REVIEWS ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona





As of writing this latest roundup of new music recommendations and curios, the lockdown restrictions that many of us in the UK have been under are erratically and confusingly being lifted (to some degree). Still, anxiety and uncertainty reigns, as the music industry (I’m thinking more the venues, small scale enterprises, self-made and the diy) is left pretty much high and dry with little in the way of finical help, or even solutions to the inevitable problems of a post-Covid, isolationist society.

Live music being the biggest casualty of this lockdown, it is indeed pretty worrying that one of the only revenue streams left open to artists to make any real money from is now so endangered. As we have all seen for ourselves or heard from an abundance of artists and labels, the so-called savior of streaming has been anything but beneficial for the majority of artists. And can hardly count as revenue at all – unless you are Kanye West or Justin Bieber.

We will of course need time however to see how physical sales will fare; though I bet many out there have baulked at buying vinyl, CDs, anguishing over the spread of the virus. Records stores have been forced to close down and move online of course, which may also affect sales: the browser in particular will be affected, as will many of us who enjoyed not only looking for records but just the company and chat with the shop owner, the chance of coming across something by chance or being recommended something. Spontaneity has gone out the window in that respect.

With all that in mind, I ask you to do what you can in supporting new music and the artists featured in this roundup. You can of course purchase many on Bandcamp and similar sites.

 

As ever this selection is an eclectic gander at artists and bands from around the world, cosmos and beyond. Bringing us beautiful, evocative bluegrass rooted traverses, Kentuckian born and imbued Myles Cochran delivers a new subtly unveiling EP of ambient and guitar experiments, My Own Devices; sonic navigator Alex Norelli, under the Fierro Ex Machina nom de plume, conjures up an album of heavy electro-acoustic imaginings; and painter/musician Marco Bernacchia, aka Above The Tree, produces a vivid soundtrack of ambiguous folkloric and synthesized mystery on the new album King Above. In the Techno field of experimentation, the ever-prolific Sad Man is at it again with another album; this time in lockdown and going for the kicks. Also, Etienne de la Sayette unleashes another pleasant polygenesis album of African and South East Asian grooves.

In the reissues in-tray this month, I have a special treat for fans of The Monochrome Set’s stalwart vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Bid and his noughties project of surrealist and eccentric escapism, Scarlet’s Well. Join me as I run through a new decade spanning collection of songs from the catalogue. I also run through the recent reissue of the Indonesian music legend and maverick Harry Roesli’s ambitious 1975 psych-soul-pop-funk-gamelan opus, ‘Titik Api’.

Headlining this latest roundup, two titans of the contemporary and spiritual jazz scene, Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray, join forces once more to lay down a righteous transportive performance on the ancestral with a modern pulse communion Spirit Groove.


LEAD REVIEW




Kahil El’ Zabar’s ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’
(Spiritmuse) LP/12th June 2020


Praise be to the healing arts of those contemporary jazz luminaries Kahil El’ Zabar and David Murray. If ever there was a time when we all needed calm and a spiritual deliverance it’s right now. A service, a quasi-liturgy of spiritual jazz, the two American titans of their experimental forms have drawn on a wealth of providence and influences to once more join forces through El’ Zabar’s “spirit groove” of connectivity.

As a harmonious bedfellow to the Chicago drummer/percussionist’s lauded (especially be me) Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, this righteous groove communion with the tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro Murray “intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level.” And what a groove it is; a disarming rhythmic set of performances with a poignant, timely message, or, as El’ Zabar himself puts it, “This is the moment to rekindle the notion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change.”

The creative partners enact this change (or at least attempt it) by channeling both the ancients and jazz greats they’ve both been lucky enough to share stages with over the last fifty years. El’ Zabar for his part, learning the craft through the Chicago hothouse known as the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and by playing with or supporting such greats as Eddie Harris, Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Archie Shepp (the list goes on). Oakland born Grammy Award winner Murray meanwhile has recorded and performed with a no less impressive list of notable talents, including Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Murray was also a founding forefather of the horns and wind instruments lauded World Saxophone Quartet.

El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse spiritual soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.





Joining them on church service organ and cascading, accentuate piano is Chicago stalwart Justin Dillard, and on bowing soothed and more scuttling acoustic bass, the burgeoning talent Emma Dayhuff. This makes for an enviable solid act; a quartet of jazz apprentices from different generations that between them have connections to every great jazz pioneer of the last fifty plus years. But, nearly, all roads lead back to Coltrane in particular. Murray despite practicing and molding amore unique technique inspired by the triumvirate of old guard doyens Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves then what Coltrane preached, he’s paid various homages to the late great saxophone deity. ‘Trane’, a notion, encapsulation, nod to his universal influence pared down to just the second syllable of a name, is all that’s needed on the track that appears on this album as a tribute of sorts. The swing time ‘Trane In Mind’ is a mood, a sense of that style; a splashed poolside dash of Coltrane in his ascendance.

 

Faith though is the main driver of the groove and varied utterances that pour out of this erudite ensemble’s performances. The water-carrier trickled percussive opener, ‘In My House’, welcomes all to El’ Zabar’s titular sanctuary; a place to raise the spirits and soul. A prayer in the form of a primal gospel House music anthem, the jug pouring shuffler features El’ Zabar’s signature vocal exaltations, which sometimes negate words and lyrics for just hums, feelings and an essence of vocal expression. A frame for a freeform expansion of the mood, Dillard switches from subtle piano phrasing to venerable organ, whilst Dayhuff bobs around as Murray customarily catches shortened hooted breaths and longer sublime circular breathing squalls.

The power of faith in love is enshrined on the next dreamy flight, ‘Necktar’. Dedicated to not only Murray’s new wife Francesca but also true love itself, the quartet skiffle and swing to a liquid soul music groove that sets up a meeting between Gil Scott Heron, Bill Withers and Lester Bowie. Talking of dedications, El’ Zabar’s ancestral percussive, vocal cooing ‘Katon’ opus was written for his fourth oldest son. (El’ Zabar has quite the brood of children and grandchildren we’re told). A special bond and sentiment is conveyed over a magical meditative suite of music box mbira, deft piano, serenading and hooting tenor and dipped bass.

‘In The Spirit’ is, as the title says, another faith radiating communion. Bird like fluting floats over dusty brushed drums on this venerated shuffled version of the original, first performed by El’ Zabar in late 70s Germany. Another past composition, the low-key Savoy jazz like ‘Song Of Myself’ was part of El’ Zabar’s trio project with Murray and the late bassist Fred Hopkins. “An introspection of dancing in your mind”, this riff on that recital stands out on an album of ancestral percussive heavy spiritual jazz and stripped acoustic House music with its smoky, kept subdued almost downtempo, intimacy. Almost veiled even, toots, dusty drums, hints of the vibes and live lounge atmospherics take the listener off into a new thoughtful space.

Working in various forms together since the late 80s, a third composition – appearing on the lauded LP of the same name – ‘One World Family’ is framed as a sort of “theme song” for the partnership. Extending the original with a more expansive performed backing of woody-slapped rhythms (which near the end climax in an erratic display of pounding and punching), spiraling reedy fashioned free-flowing saxophone and soulful melody, the quartet flex and breathe across a earthy but skybound cycle.

A reconnection, a spiritual bound partnership El’ Zabar and Murray appear from the tumult to capture a difficult to quantify feeling: a rage even. Quenching the soul with a “spirit groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times.





RECOMMENDATIONS


Etienne de la Sayette ‘Kobugi’
(Muju Records) LP/1st June 2020




As pleasantly inviting as the album’s sumptuous artwork, the highly active Etienne de la Sayette delivers another worldly traverse of Africa and South East Asian rhythms.

Channeling a wealth of his ever-expanding array of projects, from the Ethnio-groove imbued Akalé Wube to Bae Ho homage-inspired Baeshi Bang, and from Frix to an assortment of film scores, the Etienne de la Sayette platform pulls together the overspill. Put together in-between all these other commitments, but far from a secondary concern, the latest album to emerge from that project is a rich gentle flowing exotic affair. Played entirely by the intimate band of flexible drummer Stefano Lucchini, balafon maestro Lansiné Diabaté, and a small circle of guests, the undulating soundtrack is mostly devoid of technological interference: no virtual instruments or MIDI were used in the making of this record we’re told. Etienne for his part plays a mix of accentuate and hooted, relaxed honked saxophone and flighty flute throughout this borderless escape.

