen years on from their inaugural heralding release, the 2005 compilation Fruit Machine, Blang celebrate with an anniversary year that includes a takeover of Soho Radio, an “outsider music” documentary bio and compilations.  One of those compilations, Scratchcard, marks the label’s most recent five-year plan, from 2016 to a laborious pandemic 2020.

Not quite the punt ad promise of riches that go with that scratchcard title, this fifteen-track collection offers an amble through the modern austerity shitshow equivalent of a dole queue 80s British underground music scene: a bit of sneering; some snot rock; doses of despondent naval-gazing indie; post-punk dislocation; rebel country attitude; and kitchen sink estate dramas. The sort you’ll find on David Cronenberg’s Wife’s introductory opener ‘Suli’s House’: a wrangling Link Wray guitar led ditty that disarms with its country sway and twang a sorrowful step-by-step guide to shooting up heroin.

Originally an extension of Blang’s infamous monthly nights at the now defunct London Westend spot, The 12 Bar Club, and inspired by the NYC East Village antifolk scene of Moldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis (a scene that sprung from the also now defunct Sidewalk Café), the label has become a much cherished and liked platform. That antifolk raison d’etre has since expanded to include anything the Yorkshire hub sees fit to give an airing; anything that is which falls beneath the DIY ascetic, or rather as they call it (in broad Yorkshire accents) “DIT”: “Do it thissen”.

I’ve personally featured quite a few of their roster; though only a handful considering the size of the catalogue (a 100 plus release so far). Many of which feature on this compilation, including the already mentioned DCW with their despondent and sardonic witty rich The Octoberman Sequence in 2018. But there’s also the agit-rabble of Sergeant Buzfuz, whose horrible histories Pope bashing Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself opus made my choice albums of 2012. Here they offer a Parisian staged modern tale of deceit and resignation with the XTC meets Richard Hell in Montparnasse ‘Fill In The Blanks’.

Popping up back in February of this year on the blog, Extradition Order delivered a musical vision of the Oppenheimer story with their American Prometheus album (a definite pick for this year’s choice features). From that impressive mini-opus, the Warrington group is represented by the Tamela Motown channeled Style Council and B52s swooning lament, ‘Baby, What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The Awkward Silences in a different guise appeared on the blog back in 2016 with the brilliant white-funk no wave Outsider Pop album. Here they are closing the collection with a transmogrified Talking Heads (if played by The Futureheads or Bloc Party) blast of narrated self-realization and a poignant tale of death, mourning.

Joining that lot are the Joan Jett attitude stomping and rattling, former Fall members outfit Brix & The Extricated (‘Something To Lose’); an idiosyncratic Casio chiming, pulsing Yoni Wolf like Seth Faergolzia (‘Wait For The Beep’); the do “fuck all” all day bandy Deptford post-punk meeting of a roguish Blockheads, geezer Renegade Soundwave and Dandy Warhols Jack Medley’s Secure Men (‘Taking Care Of Business’); and the Graham Greene reimagined as an end of a seaside holiday midlife crisis, played out by a noir Squeeze and Turtles, Trailer Crash (‘Brighton Rock’).

Other worthy mentions include the all-round cult talent and already mentioned in my opening paragraph, Tav Falco, who gets his drugstore cowboy Sir Douglas Quintet version of the Stax soul-snap ‘Tramp’ (retitled as ‘Tram?’) on the comp: A grizzled, cool fuck you of unrepentant redneck swagger. If the promise of miscreant, social political upstarts making fucked-up country, folk, indie and punk (and even badly-lit underpass soul; courtesy of Milk Kan’s ‘My Baby’s Gone Viral On The Brain’) grabs you, then get a load of this concentration of disgruntled reprobates. Raise a toast, better still buy the bloody CD or download it you tight ungrateful urchins. Here’s to another fifteen years of true musical independence!

See also…

David Cronenberg’s Wife ‘The Octoberman Sequence’ (here…)

Sergeant Buzfuz ‘Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself’ (here…)

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’ (here…)

Paul Hawkins And The Awkward Silences ‘Outsider Pop’  (here…)

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

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