Embracing genres, especially in the rhythm department, the opening odyssey ‘Jajinmori’ takes a traditional Korean rhythm that Etienne discovered whilst collaborating with percussionists in Busan in 2016 and adds a softened Kuti Afrobeat vibe, Orlando Julius Afrojazz sax and the buoyant wooden bobs of the balafon. Riding over the top of this wavy fusion, Chicago rapper turn Parisian scenester RaceCaR lyrically flows with a stream of poetic consciousness that kicks back to the ancients. He gets to finish the album too, with a more political spit against the arms industry and the militarization of authority on the growled, scuzzed acid-metal-psych Deep Purple-esque monster riff ‘War Business’. Though spanning a two-year period, this “sawn-off shotgun” of a leap from the rest of the material proves the timeliest in light of recent events.

Second guest spot on this album goes to Cameroon troubadour Erik Aliana, who arrives from another compass point to rasp, growl and also lay down sweeter vocal charms on the rustic-folky village song ‘Safari Kames’.

Taking the guiding light of Afrobeat once more, the busier ‘LOULOU’ is as much influenced by Steve Reich ad chamber music as it is by Kuti and Tony Allen. There’s even a tone of Benin spotting organ and Hailu Mergia woven into the flashbacks. Diabaté’s balafon is almost watery, like a jug pouring out the droplets of bouncing notes. It’s “shamanic invocations” that rise from ‘Kobugi King’; another undulating fusion of the dreamy and soulful, taking in Muscle Shoals organ, oriental voodoo and impassioned talking-in-tongues utterances.

With slightly more buzz and rattle, the group channels the spindled resonance of the metal tine thumbed Kalimba, as played in the style of Konono #1, on the wilder exchange of organ and free-form drums tribune to the African and Caribbean god of knowledge of stories, ‘Anansi’. They also evoke a bit of the intense fuzz of Marc Ribot; his ‘Ceramic Dog’ being mentioned in the notes.

The only cover, Tegenu Balkew’s Ethnio cassette obscurity ‘Anchi Bale Game’ plays loose with the original’s magical spell drift towards the Orient. In another example of the free-travel music show, the group takes on a reggae gait with the church service suffused beachcomber ‘Tortoises’.

The most interesting thing about this album and the musicianship is the flow of ideas, and the weaving together of both African and Korean rhythms, as Etienne and his ensemble blend tastes of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and the Orient together in one track. Apart from a couple of numbers, Kobugi is a lilting, relaxed but deep listen; a cross-pollination of music synchronicity.





Myles Cochran ‘My Own Devices’
(9Ball Records) EP/19th June 2020




Regular readers and followers may remember that we premiered the experimental Kentuckian bluegrass, roots guitarist and composer Myles Cochran’s subtly evocative single, ‘It’s Like This’ last month on the Monolith Cocktail; a track that reverberated with the atmospherics and mood of a vaguely traced place on the outskirts of a recognizable American panorama. A hazy semblance of Cochran’s alternative Americana sound, that same single now forms one part of an extended version, ‘It’s Like This – It’s Like That’, on the new EP, My Own Devices. Expanded into a drifting Appalachian traverse with echoes of 75 Dollar Bill, and part rustically dreamy guitar, part lilted classical waned and bowing strings (the cello parts courtesy of Robert Curran), this couplet would make a great soundtrack to ambiguous horizons.

Recorded and put together between rural studios in France and the UK (where he now resides), much of this EP’s material wanes and sighs, breathes and pines across a sonorous prairie. The opening swooned, rhythmic shuffle ‘Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza’ merges reverberations of Myles Bluegrass signature trails with jazz, post-rock Mogwai and Daniel Lanois. As the title suggests, it is indeed a beautiful, and bowed mirage-y, instrumental.

Released a few months back, the ‘Early Dark’ peregrination blends more yearning sad and trembled strings with brushed drums, and the hint of a Mick Harvey soundtrack (there’s that word again, ‘soundtrack’). Though you can also confidently add shades of Ry Cooder, Robert Fripp, Warren Ellis and Steve Reich to both this ‘springtime mix’ and the rest of the EP’s material.

Plonking peaceably across the prairie, Cochran finishes up on a Bruce Langhorne meets Eno mosey ‘Churrito’; another drifter traverse of skiffle like rhythms, resonating guitar and spindly strings.

Almost just the tracings, lingering from behind the valley landscape, Cochran’s meditations and waning mood pieces are easy and quiet on the ear; shaped towards an alternative contemporary ambient vision of those bluegrass roots.

Myles will follow this latest EP up, we’re told, with an album entitled UNSUNG later this year.





Fierro Ex Machina ‘Processions’
LP/19th June 2020




The sensory sonic processed imaginings of Alex Norelli concentrate the mind on some foreboding sometimes creeping recondite worlds: Worlds that branch both the chthonian and alien.

From an apparatus of electro-acoustic, and what the L.A. based multi-instrumentalist and creative calls their “noise harp” – an assemblage of deconstructed electric versions of classical strings and dejected music equipment, which includes Alex’s Grandmother’s out-of-tune 1950s S1 Hammond Organ -, materializes a quartet of heavy studies in the experimental neo-classical, ambient, soundtrack and jazz fields. Yes, I did mean to include jazz; the kind that the American Nocturnal avant-garde saxophonist Andy Haas exudes on his various boundary-pushing peregrinations. But also a semblance of Ornette Coleman’s strung-out writhed, iron gate hinge waning saxophone can be heard enervated on the album’s opening mourned journey through the portal, ‘Praeter Nexus’. Unsettling as it slowly gains gravitas and a seething momentum that grows more mysterious, more unknown. The Nexus track demonstrates a frayed, fabric torn movement simultaneously as spatial as it is claustrophobic and dark.

Ominous nocturnal movements follow with the spherical shifting ‘The Shadows Of Plants At Night’. Metronome counted ripples tick away in the night garden as a ghostly-like voiced sound and permutations of Donny McCaslin’s sax waft by. Those plants sound more like concrete planetary leviathans chiding and scraping together. The lamentable entitled ‘Do You Know The Sorrow Of The Horses’, which sounds like the opening from a particularly harrowing plaint from beyond the ether features howls of a kind from wolves of some sort prowling the borders. This wispy invocation, as a scion of Cage and Nam June Paik, trundles across the inner workings and mechanisms of a grand piano: or so sounds.

‘A Sail Of All Tears’ finds a trace of melody and even a rhythm amongst the circling uncertainty and the chills. Turning over in the darkness, dawdling bass guitar and electric guitar notes act as guidance through the enormity of the elementals.

There’s a dark majesty and gravity to all four of these heavy evocations. The dissonance is nowhere to be found however, and so even in the abyss each one of Norelli’s visceral statements remain in a sort of ominous building harmony; a synthesis of sonorous emotion, journeying towards the void: A soundtrack for our frightening times.



Sad Man ‘Daddy Biscuits’
LP/5th June 2020




Despite the alter ego moniker of garden shed electronic music boffin Andrew Spackman’s most prolific incarnation yet, the Sad Man in lockdown is anything but as anxious and plaintive as the name might suggest. The latest (must be millionth, or something like that, release from Andrew now) experiments-in-motion album is in fact quite playful: a laugh even. Euphemisms, innuendo aside, Daddy Biscuits has a more uninterrupted flow of rhythms and progresses in a less agitated, ennui fashion than most of Andrew’s output.

Set loose with a trick noise making apparatus, the Sad Man goes for the kicks, transmogrifying House music and Techno for a staccato dancefloor. Jolted Djax Techno gets warped and bashed with shocks of Mike Dred, galloping 808s and mischievous Ed Banger electro funk on an album in which you can hear the cogs moving around in the artist’s noodle: where to go next? What about this, zap-bang-clatter-wobble-drill!! A Sad Man track seldom ends where it began.

God knows what the titles indicate half the time either. The titular cyber wilderness track alone goes through Luke Slater, Juan Atkins, Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers. The track ‘Sleeper’ is anything but somnolent, running as it does through a bastardize version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’, 16-bit computer game coin-up prizes and hints of M-Plant Rob Hood and a crystalline dream magic. For me though, I love the strange curio ‘House Work’ (definitely a tune that would improve the chores no end). It sounds like Major Force mashed with Wagon Christ and Les Rita Mitsouko; a sort of electro-operatic funk.

For kicks then, Andrew eyes up the groove on a collection of both panel-beater workshop beats and modulated weirdness; an album for lovers of Warp, Leaf, early Jeff Mills and House Of Tapes. Lockdown proves a fertile environment for the conceptual artist and sonic maverick. I like this subtle change. Pass round the magic biscuits selection again in the future please.





Above The Tree ‘King Above’
(Hukot Disc/Plug In The Gear/Krimzkramz Sub Post) LP/Available Now




Dropped into some alternative futuristic pastoral world in the aftermath of an unexplained event – or that’s at least what it feels and sounds like to me -, visual artist and amorphous sonic sculptor Marco Bernacchia creates a visionary traced soundscape of haunting holy and esoteric materializations from out of the ether on his latest vivid soundtrack, King Above. A soundtrack, as it turns out, for an as yet unreleased documentary, this regal entitled suite of passages, renderings and lingerings would suit a mysterious theme with its signs of the ominous, exotic, and in some cases, supernatural.

Gravitating around the so-called “Italian occult psychedelic” scene, a catch-all term coined in the early noughties to describe the emerging esoteric and out-there sound being made by bands such as Comaneci and Father Murphy (both of whom feature in various ways on this album), Bernacchia practices a sort of ever-evolving vision of “outsider music”. Far too knowing and technically proficient and learned to be the musical equivalent of the usually naïve outsider art, his Above The Tree moniker mapped abstractions have a depth and knowledge that betrays an eclectic, studied palette of influences.

Blessed and doomed in equal measure, the Urbino Academy of Fine Arts alumni paints a both unsettling and pretty atmosphere. In between his professional practice (reaching the heights of exhibiting at the Venice Biennale; which is one way to say you’ve made it in the contemporary conceptual art world), the painter has learnt an assortment of instruments, from saxophone to guitar, the Malian harp-like Kamalengoni to the Russian variant of the Jew’s harp, the Vargan. All of which appear throughout the various dreamy drifts and Kosmische stirrings.

All these instruments and influences are filtered through a gauze of the gossamer, wispy and misty, with the bewitching chimes set against distant echoes of voices, messages and Medieval leftfield folk: think Faust at their most atavistic meets Sproatly Smith. Something like the courtly, rustic reverberations of a past epoch drift in and out of a vaporous bed of drones, ambience and exotic swathes of an unearthly realm. The plucked brushed tremulous guitar phrases often evoke Ry Cooder and (sharing this particular roundup) Myles Cochran.

Nature is always present no matter where Bernacchia guides us. There’s even a sort of nature meditation codex at the end of this fourteen-track oeuvre; the sound of birdsong and an ambiguous great scenic outdoors is permeated by the waning gravitas building accompaniment of bowed strings and the barest undulations of the synthesized. Icy blows, vortexes, cylindrical metallic and ghostly visitations merge with the pastoral and at times the revenant.

With permission from his already mentioned compatriots, Father Murphy, a sample from the group’s 2018 esoteric blessed ‘Communion’ – which featured on the Rising. A Requiem LP – features on the cooed cloisters score ‘Merci On Us’. The original song’s venerated choral atmospherics are woven into the lulled dreamy renaissance treatment.

“Donating” lyrics and voice to a couple of tracks, Francesca Amati of the Comaneci duo offers up a strange repeated breathy mantra on the open couplet ‘Windows Soul’, and utters soliloquy like phrases on the title-track. Amati sounds like a weird space-age narrator on the latter; her statements fragmented, almost disjointed.

Those utterances offer another layer of mystique to an album steeped in the abstract. Tangible instruments exist with the unmistakable tremolo of a guitar, gabbling of the ngoni and spring of a vargen, yet it’s the obscured textural hints of imagined places and spaces that win out. Bernacchia has embraced a history, myriad of emotive forces and atmospheres, the organic and synthesized, and transduced it all into this suffused empirical soundtrack of sublime outsider folk. I thoroughly recommend you seek it out.






REISSUES

Harry Roesli ‘Titik Api’
(Lamunai/Groovyrecord) LP/2nd June 2020




It may sound surprising to many of you dear readers to find that someone as switched-on as me hasn’t come across, until now, the Javanese Temple psychedelic funk of the Indonesian maverick Harry Roesli. Submitted by the kind folks at the Lamunai/Groovyrecord hub, a reissue version of the celebrated artist’s iconic mid 70s concept opus Titik Api has piqued my interest.

Providence wise first, Roesli was born in the bastion of Gamelan, on the island of Java in 1951. In what could be described as a privileged upbringing, Roesli’s father was a major general in the Indonesian army, his mother a doctor; both positions offering a relative security in a country ruled by the quasi-dictator Suharto – a leader with a tightening grip, who managed to keep hold of power for four decades, from 1967 to 1998.

Obviously a talented musician from a young age, Roesli actually decided to study engineering instead of music. It was during those formative years that the creatively minded bohemian was turned on to political activism – a story retold in more detail in the album’s liner notes. To be glib and race through the details, he became an active member of the 70s Tradisi Baru Movement. Translating as “New Tradition” this growing political and creative movement were committed to experimenting with Indonesian traditions such as gamelan. Critical of the regime however, it soon became too dangerous for student activists such as Roesli to evade the authorities iron fist. In one such crackdown, Roesli found himself imprisoned. Luckily for him, a Dutch member of Amnesty International was on the case; gaining an escape route for Roesli through the promise of a scholarship, studying percussion in Holland.

To cut a long story very short, this gave the burgeoning talent another layer of musicianship and host of new influences, which he eventually would take back to his native home. The music of Indonesia was now fused with prog rock, psych, acid rock, pop, enervated funk, soul and even the more complicated rock experiments of Zappa. All of which you can hear on the ambitious 1975 concept album, Titik Api: a kind of Indonesian drama set to music, with ‘prologs’ and ‘epilogs’ and a quasi-overture, a work of art from a hip-international minded cat. It’s nothing short of a Southeast Asian panorama of atavistic mysticism, romance and spiritual yearning.

The first cut from this double album alone, ‘Sekar Jepon’, moves from a gamelan Goblin to Bolero, whilst maintaining the signature zappy effects, sizzled fuzz and chiming percussion that permeates this entire opus. Those prog rock influences get harder on the hypnotizing temple rock ‘Jangga Wareng’: almost Sabbath heavy. The fluty thirteen-minute epic ‘Lembe Lembe’, features both shades of Jethro Tull and ‘Revolution’ era Jefferson Airplane. Slicker, leaning towards soul music, the romantic-sounding female lulled harmonies, sun-anointed ‘Merak’ fans out towards a lilting Brazilia. In a similar vein, another lengthy opus, ‘Kebo Jiro’, switches from soft funky soul and pop to fantasy boat ride, then snake-charming prog and rattling conga solo. ‘Curah Hujan’ takes a scenic route in an Alfa Spider convertible, as the radio blasts out a quasi-Bossa Italo love theme.

It seems Roesli wasn’t shy in throwing everything into his musical fantasy; Latin dreamy troubadour on the first of two ‘epilogs’, proto-disco on ‘Dinding Tolan, and Samba-rock on ‘Bunga Surga’.

From seductive slumbers to golden temple spiritualism and mirage-y trinkets and tubular tolls, Titik Api is an adventurous psychedelic vision from a fertile, expansive mind. An alternative Javanese dimension, invigorated by contemporary late 60s and 70s influences this is an all-encompassing epic from the Indonesian maverick. Don’t worry if like me you missed it first, second even third time around, this new reissue will serve crate-diggers and psychedelic fans alike well enough. Take a punt, dig it out and be introduced to a whole new rabbit hole of Southeast Asian music.





Scarlet’s Well ‘Magic (Selections From 1999 – 2010)’
(Tapete Records) LP/26th June 2020




The saga of the Monochrome Set spans five decades and umpteen break-ups. Blossoming at the fag end of the punk epoch, and continuing to produce music even to this day, the revered group has disbanded at least three times during a checkered history. The second those breakups, in 1998, proved a fertile escape for the Set’s stalwart singer, guitarist and songwriter Bid, who plowed his fantastical and whimsical inventions into a new band, Scarlet’s Well: a band that would, in one form or another last until the third incarnation of the Set in 2010.

 

A congruous bedfellow to Bid’s former group, Scarlet’s Well not only featured the Set’s 90s period keyboardist Orson Presence and producer Toby Robinson, but also transformed some of the unfinished material. Though it wasn’t just a place to crash for former Set members, the evolving, changing lineup would after a few albums expand to include Alice Healey on vocals.

Conceived as an “atmosphere” rather than a band, Bid conjured up a surrealist village diorama and cast of bawdy rouges, lost supernatural characters and monsters, explorers and pining cowboys/cowgirls to build an evocative storybook. Coming to life over seven albums of varying quality, this strange but disarming set location and its vague geographical tributaries (“somewhere east of the Azores and only slightly north of the Styx”) offers a magical encapsulation of all life’s woes, tribulations and physiological defects. It’s an adventure in which some of the salty sea dog inhabitants take the listener on a voyage to various atolls and exotic river ways; sailing into a range of both suffused and fleeting musical ports-of-call. Even the means of nautical travel differ, from a junk to galleon, a skiff to Pugwash shambolic pirate ship.

Receiving an appraisal a decade on from the Well’s final swansong, this oeuvre brings together a (almost) chronological collection of idiosyncratic pastoral whimsy and deeper, darker metaphors. “Bless my barnacles”, the rightly titled Magic collection opens with a couplet of alternative pop sea-shanties from the Well’s 2006 LP, Unreal: A year that proved very productive, with the band uncharacteristically releasing a duo of albums that year. ‘Sweetmeat’, which despite its alluded title sails on a junk to the gentle tones of a lullaby, has Bid channel Scott Walker and Roy Orbison on this beautiful sayonara caress. ‘Willy Whispers’ – no sniggering at the back – features the harmonizing sweet tones of Healey; who by this time was now a prominent member of the band. An example of that diverse range of influences and instrumentation, this spindled beauty simultaneously evokes Westerns, a punt down the Neva and the charming psychedelic storytelling of Pete Dello.

The debut album, Strange Letters, which now puts the songbook back in linear order, is represented by the solitary oompah-tuba ‘The Captain’s Song’. Reimagining a Brecht version of The Yellow Submarine, Bid’s put-on seadog baritone croons a veritable feast of sea-lovers Bonzo lyricism. Both comical and violent, he comes across like Blixa Bildgard early era Bad Seeds.

The first album of a new decade, 2000’s Les Baxter-esque The Isle Of Blue Flowers is represented by a trio of Spanish and concertinaed songs. Maybe a consequence of being signed to the Spanish label Siesta Records, there’s a dalliance with the host’s Flamenco and Latin spirit in the form of the castanet cantina ‘Lord Fish Garlic’s Last Expedition’: a song that fantasizes about a Suzanne Vega senorita fronting Fairport Convention during the Mexican war with America –imagine that! From the same album there’s the Franco-paradise Edwyn Collins-goes-surfing bendy title-track and the South Pacific meets Creole lala ‘Dark Dreams Aboard The Hesperus’.

Lewis Carroll’s literary and psychedelic totem heroine inspires the Well’s next album in the sequence, 2002’s Alice In The Underworld. A castaway choice of songs reflects the album’s use, again, of certain Spanish motifs and flairs. The exotic ‘Night Of The Macaw’ wafts lazily in a Caribbean bay; soft marimba and a lulling spiritual organ drift in the background of this beachcomber sway. ‘The Ballad Of Johnny Freak’ is another story entirely; a metaphorical tale of acceptance from Monsterism Island that puts Healey center-stage of a Hispanic lilted lament.

Moving forwards another two-years, The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse album features another of the band’s characteristic musical embraces: a kind of transcendent mosey form of Americana. The title-track, a trotting on the trial cowboy song, and ‘Big Dipper On The Spearman’s Floor’, a waylaid Hawaiian cowboy amongst the rock pools serenade, are chosen to fit the unfolding travelogue compilation.

The second album from 2006, Black Tulip Wings, goes all noir on us. The Bad Seeds rub shoulders with an enervated B52s, ‘Savage’ even goes into lounge swing halfway through its tremolo and Theremin-like wobbles. It’s show time on the album’s title-track as Brecht is brought to the Hollywood detective paperback.

Once more on the lonesome cowboy/cowgirl trial, the next two albums, 2008’s Gatekeeper and 2010’s Society Of Figurines reimagines the Western and country music cannons. On the first of these albums, Bid and his ensemble traverse The Mekons rebel country signature on the sweetly laced, springy desert key metaphor themed ‘Golden, It Is, Beautiful’. From the same record, ‘My Little Doll’ is a little more upbeat in comparison; a shuffling vision of The Bluebells round the campfire with the Frank And Walters. From the porcelain supernatural cast second of these two albums, it’s a strange combo of garage band with elements of the Inspiral Carpets baggy version of Tex Mex beat that underpins ‘Supernatural Services’. From that same record and drawing this decade spanning collection to a close, ‘The Vampire’s Song’ pitches Nosferatu in Nashville; the bloodsucker’s wandering song is a most lonesome pining affair.

Ambiguous throughout, Bid’s microcosm of mavericks, illusionists, rum miscreants and the plain misunderstood is an escape into the fantastical; a wealth of cryptic, surrealist psychedelic and cartoon outsider storytelling and art transduced into a disarming songbook of posy, shanties, ballads, cantas and pop. If you enjoy that long English tradition of eccentric songwriting, then this marvelous collection will quench your soul, heart and mind.




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.

Selected by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marsibilio.





The decision making process: 

Being the exhaustive and eclectic set of features our (choice) albums of the year are, we know you probably don’t need to or want to dally about reading a long-winded prognosis of our judgement process. But here it is anyway.

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more visceral and personal 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 numbered spot than another.

With no hierarchical order, we’ve lined our album choices up alphabetically; split into two features – A (Idris Ackamoor) to M (The Moonwalks), andN (Thomas Nation) to (Thom Yorke) Z.

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 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 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another 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.

All selections have been made by me (Dominic Valvona), Matt Oliver and Gianluigi Marisibilio.

A.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids ‘An Angel Fell’ (Strut Records) 

 

Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilisation on the lamentable An Angel Fell. Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on ‘We All Be Africans’ with an epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step ‘Warrior Dances’ and plaintive primal jazz catharsis.

Walking through the Valley of The Kings; sailing aboard Sun Ra’s Arkestra; conducting the empyrean; evoking Kuti’s Lagos Afrobeat jive; Ackamoor and his troupe traverse the mismia of a broken, corrupt world, delivering cries of anguish and auguers aplenty. Whether penning requiems to the gunned-down black victims of the US Justice system (‘Soliloquy For Michael Brown’), or in radiant prayer (‘Sunset’), they effortlessly and wondrously summon forth the leading lights of each musical genre they inhabit. Afrobeat, gospel, spiritual, funk, blues, future-past-present all come together in one of the year’s most important, enlightening and defining opuses.

(Dominic Valvona)

Ammar 808 ‘Maghreb United’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Throwing the traditional unwieldy Maghreb, before it was demarcated and split into colonial spheres of influence, back together again in the name of progress and unity, Sofyann Ben Youssef fuses the atavistic and contemporary. With past form as one half of the Bargou 08 partnership that gave a modern electric jolt to the isolated, capitulating Targ dialect ritual of the Bargou Valley on the northwestern Tunisia and Algeria border, Youssef under the moniker of Ammar 808 once again propels the region’s diverse etymology of languages, rhythms and ceremony into the present, or even future: hopefully a more optimistic one.

Jon Hassell’s ‘possible musics’ meets Major Lazer, the traversing adaptations from the Gnawa, Targ and Rai traditions and ritual are amorphously swirled or bounced around in a gauze of both identifiable and mystically unidentifiable landscapes. Mixing modern R&B, dub, electro effects with the dusky reedy sound of the evocative gasba and bagpipe like zorka, and a range of earthy venerable and yearning vocals from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria artists, Youssef distorts, amps up or intensifies a resonating aura of transformative geography and time.

Nothing short of visionary. Full review…

(DV)


Angels Die Hard ‘Sundowner’  (Jezus Factory Records)


 

Admittedly taking some time to grow on me, the Angels Die Hard combo’s Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago instrumental concept album, Sundowner, has finely unfurled its full magic: just in time to be included in the annual albums of the year features.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more as they soundscape the tropical island of Andaman. An environmental clarion call as much as a progressive rocking exotica, Sundowner is dedicated, at least partially, to the environmental tragedy of the plastic-strewn oceans.

Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity, from bummer downers to mind-expanding space rock jams, these Angels expand their horizons (literally), on the band’s best album to date. Some ideas work better than others of course, but when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Full review…

(DV)


Any Other ‘Two, Geography’  (42 Records)


The story of Adele Nigro (Any Other) is made of beautiful songs originating from a desire to subvert a rather conservative musical culture, just like the Italian one.

2018 has given us many beautiful pieces, of the most varied atmospheres, but to find a compact and complete album in each of its parts, touch refuge in Two, Geography (42 Records).

The numerous collaborations that Any Other has collected, as a musician, in recent years, have been invaluable to develop, refine and embellish her poetics.

The sonorities of the album are very distinct, and at the same time loquaciously soaked by all the experiences brought on stage (or in the studio) during the year that is inexorably past.

With Two, Geography, however, there is more, Adele coming out with her head held high, they are not only beautiful pieces that stand out for their immediacy and vitality, but also the international character of the project.

Any Other’s work was immediately presented as something else, for depth and acuity, starting from that ‘Roger Roger, Commander’ or from the same singles who announced Two, Geography.

The simplicity in intertwining linear arpeggios, bright rhythmic lines and a voice, both delicate and particular, makes us immediately think of the disc in a different way, we immediately understand that such a sound must be appreciated with attention and in its various nuances.

Since the first bars of ‘Silently. Quietly. Going Away’ (the first work of Any Other) you could see her skill in shaping a song form as a real opportunity for musical and textual speculation.

The song ‘Capricorn No’ is a monument of modernity that comes on, not only for its immediate and deep style, but because it plays with the atmosphere that you can hardly expect from an Italian artist.

The work as a whole is a challenge, a part of  a musical resistance, a progressive push in the sea magnum of ideas that too often settle down, even in brilliant artists.

Any Other is the 2018, the beautiful and fundamental face to make us remember that, all in all, this year went well.

(Gianluigi Marsibilio)


B.

Anton Barbeau ‘Natural Causes’ (Beehive/Gare du Nord)


 

Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines via Julian Cope, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does. The results of an aborted project under the Applewax banner, made in the run up to the 2016 US elections, Natural Causes is the reflective, more open antithesis to what would have been a far darker and mournful proposition. Richly melodious and halcyon, this most brilliant new collection finds Barbeau both transforming some of the back catalogue (for the better) and penning new glorious sounding maverick pop songs: The quality of which are cerebral, memorable, melodic but also adventurous and inventive.

Barbeau and a congruous cast of guests lend a touching caress to a songbook of contemporary surreal lyrical musings and love songs. Unrushed, even breezy in places but hardly lacking intensity, there’s an air of nostalgia in homages to the radio stations and DJs that first sparked interest in the young Barbeau on the Hunter fronts Tom Petty band finale Down Around The Radio. And with a nod to one of the music cannons greatest ever records, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper kaleidoscope, a stab at a popsike hit (a missing link from one of Strange Days magazines 80s halcyon compilations) is made with a song that was originally written to be recorded at the venerated Fab Fours’ inner sanctum of Abbey Road, with the quirky Disambiguation.

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

(DV) 


MC Paul Barman ‘Echo Chamber’  (Mello Music Group)

“Potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end” RnV May 18

In many ways this is the consummate Paul Barman album, but it bears repeating straight off the bat, while trying super hard to not sound incredulous, that ‘Echo Chamber’ features production from ?uestlove, DOOM and Prince Paul (funky/sidekick status, from stoop to playground), with additional contributions from Mark Ronson (upping the ludicrousness with a tweak of The Ronettes’ ‘Sleigh Ride’), Masta Ace and Open Mike Eagle. That’s some serious string pulling from an explicitly cult concern only reinforcing his standards in lewdness and a smart Aleck riot act both downplaying and toadying a racing IQ (his relocation to Mello Music Group keeps him in his own lane as well). Ridiculous as ever with the dictionary and remaining a brilliant observer – see ‘Youngman Speaks on Race’, and ‘Commandments’ going one better by taking the Decalogue to Sesame Street and Biggie’s Bed-Stuy – Barman carries on making the longest of long shots with battle raps that’ll bamboozle and WTF one-liners that Jackanory or congress will sadly never benefit from. Bigger, better and geekier than ever.



Bixiga 70 ‘Quebra Cabeça’ (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Translating as the ‘puzzle’, Bixiga 70‘s latest album is a full 360-degree panoramic evocation (both joyful and lamentable) of their homeland’s African roots. Translating those roots, an ancestry that runs through many of the band members (some individuals descended from the Africa-Caribbean religion of ‘candomble’ for instance), Bixiga are also inspired on this journey by some of the highly talented artists they’ve shared various stages with over the years. Artists such as the Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas, the Nigerian sublime traversing saxophonist legend Orlando Julius and Brazilian octogenarian star João Donato. Incorporating the lot they merge their brass-y signature carnival funk and shaking Afrobeat sass with cosmic voodoo, Afro-jazz and sloping funk.

The quality as always shines through on every track, with the visions and evocations of both Africa and Bixiga’s city home of Sao Paulo articulated by an energetic but also ruminating soundtrack of the tribal, funky, cosmic, tropical, gospel and ritual. The slave portal of Benin, further outlying deserts of the sub-Sahara and busy rhythmic bustles of Nigeria are channeled via the melting pot hubs of Brazil on the group’s most epic, ancestral and geographical straddling album. It only remains to see just how great it will sound live on stage. Full review…

(DV)



The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’ 

Brian Bordello ‘The Death Of Brian Bordello’  (Metal Postcard Records)


 

In a parallel universe the Jesus And Mary Chain never left East Kilbride; Julian Cope never formed the Teardrop Explodes; and Brian Wilson was in fact born in St. Helens in the late 1960s, and recorded all his opusus on a Tascam four-track, inspired by Mark E Smith. This alternative world is one the dysfunctional family circle The Bordellos inhabit. Probably the best lo fi rock’n’roll-meets-post-punk-meets-the-Spaceman 3 hapless band you’ve never heard of, the prolific group, headed by the patriarchal masthead Brian Bordello, have been luridly, sinisterly, laughably and pessimistically knocking-out their brand of disgruntled alternative yearnings for a decade or more with little attention from anyone other than us loyal fans – who probably need our heads examined in all honesty. You either get them or you don’t. And you could find some of their more confrontational dark humour (songs about the BBC killing John Peel, still loving the musical cannon of Gary Glitter, and on this album, Debt Sounds, some sinister predatory sexual allured shclock about Rolf Harris) too unsettling, even perverse.

Debts Sounds, in the manner of a Half Man Half Biscuit play-on-words, is The Bordellos low cost Pet Sounds. That may not be initially obvious. But stay with me on this one. Fashioned and realised by Brian from the band members and even affiliates, girlfriends and whatnots various outpourings and late night sessions into a most epic song book of unrequited love, sick love, obsessed love, compromised love, salacious love, and even some tender love – they excel themselves on the laid bare and touching ‘Spirograph’ and quasi-Beatles ‘My Life’ meets the hardened north romanticism of ‘I May Be Reborn’ (Take this for a line: “Every smoking chimney my Statue of Liberty”), Debt Sounds is full of great maverick performances and songwriting, made in a period of crisis, anxiety and manic depression. Ok…so more Don Van Vliet than Brian Wilson, but still a valid comparison.

Whereas will you hear odes, homages and eulogies to Jimmy Campbell and Faron’s Flamingos to a back track featuring vague indifferent shades of Thom Yorke, Cope, Velvet Underground, Red Crayola, Joy Division and the The Seeds? Nowhere that’s where. Brian Bordello’s Track-by-track breakdown…

Knocking out records on a whim, it seems inconceivable that the leader of the Bordellos has never actually released a solo effort until this year (and only a few weeks from the end of 2018). Paring down, enverated, Brian Bordello steps outside the family unit on his debut solo, The Death Of... Not expecting many flowers on that graveside elegy of a album title, Brian takes a sort of reflective pause and looks back on a litany of tropes that have come to encapsulate his resigned fatalism. With only a clipped, rough and unguarded acoustic guitar and his trusted Tascam for company, Brian pays tribute to rock’n’roll icons Eddie Cochran (again) and Mark E Smith (who Brain thinks should be canonised as a saint); wears his heart on his sleeve cooing songs about lingering memories of bunk-ups, unrequited wooing gone wrong and lost kitchen sink romances; and languishly but candidly weary sonnets on depression.

As lo fi as it can get, Brian’s most intimate, personal performances yet strip away all the caustic dissonance and fuzz to reveal his most brilliant songwriting. The Death Of is an often beautifully morose songbook that lays bare the talents of a true uncompromising outsider.

(DV)


Brace! Brace! ‘S/T’ (Howlin Banana)


 

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.

A near-perfect debut album, an introduction to one of the most exciting new fuzzy indie-pop bands of the moment. Full review…

(DV)



Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz ‘Mona Lisa’ (Mello Music Group)



“Rugged but always smooth, reflective with a forked tongue…there’s a lot of comfort to be taken from the union of two opposing authority figures exercising supreme quality control” – RnV Nov 18

This duo’s mutual will to only work with the elite – Joell Ortiz as a member of Slaughterhouse, Apollo Brown extending his collaborative run after shared albums with Skyzoo, Ghostface Killah, Ras Kass, Planet Asia – is head start number one. Yes these are extremely experienced experts in their field who shouldn’t drop the ball, but 12 tracks, one emcee and one producer, two guests maximum, and everything absolutely finely tuned is still the best advantage to press home. A steadiness to both performances has BPMs instantly finding their sweet point so instrumental richness can build, settle, simmer and seduce, and vocals slip straight into the pocket housing an imperceptible line between recognition and vengeance. The introspection of ‘Mona Lisa’ pays respects with a feeling that it doesn’t pay to dwell, that while everything may be upbeat and secure – visuals of sauntering down a street and coloured in something like a high definition sepia – slippery slopes, with ‘Cocaine Fingertips’ the album’s most rotten apple and situations like the bittersweet resonance of ‘That Place’, are always around the corner. Another win for the seemingly indefatigable Mello Music Group as well.

(Matt Oliver)


C.

The Cold Spells  ‘S/T’  (Gare du Nord)


Esoterically gentle and wistful, The Cold Spells debut long player is a gauze-y organic and ambiguous (to a point) affair of undulating ‘moss covered’ circuitry, folk, quintessential English psych, paisley patterned hallucinogens and Kosmische.

Communing with the ether, connecting with the psychogeography of their chosen environment – from the soft Wiccan with forebode travail of Thomswood Hill to the alluded-to abandoned mental hospital waste ground near Hainault -, a host of spirits tune in and out of the continuous, though (as we’re told) not in a linear order, flowing suite of laudanum imbued Victoriana lyricism and Beatles-esque melody.

A surprise package, quietly unassuming, the trio’s encapsulation of an age of ghostly memories – the ancestors inhabit the band’s present to address the here and now concerns of a troubled, unstable world – is magical and gently lamentable; a perfect evocation of aicd folk and pastoral esotericism, as beautifully plaintive as it is ominous.  Full review…

(DV)



D.

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Uhrwald Orange’  (Bureau B)


 

Fashioning a mysterious ‘Clockwood Orange’ world of Gothic and ominous dreamscapes, inspired by and named, in part, after the studio it was produced in, and by both the 17th century menagerie paintings of the Flemish artist Frans Snyder and the collected devotional Medieval period songs of the Llibre Vermell De Montserrat artifact, Die Wilde Jagd’s Sebastian Lee Philipp takes us on an eerie, cosmic and slinking travail through a throbbing sophisticated earthy electronic soundtrack. His musical partner on the group’s adroit debut self-titled experiment, producer Ralf Beck, is excused from the follow-up but lends out his extensive racks of vintage analogue synthesizers to Philipp, who transforms and obscures their banks of sounds into ghostly permutations, shadowy creatures and lurking, dancing and honking sonorous cries from a murky wilderness.

Uhrwald Orange is a classy imagined score, balancing cool, gleaming and aloof German electronica with menacing, nocturnal earthiness, yet also reaching for the celestial. One minute imbued with hints of Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Eno, Cluster, and Faust, the next slinking on to the Tresor club or Basic Channel dancefloor. In short: a most impressive album. Full review…

(DV)


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’(Analog Africa)


A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues from the Analog Africa label, intrepid crate digger Samy Ben Redjeb reprises the first two volumes of Somali fusion funk music from the legendary 1980s outfit, the Dur-Dur Band. Embodying a period in the decade when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb during their short heyday.

Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave-new wave melting pot.

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk; opening with the wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ stunner, ‘Ohiyee’ , which lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dance floor thriller. Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’.

Going further than most to bring the sounds of Africa to a wider audience, the Dur-Dur Band release proved to be one of the label’s most difficult, as Redjeb tackled the geopolitical fall-out of a country devastated by civil war to bring us a most unique sounding and essential collection. Full review…

(DV)

E.



Elefant ‘Konark Und Bonark’  (9000 Records)


 

Emerging from the Belgium underground scene, with members from a myriad of bands, each one more obscure than the next, the Elefant in this room is a twisted agit-post-punk, boiler come forensic team suited troop of noise peddlers. Lurking around basement venues for a while now, the sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants have released a slurry of EPs but never a fully realized album until now.

For an album that grapples with Marilyn Manson, Swans, Killing Joke, Muse, industrial contortions and Germanic experimentation, Konark Und Bonark is a very considered, purposeful statement. Though things get very heavy, implosive and gloomy and the auger like ghosts in the vocals can sound deranged, there is a semblance of melody, a tune and hint of breaking through the confusing, often pummeling, miasma of artificial intelligence armageddon.

A seething rage is tightly controlled throughout, the sporadic flits and Math Rock entangled rhythms threatening to engulf but never quite reaching an overload, or for that matter, becoming a mess. Elefant’s prowling and throbbing sound of creeping menace and visions of an artificial intelligent domineering dystopia is an epic one. Arguably the band have produced their most ambitious slog yet and marked themselves out as one of Belgium’s most important exports of 2018. Full review…

(DV)


Bernard Estardy ‘Space Oddities: 1970-82’ (Born Bad)

‘Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétique: Rares 1966-2006’ (Gonzai Records)  


 

Because sometimes you just can’t decide, I’ve chucked in two reappraisal celebrating compilations of the odd, curious, thrilling and kitsch flights of fantasy musical fragments/sketches/soundtracks/compositions from the late and most gifted venerated French composer Bernard Estardy. I can’t even claim that these are great collections, let alone the best albums of the year, but they’ve kept me smiling all year.

Nicknamed ‘The Baron’, the founder of the CBE recording studio (which he set up in 1966) collaborated with a host of famous French icons in his time (arranging, producing or sound engineering for Johnny Hallyday, Francoise Hardy, Nino Ferrer, Michel Sardou and Jean Guidoni amongst others), but found an unleashed creative freedom as the master of consoles on his own excursions and dream flights of curiosity. Enjoying a resurrection of a sort in 2018, in part down to his daughter Julie Estardy‘s biography ‘The Giant’, Bernard’s eclectic back catalogue, from the realised to cutting room floor, is being reissued or rediscovered by a new generation through a number of different labels, both in France and internationally.

Two such compilations swept me up in their bombast; the first an album that couldn’t be described any better than the title it comes with, Space Oddities, and the second, Fragmented D’une Empreinte Magnétiquea Gauloises hotbed of weepy venerated organ romanticism and salacious sleek soundtracks. The first takes library music to the stars and beyond on a sassy opulent voyage of esoteric cosmic discovery. Jazz meets deep space on a drum-heavy collection of mysterious thrillers, phantasms and exotic awe. Tracks such as the more romantic, flute-y glide in space blues ‘Slow Very Slow’ sound like they could have made it to the ears of Goldfrapp or Greg Foat. The second of the pairing frequents more Earthy realms, pitching gospel with Bacharach yearnings, sentimental laments (the torn love soliloquy ‘It’s A Lovely Day To Die’ sums it up perfectly) and the strangest of deep-chested sung French cowboy soundtracks (A very Parisian journey to buy your ciggies, ‘La Route Au Tabac’, is rerouted through a lonesome pine trail).  Both are as brilliant as they are audacious; a refreshing escapism and proof of a unique talent.

(DV) 


Evidence ‘Weather or Not’ (Rhymesayers)



“From the moment he draws first breath on ‘Weather or Not’, Evidence embarks on a masterclass” – RnV Feb 18

A meteorological masterpiece showing that it’s rarely sunny in LA, whenever it rains it pours, and that Evidence is always bringing the weather with him. Ever laconic but whose economy of words is always wisely directed and word association seems slight but cuts deep, Ev walks the streets with collar up and hands dug into pockets, seemingly always in search of a contentment whose elusiveness he’s fine with. This prolongs a character pairing the enigmatic with a spokesman calling it straight down the line (“things I never thought about, trying to be elusive in the process, get forgot about”), a wallowing wanderer with whiplash in the tale and forever in control of his destiny (feel the tempered triumph of the concluding ‘By My Side Too’). A spread of AM band forecasts, a splash of psychedelic epiphanies and head nodders that buck like a bronco from Premier, Nottz and Babu, plus some Step Brothers espionage from Alchemist, allow the Dilated Peoples man to find you: because ‘Weather or Not’, you can’t run, you can’t hide.

(MO)


F.

Flora Fishbach ‘À Ta Merci’  (Blue Wrasse)


 

The French music press we’re told have fallen hook, line and synth for the alluring contralto voice of Flora Fishbach, who’s 80s revisionist pop twist on chanson oozes with such sophistication that its difficult not to embrace. Fishbach picked up the album révélation award at the Le Prix des Indés for best independent debut LP, winning high praise and plaudits galore ever since. Looking to make a similar impact across the Channel, the ‘bohemian darling’ has just released a deluxe edition of her electro pop requiem À Ta Merci. That decision is more or less echoed in the album’s title, which translates as, “at your mercy”.

Featuring the original running order and a bonus septet of gorgeous live recordings, this aloofly chic, yet theatrical, and especially when performing, animated album recasts Françoise Hardy as a disco pop and electro swooned crooner. Effortlessly channeling the vaporous dreamy pining of Kazu Makino on the moon dust sprinkled fantasy title-track and ambient textured, synthesizer bass bubbling yearned lament ‘Un beau langage’, and a Gallic Alison Goldfrapp on the opening ice-y cool malady ‘Ma voie lactée’, Fishbach adds a French nuance and sensibility to the synthesized pop ascetic: a signature you could say that despite the revivalist backing of electronic drum pads, post-punk sass, Moroder arpeggiator, Rococo harpsichord and hi-energy is unmistakably contemporary and French.

With the momentum already building in France and with the recent runaway success of music press darling Christine And The Queens (who I personally find utterly dull) I’m sure the UK will embrace this sophisticated chanteuse. This is overwhelmingly a better, more fun record than Christine’s (or the name she’s now adopted, Chris). Fishbach has certainly impressed me enough – what’s not impressive about referencing the philosophical aloof quandary that is Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I am another”) on a tropical slinking crystalline pop song, Un Autre Que Moi (“Another Me”) – to recommend her as one to watch in 2019. Full review…

(DV)


Fliptrix ‘Inexhale’ (High Focus)



“‘Inexhale’ masters the art of knocking you down with a feather: the pugilistic psychoanalysis is untouchable” – RnV Sept 18

It’s a little disingenuous to say Fliptrix became the High Focus main man this year, given he’s the driving force behind the label and already has a back catalogue of textbook pen and pad amplification. What with the label’s ever bubbling pool of talent seeing Ocean Wisdom blazing all and sundry, Jam Baxter expanding his cult appeal and two late night smokers from Coops, ‘Inexhale’ could’ve played the holding role and sat in the pack. But with breath control putting a copyright on the title and not a single word wasted, it’s an album that will leave you levitating. Be that from his street level strain of spirituality – letting the sharp end of something herbal work him over, or thoroughly aware of the rights and wrongs of his surroundings – or from the velocity of what’s spat (‘Inside the Ride’ doesn’t and won’t ever flop). Then flipping what the surroundings suggest, and never getting lost in the haze even with eyes at the reddest, Fliptrix finds the perfect medium between headphone moments and smacks to the head.

(MO)


Fofoulah ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)  


 

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether of sonic adventure. Full review…

(DV)


G.

Goatman ‘Rhythms’  (Rocket Recordings)


 

An amorphous exploration of world ‘rhythms’ as transduced by one the mysterious Scandinavian GOAT band members through a an arsenal of filters, modulators and oscillations, the debut Goatman suite blends its polygenesis inspirations perfectly.

Offering up magical and scintillating rhythms galore, from Kuti’s compound Afrobeat to a tremolo and laser bouncing variant of RAM’s Haiti vibe, you can expect to hear the venerable tones of gospel, jazz, reggae, psych and pure ethereal acoustic Kosmische on this sonic flight of fantasy. Earthy yet light enough to soar, this impressive experiment side-project channels its influences perfectly to conjure up new musical ideas. Echoes of GOAT are never far away of course, yet this imaginative take feels more natural, more organic, and above all, more soulful. A fantastic debut.

(DV)


H.

 

Jack Hayter ‘Abbey Wood’ (Gare du Nord)


 

Bringing light, or at least opening up a psycho-geographical narrative dedicated to the very edges of a largely ignored London postcode – so far out on the South Eastern outskirts as to be part of Kent –, an earnest Jack Hayter composes a yearning lament to Abbey Wood on what is his first solo album in fifteen years.

Hayter’s deftly played, with twangs of bucolic and Baroque folk, blues, synthesized atmospherics, Americana and reverent chamber music, multilayered songbook connects with the psychogeography of his chosen location. From songs about the Abbey Wood diaspora and its position as a gateway to the world to laying cooing elegiac wreaths to those unfortunate victims of the WWII Arandora Star passenger ship tragedy, Hayter produces a lived-in musical novel, rich with references, landmarks and peopled by those who left an indelible, if at times fleeting, mark upon this much forgotten or passed over postcode: their ghosts, no matter how small the part they played in its story, never inconsequential; remembered and written about with a certain gravitas by the erstwhile troubadour, who performs the most accomplished and brilliant of testaments.  Full review…

(DV)


Homeboy Sandman & Edan ‘Humble Pi’  (Stones Throw)



“A banquet of slaps that will become one of your five a day, and ultimately year” – RnV Oct 18

If seven or so tracks are good enough for Pusha T, Kanye etc, then they’re an ample fit for this elite underground swashbuckler of a showdown brought to us by the matchmaking Gods. Having flitted around the periphery for what seems forever, Edan returns with some of his best, ear-piercing archaeology to date as he shifts the B-boy-psych continuum once more; and Homeboy Sandman, both revelling in getting in the thick of it and firing off missives as he’s swept along for the ride, gets off the wall (“see me looking photogenic in the Book of Genesis, waving off medicines”), yet reels off some of the realest in recent times (it’s still, and shall remain, all about ‘Never Use the Internet Again’, which stylistically is actually a bit of a left-turn). The feeling pervades that the pair are proudly gladiatorial, indulging in friendly, unspoken competition as much as fighting the good fight as anointed hip-hop saviours. Let’s hope the sub 30-minute running time means the door is open for a second bout some time soon.

(MO)


J.

Juga-Naut & Sonnyjim ‘The Purple Door’ (Eat Good Records)



“Their usual, indomitable personas on the mic never skimp on Michelin-starred quality, and they still aren’t the ones to test if you think they’re pushing their luck” – RnV Aug 18

It’s an album largely based on elitist boasts, expensive trinkets and accessories and some pretty outlandish claims, but hey, these boys done good. Larger than life and living the playboy lifestyle making the ludicrous seem obtainable – you too can be a ‘Purple Door’ gold card holder – Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim transform the Midlands into St Tropez with a load of gala funk to make a red carpet entrance to, with just a hint of a twinkle in its eye like a felonious exile that has everyone’s backing. That said, you can’t live the life of a Rat Packer if you ain’t got the gab, and these two are no novices: the great suitability of their top table rhyme personas – Juga-Naut will have you believing every word he spits, Sonnyjim coming in dry and stonefaced yet smelling (and producing) like a million bucks – shares a love of all things gastronomic on the likes of ‘Duck Season’ that comes sweeping down a spiral staircase, while ‘Look Around’ takes a moment to act more tactfully, pledging family honour like a good fella. It might not be dining etiquette, but these two are pulling chairs from under the competition.

(MO)


Park Jiha ‘Communion’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

Circumnavigating the globe to bring much-needed exposure to new sounds, Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til gives a second wind to a suite of acuity serialism from Southeast Asia. Released originally in South Korea in 2016, the neo-classical musician/composer Park Jiha’s debut solo album Communion is given an international release by the label.

Inspiring what we’re told is a burgeoning Korean music scene (well, an alternative to the K-Pop craze), a chief progenitor of the movement Jiha alongside collaborative partner Jungmin Seo originally melded the country’s musical heritage with an eclectic range of contemporary sounds as the 숨[suːm] duo in 2007. Releasing the highly influential regional albums Rhythmic Space: A Pause For Breath (2010) and 2nd (2014), Park and Seo crossed the time zones to perform at both WOMAD and SXSW. Congruously putting the duo on hold to explore a more ‘personal’ and minimalistic ‘musical vocabulary’ as a solo artist, Jiha dexterously balances the air-y abstract breathes of the ‘piri’ double reed bamboo flute, the searing twang of the ‘saenghwang’ mouth organ and the softly paddled patter of the ‘yanggeum’ hammered dulcimer in what is a dialogue between a dulcet calm, the meditative and an entangled dissonance.

Transforming Korean traditions into a more experimental language that evokes the avant-garde, neo-classical and jazz yet something quite different, Park Jiha’s tranquil to entangled discourse evocations reach beyond their Southeast Asian borders both musically and metaphysically into something approaching the unique and amorphous.  Full review…

(DV)


John Johanna ‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  (Faith And Industry)


 

More a mini-album, even 12″ to be contrary, the beautifully cooed, warbled and ached venerable I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is nothing less than an afflatus anointed paean to a higher purpose. Informed by the mystical cosmology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, John Johanna‘s spiritual blues-y and gospel rock’n’rock hymns are both diaphanous and mesmerizing, even hypnotic; recalling visages of Morricone, Fleetwood Mac, Terakaft, Dirtmusic and Wovenhand as it wanders a picturesque but troubled soundscape.

On the devotional pilgrimage, the troubadour of the most evocative, stirring country burr, switches between aching falsetto yearning to lovelorn cowboy on the Andes romanticised cooing, and from the ethereal to fraught, as he makes communion.

No two songs are quite the same, as the wooing rustic sits next to (what can only be described as) the holy desert rock fusion of Native Indian and Afro-beat title track, and Bossa shuffle meets Yonatan Gat raindance. It all congruously comes together in one most divine service. A minor masterpiece.

(DV)


M.

Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) ‘Marlowe’  (Mello Music Group)



“Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your toothcomb for the umpteenth time” – RnV July 18

Another yearly round up, another L’Orange inclusion. North Carolina stands up as latest collaborator Solemn Brigham rhymes his ass off: weirdly, without necessarily feeding off what the producer is trawling, and helping create something of an odd couple match made in heaven. L’Orange sets the scene, usually a funky hoedown, a sample-heavy brouhaha anticipating a stand-off or a psychedelic neck-snap. As is his wont, there’s a narrative to be spun, or some simple time-travelling to be done where no two bops are the same. Brigham on the other hand, blurbed as “summoning the holy spirit of Big L” without getting sucked into the danger zone, just jumps in with a garrulous B-boy stance and goes for it. Without L’Orange surrounding him in a world of imagination, give Brigham a park bench and a ghettoblaster and the results would be the same. What he does guarantee is that you’ll be going back to what he has to say, and whatever the variables, the energy and entertainment (grounded surrealism?) never dips. L’Orange may have found himself an emcee to keep on retainer.   

(MO)


Hugh Masekela ’66-‘76’ (Wrasse Records)


 

A most poignant and timely reminder of one of the true greats, the mammoth 66-’76 collection shows a multifaceted Hugh Masekela: The exile. The trumpet maestro. The bandleader. The activist. The colonial revisionist. The angry young man. But also the conciliatory. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue.

Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away at the beginning of this year, the three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). But what makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his partnership with Levine and collaborations with such legendary ensembles as the Hedzoleh Soundz combo. From the combined jazz and Township fusions of The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela all the way to criss-crossing the transatlantic slave routes on Colonial Man, this collection is a sheer joy. Full review…

(DV)



(MO)

Brona McVittie ‘We Are The Wildlife’

With the lightest, most deft of touches, Irish songstress and harpist Brona McVittie embarks on a voyage of ‘psycho-geographic’ inspired encapsulations of a mysterious, magical landscape and history on her debut album, We Are The Wildlife.

Tracing the sonic contours of London’s urban fringes and the rural landscapes of Mourne, McVittie pitches her fluttery diaphanous harp-led songbook somewhere between post-folk and the cinematic – helped along in part by the drifting trumpet evocations of film composer Hutch Demouilpied, who’s contributions sound at times like Miles Davis Dingo transported to an Irish peat bog.

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

Played with the lightest of touches, McVittie’s wildlife and Celtic inspired filmscape subtly crafts tradition into a cerebral suite of neo-classical and ambient folk. We Are The Wildlife is the most inviting and unique of debuts. Full review…



(DV)

Minyeshu ‘Daa Dee’ (ARC Music)


 

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 epic LP, Daa Dee.

Minyeshu left her native Ethiopia in 1996, but not before discovering and then learning from such acolytes as the doyen of the country’s famous Ethio-Jazz scene, Mulatu Astatke, and the choreographer Tadesse Worku and singers Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele. 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!”

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 not only the burden and grind of daily life for many of her compatriots back home in the tumultuous climate of a fragmented and often chaotic Ethiopia, but also the joy of song and togetherness.

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 masterful heartwarming, sometimes giddy, swirling testament that is exciting, diverse and above all else, dynamic. Her voice is flawless, channeling various journeys and travails but always placing a special connection to and emphasis on those special roots. Full review…

(DV)


Moonwalks ‘In Light (The Scales In The Frame)’  (Stolen Body Records)


At least geographically close to the spirit of the Motor City, if generations apart, Detroit’s Moonwalks brood in the shadows of the counterculture doyens that made it such an infamous breeding ground for snarling attitude garage, psych and acid rock in the 60s and early 70s.

Transitioning, so we’re told, from ad hoc abandon warehouse performances as a diy glam psych rock troupe to experimental space rock stoners, spiraling in a vaporous gauzy vortex of 80s British Gothic and acid shoegaze influences, the Moonwalks make a certain dynamic progression on their second full length album, In Light.

Sometimes they sound like a black magic rites Byrds and at others like a doomed The Glass Family on a bum ride. Their curtain call, The Joy Of Geraniums, is the most odd song of all; taking the Moonwalks into a whistling led peyote-induced trip to the Mojave Desert.

Vocally malaise the voices waft between Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Of course it fits the nebulous cosmic doom and dreamy psych style of the group perfectly; ambiguously drifting through magical rites and sulky pretensions aplenty. Full review…

(DV)


%d bloggers like this: