ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

As international as ever, this month’s revue includes not one but two releases from the wellspring of Highlife music, Ghana – though only one of these is contemporary, and only one could be considered a link to that signature sound. First, the sixth volume in Glitterbeat RecordsHidden Musics series is, as its title may suggest, a more elegiac-framed affair of rustic processional performances: Fra Fra ‘Funeral Songs’. The second, Edikanfo’s The Pace Setters is the first ever reissue of an iconic 80s album from the Afrodsico troupe, produced, with the lightest of touches, by Brian Eno. From South America, the ever-changing Miguel Sosa (formerly of The Strumpets and IH8 Camera) releases another album under a new alias and with a new sound, Plano Remoto. Japan-based polymath Paul Thomas Kirk, under his Akatombo alias, is granted a (almost) twenty-year spanning highlights collection of discordant gloom industrial dance music by the Japanese label So I Buried Records. From Haiti, we have the collaborative voodoo communion between the locals Chouk Bwa and the Belgium dub electronica duo The Ångströmers, Vodou Alé. And from Kenya, guitarist Fadhilee Itulya releases his debut album fusion of Omutibo music.

Closer to home, though imagining all kinds of cosmological and spiritual visions, Sebastian Reynolds releases a ‘universal’ escapist EP of peregrinations, and Austrian saxophonist Muriel Grossman is granted a showcase of her spiritual jazz suites from the Jazzman label.

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers   ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)   LP/22nd May 2020





Like so many others before them, allured to the voodoo hypnotism of the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti, Belgian production duo The Ångströmers spent a residency immersing and absorbing the local fusion of ‘mizik rasin’, and working with the Gonaïves-borne collective of Chouk Bwa. A hybrid of roots music tradition, the voodoo ceremony enchantments brought over to the Island from the Congo, the folkloric and rock and roll, mizik rasin has been made famous in more recent decades by Richard A. Morse’s acronym Haiti collective RAM, who have in turn welcomed curious acts such as Arcade Fire and tUnE-yArDs to its propulsive rhythm. The late Afrobeat rhythm king Tony Allen also spent time there working with local musicians on the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra project in 2017. It’s easy to see why; the invigorating lively, often locked-in rhythms and spiritual call prove intense and inviting: to dance music artists especially.

The synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica on this collaboration proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized. The furious, rushing hand-drumming is subtly reinforced and layered up for the most part with pulsating and throbbing undulations, atmospherics, phaser, echo and reverb reversal effects; all of which are used sparingly and wisely, and even sensitively.

A yearning plaintive procession of voices, both earthly and soulfully, emerge from the swirled vapours to lament Haiti’s tragic run of ecological disasters; the lead single ‘More Tan’ a bobbing and clattery beat with sonorous fuzzy bass lends a moving tribute to all those unfortunate souls affected by a quartet of devastating hurricanes and the Armageddon earthquake of 2010, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, at the mercy of the elements, disease and a destabilized authority.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this collaborative union proves just how intoxicating and electrifying the voodoo spell can be. Given a sympathetic undercurrent and resonance of atmospheric electronica, the ritual sound and outpour of Haiti is reframed, guided into the 21st century. Not so much a novel direction as a subtle electronic music boost to tradition.






Muriel Grossmann  ‘Elevation’
(Jazzman)  LP/15th May 2020





Many jazz greats have of course attempted it, the ‘elevation’ of not just the form but consciousness itself. The Egyptologist anointed Pharoah Sanders even named an album after it; an ascendance at a time when jazz was embracing its spiritual roots and historical gravitas: a return to the source in Africa.

The supremely talented saxophonist bandleader Muriel Grossmann, imbued with that same spirit of vague conscious mysticism and experimentation, has now named one of her own impressive Afrojazz odysseys after that totem of an influential album. It won’t come as any surprise to find that the Pharaoh just happens to be one of Grossmann’s influences, alongside such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Lester Young and Eric Dolphy; all of which permeate throughout this survey of the European jazz star’s recent(ish) work.

A sort of introduction for those unfamiliar with an artist who’s spent the last two decades on the European scene, playing with the likes of Joachim and Rolf Kühn, Wolfgang Reisinges and Thomas Heidepriem, the impeccable Jazzman label have chosen to represent Grossmann’s catalogue with suites from the 2016 Natural Time and 2017 Momentum albums; a moiety almost of complimentary records.

In all a quintet of congruous traverses, from a duo of albums, Grossman’s own Elevation seems a fully realised, interconnected and flowing oeuvre that could have been recorded all at the same session, only yesterday. An adventure across desert contours, on the caravan trail in search of enlightenment and jazz nirvana; the impressively invocative saxophonist and her troupe of regulars turn in a fantastical panoramic opus.

We start with the latter of those albums and a trio of pyramid backdrop numbers that pay homage to the Coltranes (especially Alice), the Pharaoh, Archie Shepp and Greenwich-hip era Albert Ayler. That guiding light title-track is a ten-minute plus extravaganza of splashing drums, oozing and swaddled sax and mini plucked out guitar solos. It sounds like the group is on an opulent trinket laden barge. At first lingering, trembling and stirring in milder Nile waters, the action hot’s up as the river becomes more animated and choppy. Grossmann literally spirals towards the stars; giddily blowing so fast that her trademark instrument turns into a clarinet at one point. Almost easing into the shimmery resonating ‘Rising’, the quartet sumptuously treads further along a mysterious pathway. Uros Stamenkovic brushes the sand off his flighty drum kit, and Radomir Milojkovic bends and picks out a dizzying frill of notes on guitar as Grossmann flitters and flutters on another of these conscious trips.

Still gliding or walking that same North African jazz geography, both ‘Your Peace’ and ‘Peace For All’ may very well have furnished another album, but embrace and breath the same spiritual to experimental jazz air. Shifting sands move underfoot on the first of those dusky shufflers, whilst Eastern mystical chimes and serenity make way for progressive soulful sax, successions of deft guitar licks and burnished drums on the second of those mirages.

Hardly a slavish attempt at reproducing Grossmann’s inspirations, Elevation is an impressive, evocative continuation of those forbearers blueprint. A showcase of exploratory jazz left free to follow those same forbearers by a group of European avant-gardists.



Edikanfo  ‘The Pace Setters’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/8th May 2020





Depending on who you listen to, inventive leftfield, ambient music doyen Brian Eno and his part in propelling the Ghanaian troupers Edikanfo to international attention (if for only the briefest of moments), off the back of their dynamic rich bustling debut album, was either merely down to “endorsement” or more to do with his key production skills. The fact that his indelible mark is light, if almost hidden, would suggest a less than fleeting relationship with the eight-piece Afrodisco group. Yet stage-manage the production of this Highlife funk fusion he did.

That endorsement, usually a sign of quality and importance, is shared by self-appointed one-man Ghanaian music industry mover-and-shaker Faisal Helwani. A forceful character in a time when you had to be forward and sometimes ungracious in getting results, Helwani was responsible in kick-starting the modern Ghana scene; setting up the now legendary Napoleon Club complex in the capital of Accra. Club, casino, restaurant and studio – Accra’s first professional recording studio; known as the less than imaginary but history cementing Studio One – all in one, the Napoleon became a lively exchange hub of activity and a hothouse for both emerging and established talent, inside the region and outside of it. With a finger in every conceivable pie, from running the studio to managing, publicizing and contracting bands, Helwani’s grip was strong and nebulous. As Eno – who offers linear notes insight on what is the very first reissue of Edikanfo’s influential and justifiably entitled The Pace Setters album – divulges: ‘Although undoubtedly an important figure in the African music scene he was quite a possessive man. There was a fair amount of grumbling going on among the musicians, who had pretty poor lives. After some of their appearances the band ended up actually owing Faisal money since he owned their equipment and hired it out to them for shows.’

Eno hit upon a novel way of sending the band some money as a thank you, fearing it wouldn’t reach them unless it fell directly into their hands: ‘All the musicians liked the beret I wore at the time, so I had the idea to send one to each of them as a gift – which would be a kind of Trojan horse for the real gift. Back in New York my girlfriend Alex, who had come to Accra with me, carefully sewed a few hundred dollar bills into the rim of each beret and somehow I got a message to them which said ‘DON’T OPEN THE BERETS WHEN FARISAL’S AROUND!!’ It worked…one of the musicians later told me he’d bought a small farm in Central Ghana with his hat-money.’

Helwani had initially approached Eno as a publicity coup after reading about his fostering interest in African music. The impresario invited him as ‘international observer’ to the biennial Festival Of African Song And Dance. It didn’t take long to leap from that to producing Helwani’s recent upcoming electric signing. Staying for around a month, Eno spent time and effort with Edikanfo, who’s live, busy sound proved problematic for the studio manipulator, unaccustomed as he was to recording a live band all at once. Without nearly enough mics for the task at hand, Eno was forced to think on his feet and to eventually just let the performances happen with as little interference as possible. Upon returning to NYC – Eno’s base at the time in the later 70s and early 80s – he released upon listening back to these electric sessions that, for once, his post-production magic as redundant. And so The Pace Setters is a relatively pure, unburdened sound without augmentation; closer to capturing the group’s famed live performances: the sweat and all.

Formed just a couple of years before; Edikanfo would quickly build a momentum after colliding with Eno’s ascended star. His brand soon shone a light that very quickly went out. Brought to an international stage, the octet rose just as their native country was plunged once more into political tumult. A second coup by the military leader-politician Jerry John Rawlings at the end of 1981 removed the civilian government he initially put in place – set up after Rawling’s original junta-led coup in 1979. Ghana had been relatively lucky, having escaped such violent upheaval up until then. Concentrating the mind somewhat and pushing Rawlings into action, the soon-to-be leader was on the former governing power of General Fred Akuffa’s execution list. When he did take over, Rawlings implemented a spot of his own ‘house-cleaning’ of former officials and supporters. The shock of which led to demonstrations, which in turn led to elections; though Rawlings would still win, being re-elected again and again, staying in power until 2001. The early days of power would be severe however, with curfews that soon ‘gutted’ not only the economy but also the live music scene. Restrictions and harassment proved so bad that Edikanfo were forced to part company, scattering overseas.

Now though, almost four decades after their spotlight burned most bright, bandleader, bass player and songwriter Gilbert Amarty Amar and those band mates that survived are back with a new tour prompted by the reissue of their seminal debut. In what can only be described as a laser beam reflective mirror ball of Afrodisco and Highlife funk, The Pace Setters is a humid fusion of sweetened lullaby serenades and busier sunburst dances. A shared effort with near enough each member of the troupe offering up a track, there’s a mix of timings, themes and rhythms. Tracks like the opener ‘Nka Bom’ celebrate “togetherness” with sun-blessed horns, dappled electric piano and open hi-hat bustle, whilst the elastic bass noodling, springy and Orlando Julius loose jazz swaddled ‘Gbenta’ is both peaceable and relaxed. Hints of Osibisa can be found on the lulled hymn like vocal beauty ‘Moonlight Africa’, which puts a faster hustle of drums and bass underneath the twinkled organ caressed chorus of sweetly laced voices. At all times (well nearly) the bounce of refracted laser disco beams ricochet off the brass and rafters.

What a great album: true to its name, setting a sometimes blazing, and others, a sometimes-sashaying pace. Forget the fact it’s now forty years old, turn the mother up and shake-off the woes and weight of life in lockdown. Edikanfo’s 1981 classic is still alive and magical in the here and now; sending us with verve towards the summer: even if that summer is very different to any most of us have ever experienced. Enjoy this most worthy repress.




Fadhilee Itulya   ‘Kwetu’
(Naxos World)   LP/8th May 2020





Though the Kenyan guitarist turn frontman has been around for a decade the Kwetu album of belonging and questioning, released via a re-invigorated Naxos World, is Fadhilee Itulya’s debut.

Channeling what sounds like a lifetime into that inaugural record, Fadhilee combines his Kenyan roots with more contemporary rock, soul, blues, and on the album’s one and only attempt at a celebratory sun-praised club mix, Balearic dance music. Creating a bridge between the more earthy, unspoiled authenticity of tradition and more polished pop production of a modern studio, Fadhilee draws on the Luhya and Isukha peoples of Western Kenya and their ancestral dances, ceremonies and instruments. This includes the duel guitar and empty incessantly tapped soda bottle accompanied chanted Omutibo, and the Isukuti drums of the celebratory dances performed amongst the latter of those communities. The driving syncopated rhythms of Omutibo were developed during the 1950s, into the 60s, before falling out of favour in the 70s. It forms a foundation on the Swahili entitled ‘Kwetu’ song; a title-track that translates as “home”, but carries more weight in what Fadhilee encapsulates as, “a place where I am welcome.” That could be anywhere, not just his homeland, as this is an album as much about international unity and liberation as a songbook that passes commentary on the closer-to-home social and political problems in Kenya.

Language is another constant theme, with Fadhilee switching effortlessly from Swahili to English to the chanted Luhya.

Sprinkled throughout this generous album, the rustic tapped bottle ringing, hand drum propulsed rhythms and chorus of dusty-soul chanting and more enthusiastic female trilling traditions sit alongside smoother, finessed performances: though it all feels like a intimate live session. The album opens with the reedy and flighty “prayer” of ‘‘Afirika’; an opening salvo that sets up the smooth reggae and jazzy-rock sound of Fadhilee’s lilted guitar and the accompanying backing of a rich harmony chorus. It also introduces us to the folksy flute-heavy collaboration of guest musician Adam Adiarra, who’s instrument flutters, weaves and floats throughout that opening introduction. More sauntering rhythms beckon on the spiritually lulled, twinkled piano tribute to women and motherhood ‘Mama’. Whilst the electric sunny funk ‘Tabasm’, which translates as “smile”, works up a fusion of flange-rock and gospel.

Despite moments of intensity and urgency, wilder electric guitar frills and the untethered breaks of tribal ceremonial passion, Kwetu is a mostly gentle, soulful affair. A peaceable showcase for an artist honed on tradition but pushing forward. A commercial album of smooth Kenyan fusions with some rougher edges, Fadhilee’s debut shows an artist as comfortable with the modern studio as he is with the in-situ rustic roots of the Kenyan grasslands.



Akatombo  ‘Discordia: 2003-2020’
(So I Buried Records)   Album/25th May 2020





From a label synonymous for unleashing the sludge-dread rock of those ominous bearers of doom, Qujaku, comes a sort of ‘best of’ collection of similarly caustic menace from the Scottish post-punker turn industrial electronic composer Paul Thomas Kirk. As it turns out, a logical creatively successful leap for the one-time band member of the 80s punk agitators The Actives, Kirk’s magnetic-charged Akatombo avatar fuses, fries and beats-into-shape remnants of that post-punk past. Based in Hiroshima the musician, producer, filmmaker, photographer and label boss has released a quintet of albums, all but one of them under his own Hand-Held Recordings imprint, since 2003. Collected together here is a smattering of buzzy dissonance and growling electronic transmissions from each of the album’s, plus one previously unreleased track, ‘Oblique & Fearless’: a cause metallic evocation of techno punk and Reznor chained industrial dread.

Going back to the beginning, 2003’s inaugural augury Trace Elements – released via the SWIM label – is represented by the Japanese trip-hop Western soundtrack ‘Humid’, the rough UNKLE trip-breaks with snarling bass ‘Overheat’, and dub-y reverb spiraling ‘Ponderlust’. Six years later Kirk would release the Unconfirmed Reports album under his own label. Taking the sonic exploration further towards the experimental, the frizzled distortion and Aphex Twin clattering of ‘A Prior Disengagement’ and Barry Adamson spy thriller tremolo with DJ Shadow drum breaks ‘SSRI’ mark that album’s evolving range and scope. 2011’s False Positives lends the Basic Channel tuned unfolding Kitchen-sink drama ‘Kleptocrat’ and cylindrical, muffled voiced ‘Precariat’ to this compilation.

The prize of opening this Discordia falls to the ominous moist chamber atmospheric ‘Click/Bate’, taken from the 2015 album Sometime, Never. Both lurking in the dark web subterranean yet also communicating with orbital space waves, this bleak vision reimagines The Orb on a downer. Reaching further into the esoteric sound, most recent album Tensile Strength is represented by a trio of industrial, ringing noisy visitations and broadcasts: ‘Debug. Injector’ is a churning vortex of the haunted, whilst the album’s title-track is full of punk snarls.

Veering between the heavy dance music of The Chemical Brothers and the sonorous metal machine music of Emptyset, and between the steaming razor breaks of UNKLE and the industrial wilding of Einsturzende Neubauten, Kirk’s Akatombo manifestation is channeled into a pretty decisive collection of highlights. Too driven to be classed as ‘mood music’ or dark soundtracks, the dystopian discord of Kirk’s sonic augurs and emotions could even be considered dance music: albeit on the fringes of a doomed dancefloor. A great showcase anyway for an electronic artist working in the gloom.






Sebastian Reynolds   ‘The Universe Remembers’
(Faith & Industry)  EP/22nd May 2020





Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds has finally found the time in his prolific schedule of collaborations, remixes, session work and productions to create his very own solo soundtrack of various eschatology inspired peregrinations. The Universe Remembers EP’s quintet of traverses drifts and wafts across an ambiguous, often vaporous, soundscape of neo-classical composition, retro futurist production, swanned Tibetan mystical jazz, both languid and accelerated running breakbeats, and ghostly visitations – haunted narrated extracts from T.S. Eliot’s all-encompassing philosophical, religious and metaphysical Holy Grail purview The Wasteland can be heard in a fuzzy echo on the EP’s title-track and single.

A cosmological junction of dystopian literature and the Buddhist/Daoism, The Universe Remembers is, as you might expect from a composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s created music as varied as the transcendent Southeast Asian Manīmekhalā score that accompanied the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama and the visceral chamber pieces of his collaboration with the pan-European Solo Collective trio, a mix of evocations simultaneously as dreamy as they are ominous and mysterious; and as contemplative as they are resigned to the fates.

Framed as a distillation of previous incarnations, namely the Keyboard Choir and Braindead Collective, the sound and sonic landscape channels the peaks and descending remembrance of a musical lifetime, with some of the material taken from various periods over the years, transformed and attuned for a concept of Theology; the part that’s concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind: Not too big a concept then.

Previously premiered on the Monolith Cocktail the guest produced title track features the attentive skills of Capitol K (who’s label is also facilitating the release of this EP) guiding a musical odyssey of twinkled trembled cascaded piano, slow beats and the mystical fluttering, spiraling and drifting clarinet of guest contributor Rachel Coombes. Featuring Seb’s penchant for the glitch-y piano resonance of Susumu Yokota and a most strangely sourced sample of the revered writer Anthony Burgess purchasing a Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, this magical escapist suite wafts between the snake charmer bazaars of Egypt and Calcutta, the Hitchcockian and avant-garde. It must be emphasized at this point that Burgess’ dystopian visions have had a profound effect on Seb; especially his most famous slim novel A Clockwork Orange. Seb has previously performed at the Burgess Foundation with the Solo Collective and even (in the last week) written a guest post for their website. Not that anything on this EP is even close to aping the synonymous ominous switched-on Bach of Wendy Carlos’ score for the Kubrick vision of that most famous futuristic nightmare.

Opening reverberating vapour ‘Amoniker’ builds a suffused trilled melodic swathe of pastoral merry evocations from a past epoch, smatterings of jazz, and distant masked break-beats around an increasingly echoing and delayed layered counting iteration. Doing what he does best, Seb finds and then takes original samples to explorative new soundscapes and worlds on the EP’s curtain call, ‘You Are Forgotten’. The Oxford polymath uses the baritone like resigned mooning vocal from the track of the same name by Desmond Chancer & The Long Memories as a foundation for a suffused saxophone swaddled and pining (courtesy of Adam Davy) slice of retro-futurist electronica. Spiritual manna phrases like “no memory”, ”no legacy” and “universal” drift into focus from a constructed ether to echo dramatically over the mysterious and masked invocations.

Keeping to the holy mountain of awe footpath, the totem of endurance, mysticism, beauty and immensity ‘Everest’ once more features those Tibetan evoking horns and cosmic awakenings. It also features not so much guitar performances as the essence of lingering notes and wanes (attributed to collaborators James Maund and Andrew Warne) on an ascendant score of both the celestial and peaceable.

If you love your trance, esoteric mysticism, trip-hop, the new age, satellite jazz and the poetic, then stick on The Universe Remembers and be transported to wondrous and meditative planes.




Plano Remoto  ‘Plano Remoto’
(Jezus Factory)  LP/11th May 2020





Whether its ennui or a conscious decision to keep critics, and his audience, on their toes the Argentine maverick Miguel Sosa once more changes direction on his latest album for the marvelous cottage-industry label, Jezus Factory. Sosa’s previous peregrination, Bermudas, was an analogue patchbay cosmic psychogeography of the infamous Bermuda Triangle region; filed under yet another alter ego, the Moog and ARP soundtrack homage Cassini Division. Prior to that the Jezus Factory stalwart had spent a tenure living in Antwerp, instigating or joining all manner of Belgian bands, from IH8 Camera to Strumpets and Parallels. The Strumpets would mutate into Angels Die Hard when Sosa had to return back home.

His latest venture, Plano Remoto, ropes in bass player/singer Mike Young, old pal and the owner of the TDR Studio in Buenos Aires Lucas Becerra, on drums, and Nico Courreges on double-bass. The results of two years of studio jamming and a build-up of Tascam recordings, this informal set-up’s self-titled debut (though it could easily be the first and only LP from this incarnation) is a right old mix of styles and ideas. A return, of sorts, to songwriting it starts with a day dreamy Gilberto Brasilia sandy lull of “la las” and pop with the strangely entitled ‘Bossa Zombie’ – the first part of that title is obvious, the second…not so much. Sosa and friends go on to jangle through removed versions of Bad Finger meets The Olivia Tremor Control balladry, harmony power pop (‘Leona’), Jeff Lynne “ahing” psychedelic anthems (‘Mel’), early 60s European new wave cinematic spell casting circus scene-set jazz lullaby (‘Fantasma’), and Baroque retro-futurist galactic love (‘Sandra’).

You may very well also pick up moments of Alex Harvey showmanship prog, soft rock furnishings and what sounds like an ominous Clockwork Orange space march on an album both simultaneously odd but also essentially pop. It’s a form of songwriting slightly askew and novel, yet pleasant, melodic and comfortable to the ear. God knows where Sosa will take us next.






Fra Fra   ‘Funeral Songs’
(Glitterbeat Records)  LP/24th April 2020





No stranger to this site, Grammy Award winning producer, author and peacemaker Ian Brennan has appeared countless times; namely as the in-situ producer on a myriad of unfiltered and direct performances and as the subject of an interview in 2016. Continuing his collaboration with Glitterbeat Records, Brennan is back with another chapter in the global expletory label’s Hidden Musics adventure; a series that unearths performances from ad-hoc musicians, located in some of the most remote, off-the-beaten-track, environments.

The sixth volume in this collection follows on from excursions to Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mali, landing somewhere on a dusty road outside the northern Ghana hub of Tamale. Brennan once more entices a captivating set of recordings with as little interference as possible. Those previous records, whether it was capturing the evocative war-scarred yearns of both survivors of the Vietnam War or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge apocalypse, or lending a voice to the suffering plight of the Abatwa people in the border regions of a post-genocide Rwanda, all adhere to the American producer’s signature technique of less is more. As Brennan himself put it in his How Music Dies (or Lives) book in 2016: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity without baggage.’

Brennan is not in the business of earnest backslapping or ethnography, rather, he wishes to just make what he calls ‘candid and new punk and dusty records.’ Forget Lomax and company, Hidden Musics is less an exercise in preservation and archiving, and more a trailblazing exposure of relatively unburdened magic outside the confines and restrictions of Western music.   Responsible for all but one of the series – that being Paul Chandler’s Every Song Has Its End sonic dispatch from Mali survey -, Brennan focuses once again on the extremely localized sounds of his destination.

Fra Fra, the colonial name given to this particular tribe found in the northern part of Ghana, is a convenient name for just a trio of musicians who perform the funeral songs, plaints and paeans traditions of the country. A reversal of the north/south divide, it is northern Ghana that is synonymous for its wellspring of blues. That roots lament can be heard in the rustic, rudimental and springy performances of this group of locals. Led by the appropriately named Small, ‘a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack of’, this trio proved difficult to capture. In part this was down to the processional manner of their playing style delivery; a manner that has more than a passing resemblance to New Orleans marching bands, which isn’t hard to figure when you consider the enforced enslavement of Ghanaians who passed through or made their home in the burgeoning port. So Brennan was forced to go for ‘coverage’ instead of precision, as Small and his wingmen gyrated in circles on the gravel floor.

Playing better (so they’d have us believe) when drunk on the production’s beer quota, inebriation seems to have lubricated proceedings for the better. With just the poor imitation of a guitar – the two-string Kologo – and its rusty percussive jangle of dog-tags that hang around the neck, and the tiny boned mouth flutes – which the Fra Fra call ‘horns’ – the funeral laments on this record are a grieving plea between the earthy and hidden spiritual forces. Primal, hypnotic with various sung utterances, call-outs, hums and gabbled streams of despondent sorrow the personable process of grief is opened up to a new audience. Not as mournful however as I’ve described, the cadence of voices, the scraped tremulous rhythms are often energetically poetic and bluesy: albeit far removed from what most people would recognize as the blues.

A chorus and a twang-y, hollowed-out and sporadic accompaniment of serial instrumentation deliver fatalistic subject matters, such as the destiny of orphans and the pining for loved ones.

Sadly we will hear a lot more funeral music before this Covid-19 epidemic ends, which is yet, and we hope it won’t, to hit Africa on the scale that it has in Europe and North America. For those in lockdown discovering music in its purest forms, the sixth showcase in the Hidden Musics series is another essential, unique taste of the sonic road less travelled. A record in which Brennan remains merely the ghostly facilitator.






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Premiere/Dominic Valvona




Simon McCorry  ‘Pieces Of Mind’
(Close Recordings)  Single/24th April


We’ve been spoiled of late with a flurry of Simon McCorry releases, this being the second ‘premiere’ of his work to be hosted by the Monolith Cocktail in recent months. The Minimalist Acid Techno imbibed ‘Pieces Of Mind’ single however is an entirely different composition to the previous standalone ambient peregrination single ‘The Nothing That Is’; that was a stirring suite of atonal art borne out of the acclaimed composer and cellist original score for Javaad Alipoor’s play Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran – which premiered at Traverse as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019.

Subtle, incipient with Techno undulations, metallic springs and nodes working away below the chiming polygons and skirting zinc, ‘Pieces Of Mind’ channels a myriad of influences from the 90s acid/warehouse scene; artists such as Plastikman, Autechre, System 7 and The Orb, the latter for whom he has recently opened for. Personally, this was in my humble opinion the golden age of the burgeoning electronic music scene. It’s where I first cut my own teeth as an aspiring DJ – I’ll save that story for another day if you don’t mind.

As Simon explains, “composed entirely with the analogue mono synth the Dreadbox Erebus, ‘Pieces of Mind’ is an invocation of nostalgic memories of pre-dawn wanderings around London after warehouse parties, taking in the freshness and calm of the morning before the madness of the city came roaring into life”.

Not so much a change in direction, as an excursion, we should be used to McCorry’s constantly expanding explorations; this is an artist after all that has performed in arenas as diverse as the concert hall, the church and the gallery space. An artist who’s just as comfortable composing and manipulating frayed and bowed cello articulations and field recordings as he is constructing a synthesized memory of the 90s rave phenomenon.

Airing a day head of its official release via McCorry’s own Close Recordings imprint, ‘Piece Of Mind’ is officially released on Friday the 24th April 2020.




Background

Originally born in London to mixed Indian/British heritage, McCorry trained in cello at The Centre for Young Musicians & Morley College then studied philosophy at Durham University. He is now based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As a performer McCorry is well travelled, he has performed at many prestigious events and institutions including in Orlando Warrior with Julia Cheng at the South Bank as part of China Changing Festival 2017. In 2019 live highlights also included appearances at Stroud Jazz Festival and Camp Elsewhere in Wales alongside Alabaster dePlume and Snapped Ankles.


Related posts from the Archives:

The Nothing That Is Premiere

Border Land LP Review



The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi:

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

ALBUM REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona


 

Easing the boredom of coronavirus lockdown, join me from the safety of your own home once more on a global journey of discovery. Let me do all the footwork for you, as I recommend a batch of interesting and essential new releases from a myriad of genres. All of which I hope you will support in these anxious and trying times. With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it.

This month’s spread of featured bands and artists dreams of more exotic and mysterious places, but hail from Europe. From Germany with the new impressive filmic chthonian Techno suite there’s Die Wilde Jagd, from Sweden the collective noise welders, Orchestra Of Constant Distress, and from Finland the debut LP from renowned jazz bassist and now bandleader, Antti Lötjönen.

Back in the UK there’s a new ambitious classical experimental suite from iyatra Quartet and ambient and electronic music releases from Ryan Bissett’s – under the Halftribe title –and ennui composer Sad Man.

I do however leave the borders of Europe with a short stopover in Ghana, with Santrofi’s debut revamped Highlife special, and Madagascar, with a compilation of early cuts from Damily.


Santrofi   ‘Alewa’
(Outhere Records)   24th April 2020


 

A love letter to Ghana’s golden age status as an incubator for some of the Africa’s greatest performers and bands in the 1960s and 70s; home of the, arguably, most influential music style to emerge from the continent in the 20th century, Highlife; Accra-based fusion Santrofi enthusiastically bridge past glories with a contemporary generation who’ve all but forgotten their roots. A reintroduction to Ghana at a time when its reputation as a hothouse for talent was at its nadir – when luminaries like Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela and Orlando Julius came looking for a new sound, eager to sup liberally from the explosive scene – the band’s debut album Alewa champions the sunny-disposition Highlife style whilst adding some modern licks and on-trend dances – the Nigerian hip-hop dance Shaku Shaku and South African street dance Gwara Gwara, created by DJ Bonge – to the mix.

A result of a merger of show and marching bands, dancehall jazz and homegrown influences Highlife evolved to absorb all manner of styles and instruments over time, including soul and funk, but maintained it’s sunshine bleached heralded horns, thinly spindled polyrhythm guitars and lilted but infectious grooves. Kuti would merge it most famously with the blazing R&B, soul and funk sound from across the Atlantic to invent Afrobeat, others would ‘up’ the jazz elements or inject it with some psychedelic rock.

Santrofi bandleader and bassist Emmanuel Ofori knows more than most how important this legacy is having rose up the ranks performing with legends like Ebo Taylor and Pat Thomas and the Kwashibu Area Band. Yet his eight-piece collective – who’ve toured with Gyedu Blay Ambolley, the mighty Osibisa, and George Darko – have a reputation for backing the pop sensation Sarkodie and the Nigerian “superstar” 2Face Idibia in recent years. Now though they return to the roots, channeling the heritage not just musically but the etymology and myth. The band name Santrofi itself derives from the mythology of the Akan – a meta-ethnicity of people living in the southern parts of Ghana, but also found in the Ivory Coast -, and refers to the rare, precious bird that brings bad luck to those that hunt or entrap it: a caged bird style analogy. The debut album title refers to the popular black and white striped sweet; used in this case as a symbolic metaphor for racial unity and cohesion.

Ebo Taylor and his peers can be heard throughout this swimmingly soulful and gorgeous sounding showcase. It’s unmistakable when listening to the sweetened swinging lullaby-like title-track, and golden, softly blown horn blasting funky ‘Kwaa Kwaa’. The opening ‘Kokroko’ however kicks off the album with an earthy tribal rhythm and live party feel that includes whistles and call-and-response. It also features fellow Ghanaian, the poet/author/MC Fapempong setting the mood; holding court on a groove that’s part gabbled dance, partly hymn. The re-tuned radio “United States Of Africa” speech – first propounded by Marcus Garvey in his 1924 poem – ‘Africa’ has a more bluesy rock feel, whilst its an imaginary Stax revue backed by Al Green that’s evoked on the organ humming sultry R&B ‘Mobo’.

A refreshing homage to the Highlife phenomenon (unfairly overshadowed by its Afrobeat scion), Alewa may channel past triumphs, yet this isn’t just a straight-up tribute act, but a modern fusion that proves its relevance and enduring soul-power. Let the sunshine in: Highlife is here to stay.




Die Wilde Jagd   ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)   17th April 2020

Birthed into another chthonian landscape of incipient stirrings, Sebastian Lee Philipp’s third such ambitious experimental suite continues where the previous eerie 2018 LP, Uhrwald Orange, left off: Lurking, stalking and disappearing into a recondite mystery of esoteric electronica and Techno. Earthy then, with evocations of a wild, veiled terrain populated by the whispering bewitched, strange rituals and metaphysical forces, Haut is a brilliantly realized slow-burning expansive supernatural soundtrack imbued with elements of Krautrock, Kosmische, the psychedelic, avant-garde, industrial and atavistic.

Once more joined by co-producer foil Ralf Beck – absent on Phillipp’s more or less solo outing, Uhrwald Orange – and live performance drummer Ran Levari, Die Wilde Jagd’s instigator songwriter/producer channels notions of memory, premonition and birth into a filmic quartet of drawn-out chapters. The opening minor-opus ‘Empfang’, which translates as “reception”, takes its time to emerge from the undergrowth; four minutes of ambient throbs, finger cymbal chimes and daemonic slithers before the first signs of Levari’s drum kit kicks in and takes off like a communion of Daniel Lanois and the Chemical Brothers. All the while sounds from the wilderness – like a crow’s croak and a regular occurring cold wind – encroach on the live instrumentation and sonic bed of synthesized pulses and motions. By the end of this thirteen-minute offering the magical Germanic-folk song of special guest vocalist Nina Siegler pricks the ominous chills to bleed over into the album’s, and project’s, only duet, ‘Himmelfahrten’.

Not so much a change in scenery as a mantra Whicker Man maypole entanglement between the Maid of Orleans and Philipp, the ‘ascent’ – as it translates into English – is part ritual, part ceremonial procession. Owl totems hoot on a hypnotic sweet chorus conjunction that invokes the Velvet Underground, GOAT, Acid Mothers Temple and Perpetuum Mobile period Einsturzende Neubauten.

‘Gondel’ – which doesn’t the lexicon to work out means “gondola” -, with its toiled, less rhythmic drumming reminded me of Jean-Hervé Perron and Zappi Diermaier’s more modern Faust partnership. A percussive rich mystery, echoes of operatic voices linger in what sounds like a very windy passage way.

There’s a pendulous motion to the album’s abstracted finale, ‘Sankt Damin’ – which I think is St. Damian, one half of the canonized Arab twin physicians who plied their trade for free on the Syrian coastline; two of the earliest Christian martyrs. Somewhere between courtly Medieval and the more ancient, there’s a whiff of the Dead Skeletons and the Velvets Byzantium vapours on this wispy blown stark wandering.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on the Die Wilde Jagd’s third grandiose experiment. One that takes a breather, holding back on the beats and kicks for a more expansive and creeping sound production; those anticipated reveals kept on a tight rein. A sign of real quality and patience, Haut marks both a continuation but slight change in the dynamics as Philipp and Beck further erode and stretch the perimeters of Techno and electronic music.




Orchestra Of Constant Distress   ‘Live At Roadburn 2019’
(Riot Season Records)   10th April 2020


 

An unholy alliance of Scandinavian extreme dissonance, the caustic noisy Orchestra of Constant Distress unleashes another solid wall of sonic experimentalism on an already anxious public in lockdown. Well not entirely on solid lump, because despite the squalling feedback, heavy, heavy sustain, grinding wanes and monolithic density the collective sound is not always so daemonic and unwieldy that snatches of rhythm and even splinters of lightness can’t be found in the seething menace.

Pulling together fuzz freaks and industrial welders from miscreant scenesters The Skull Defekts and Brain Bombs, the Orchestra’s latest live release – taken from a performance at the Roadburn Festival in Holland, in 2019 – is a near tumult of black magik, space rock, propulsive post-punk, chthonian drones and heavy metal. Sawing through pylons, squealing towards the primal, the repetitive distress of this mortuary malady reimagines a heftier, drum snapping Sunn O))), or, Boris with a rhythm, or, a Mogadon induced Death From Above. At times, despite the discordant violence, they sound positively psychedelic.

A pulsating, ghoulish and stirring noise, the Orchestra bends the squall and noise to their will on a warped oscillation generator of uncomfortable energy.





Halftribe  ‘Archipelago’
(Sound In Silence)   16th March 2020


 

Another understated ambient suite from the purveyors of unobtrusive experimental soundscapes, Sound In Silence, the latest deep cut on the label’s roster is a lightly touched pulsation of geographical and mysterious soundtracks by the Manchester-based producer/DJ Ryan Bissett.

Under the Halftribe title, Bissett’s fifth long-player Archipelago subtly layers resonated hums, drones, throbs, glimmers and metallic tubular sounds with refracted suggestions of light and various imagined atmospheres. Though most of the titles allude to descriptive actions and contemplative thoughts of the enormity of it all, there’s always a sense of movement and environment to be found. The opening long fade ‘Exposed’, with its gleams and submerged washes, evokes a tropical location, and the angelic and monastery-like ghostly choral drifting title-track goes beyond the earthly towards the celestial.

Whilst transportive, what sounds like swells of new age gamelan can be heard on both the veiled wafting ‘Fader’ and lost transmission from the tropics ‘Drops’. Avant-classical elements, such as a low bowed cello sound and floated piano, quiver and plonk amongst Kosmische entrancing improvised instruments and pond-like ripples and hollowed-out bass-y wooden reverb on an ambiguous album of the haunting and serene; the masked and spacious.

Bissett reminds us that we’re all ‘Just Dust’. Which may be, yet what a contemplative musical conjuring we humans can produce in light of that lamentable certainty. This Archipelago is a small testament to that.






Sad Man  ‘Indigenous Mix 3’
1st April 2020


 

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Coventry’s avant-garde garden shed boffin Andrew Spackman has produced his best electronic music indulgences under the resigned Sad Man moniker. His most prolific incarnation, the former Duchamp favoured Nimzo Indian defense chess move sonic explorer has balanced an ennui for chaos with a passion for Techno rhythms and beats: even if all semblances of anything musically consistent are bombarded with constantly warped manipulations and curveballs.

Following in the wake of this year’s fully realized The King Of Beasts album is the third in the Sad Man series of radical reworks, Indigenous Mix 3. Essentially a transmogrified remix of that same LP; the original Beast tracks shimmer, burble, twist, shift and flex to a new ever-changing treatment.

Often these new mixes prove more flowing, even grooving: some could even be described as spasmodic dance music. ‘Teleprompter’ gets the party off to a twisted start; Tibetan reverberations meet woody mechanics, acid licks, Aphex girders of polygon light and dreamy iterations. The following tetchy beat generator ‘Trespass’ has some nice touches, and even reminded me of Wagon Christ at his most fucked-up. As the title suggests, and keeping at least a lingering trace of that city’s exotic atmosphere, ‘Marrakesh’ channels Orbital and LFO into a industrial spindled mooning otherworldly enigma. It’s the late and much-missed Andrew Weatherall that pops up on the mirror-y dub, Mogadon time-lapse ‘Carbonated’.

Elsewhere Chicago House rubs up against air-y wonked weirdness on ‘Kalafornia’, and A Guy Called Gerald goes into meltdown on the broken-up ‘The Physician’.

An unconscious stream of ideas and tinkering’s; remodeling hints of Warp, Ninja Tunes, Leaf, acid and breakbeat, Spackman let’s loose once more with another cracking volume of mixes. This series is proving to be amongst some of his best work yet.





iyatraQuartet   ‘Break The Dawn’
24th April 2020


 

A veritable escapist odyssey that connects past with the contemporary, the latest timeless concerto from the multifaceted instrumental UK quartet transports the listener to both poetically stirring histories and landscapes.

Imbibed by individually strong and impressive classical CVs and a shared experience of study at the Royal Academy Of Music, the iyatraQuartet merge a penchant for India and Arabia with closer-to-home influences. The latest album’s opening bowed, sustained tremulous theater sea-shanty, ‘Black Sea’, for example is inspired by the former poet laureate (1930-1967) John Masefield’s tumultuous Sea Fever poem. Encouraging many classical homages before them, iyatraQuartet’s take on this classic travels on the mud banks of a hardy landscape with an attentive score of earthy sawing violin and cello, and skimmed and pattered frame drum; yet as with many of the tracks on this LP, they somehow manage to also evoke Eastern European folk music too. ‘Dompe’ goes much further back historically, to the Tudor epoch of Henry VIII, taking one of the earliest surviving “renaissance” keyboard manuscripts – the author composer of which remains unknown – ‘My Lady Carey’s Dompe’ as a foundation, they at first spindly and daintily walk through a dewy pastoral tapestry of float-y clarinet, glistened cobwebbed percussion and quill-etched mournful violin before evoking a hint of the Balkans. This is also the first suite to include a leitmotif of mantra like chants; a unison of choral voices emerging from the veils. ‘Alpine Flowers’ meanwhile, takes its inspiration from memorial plaques displayed at Oxford’s Somerville College Chapel, commemorating ‘significant’ women from the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Almost jazzy and smoky in feel, there’s a hint of a mysterious geography that errs towards the Native Indian.

Gravitating towards India, both musically and religiously, the rebirth celebratory rejoice themed title-track weaves countless personal connections into a number of tunes. The group’s name, pronounced “ey-at-ra”, is even taken from the Hindu expression for travel, “yatra”. Mostly obvious the morning Raga transformation ‘Bhairav’, refers to the many contrasting aspects of Bhairava (a manifestation of Shiva), who created and then dissolved the three stages of life. That trio of universality is mirrored by a quiet incipient moody bowed, droning and strummed section, followed by quivered wails, clarinet honks and scrapes and busy tablas. It helps that the quartet’s co-founder and violinist maestro (to name just one instrument among her repertoire) Alice Barron studied South Indian violin techniques with the country’s star turn duo, the Mysore Brothers.

Continuing that thread, the joyful classical meets Swami ‘Chandra’ was originally written for the Indian sire of the title, Chandra Chakraborty, in 2017. The swayed, swan-like melody is based on, of all things, a medieval plainchant, woven into a Raga Yaman. It’s a dusky beauty of a fusion, with ascendant violin and airy clarinet: gracious in fact.

Sweeping across musical panoramas, the quartet reach out towards the Middle East with the sand dune contoured ‘Lama Bada’. Born out of a fruitful meeting with Basel and Mohammed ‘Taim’ Saleh of the Orchestra Of Syrian Musicians that turned into the 2018 touring The Songs Of Syria project, this atmospheric romantic piece utilizes Arabian love stories for a reverent camel ride.

Impressive in scope with instruments from folksy Ireland, rootsy Africa, mystical Tibet and of course pan-Europe, Break The Dawn is an ambitious reading of experimental classical music that doesn’t easily take to defining. Reminding me of the escapist Balkan trio Širom, but with chamber strings, the iyatraQuartet conjure up an imaginative time-spanning sound; performed with assured skill and an open mind.




Antti Lötjönen  ‘Quintet East’
(We Jazz)  17th April 2020


 

Highly active as a bassist on the flourishing Finnish jazz scene with such notable groups as The Five Corners Quintet, 3TM and the Aki Rissanen Trio, Antti Lötjönen now steps out as bandleader on his debut longplayer, Quintet East. Bringing with him a whole host of “hard hitters” Antti leads 3TM band mate and saxophonist Jussi Kannaste, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, drummer Joonas Rippa and Koma Saxo supergroup saxophonist Mikko Innanen on a free-jazz, hard bop and serenaded jazz exploration.

Released just a day before his 40th birthday milestone, this debut offering is a culmination of all that experience and learning. And so you’re just as likely to hear echoes of Sonny Clark and Wayne Shorter as you are the Arild Andersen Quartet and the avant-garde.

The bassist’s signature instrument however, though always present, is never overbearing, and seldom brought to the front. Whilst highly articulate, sometimes physical, the double bass in this instance offers a constant bowed rhythm and sense of depth. Occasional elasticated noodling and skips are always great to hear when the rhythm picks up, but soloist style showcases are kept to a couple of ‘Monograph’ series vignettes: The introductory ‘Monograph I’ features a quietly plucked and flexing bass, spring and meandering; ‘Monograph II’, a sort of tuning exercise in which the bass takes on the characteristics of a cello.

There’s plenty of nicely untethered, if never too loose, performances from Antti’s ensemble. ‘Erzeben Strasse’ has a European title but finds the quintet traversing Bernstein, Be Bop and Lalo Schifrin on a journey that sets out with a breezy rhythm, swaddling sax, spiraling Miles Davis style trumpet and a laid back bounce but ends on a much busier dampened drumming off-kilter skip. Alluding to the mid to late 70s satirical soap opera of the same name, ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’ is another evolving instrumental piece; starting out with snuggled romantic sax, fluting trumpet and a flitting meander, the track then gets going with some big band theme tune vigor. ‘Pocket Yoga’ (is that a euphuism?) has some nice runs and nozzled horns and drums that just keep on moving, and the spiritual jazz leaning, increasingly erratic honked ‘Oblique’ evokes Electric Byrd. ‘La Petit Lactaire’, as the title may suggest, is a wholly Euro-jazz serenade; the mood set to a snuggly scene on the Left Bank.

Swaddled between the experimental and familiar warmth of American jazz in the late 50s and 60s, Antti has bridged the decades to produce a musical showcase as meandrous as it is intense and busy; as traditional as it is modern. A great start as a bandleader, but Quintet East also extolls the talents of an extraordinary proficient and prolific Finnish jazz scene.





Damily   ‘Early Years: Madagascar Cassette Archives’
(Bongo Joe)   24th April 2020


 

As worldly as I am, I have to level with you. Until this attest discovery from the crate-digging folks at Bongo Joe arrived, the frenzied, ceremonial and ritual rooted sound of Madagascan ‘Tsapiky’ had completely passed me by. This handy little collection however proves an inviting introduction to not only this unusual busy music but also one of its most celebrated proponents, Damily.

Hailing from the southwestern region of the Island, where tsapiky is prevalent, Damily has molded the foundations laid down in the 1970s to create a idiosyncratic fusion of blistering bluesy rock guitar, innocent sounding high-pitched vocals, lo fi tech and galloping, on the move, percussive rhythms. This compilation hones in on the early years, picking through the tape archives to highlight Damily’s burgeoning beginnings: This is the Madagascar star unfiltered if you like.

Originally, as so many of his peers and forbearers did, learning to play as a poor kid on the most rudimentary of knocked-together, nylon-stringed guitars, and despite lacking the length in his small fingers to reach the low strings, Damily flourished. Giving the music a unique characteristic initially, he developed a technique of releasing the two bass strings as his other fingers were hitting the higher strings – other guitarist with similar disadvantages, or because they just preferred it, just moved the lowest string completely. The results gave a more aggressive attacking sound that was soon adopted by a host of artists; so many in fact that it has become a signature of this electrified genre ever since.

Sung in the Island’s Malagasy dialect, the racing fusion of lilted sweetened gospel soul, spindly and flicked electric guitar, jostling and skiffle like percussion has echoes of South Africa township polyrhythm rock and Afropop. Almost childlike vocals joyfully skit across patted, skipping padded drums – the sticks made from the pelts of the humped Zebu cattle – and what sounds like a pan-pipped melody on the opener ‘Zaho Va’; and you can hear, what sounds like, Casio presets and splashes of cymbal on the delightfully scrappy ‘Mangebakbake’.

Threatening to collapse or trip over itself throughout, the diy produced trotting rhythms somehow keep going. And Damily’s reedy guitar runs, phrases and trills nearly overload the system at one point, staying just the right side of discord, and staying just about in tune.

Back to the foundations, with a smattering of tracks from ’95 to 2020, the Early Years is a refreshing collection of an artist in development: finding his style. You don’t need all the baggage or investigation to appreciate it, better still enjoy the distinctive sound. Just open your ears, sit back and be taken to new thrilling musical escapes: Yeah, that’s the sound of a recommendation.






You can now support the Monolith Cocktail via the micro-funding platform Ko-Fi:

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

ALBUM REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




Various   ‘INTENTA: Experimental & Electronic Music From Switzerland 1981 – 1993’   (Les Disques Bongo Joe/Décalé Records)   LP/28th February 2020


Overshadowed by its neighbours, the landlocked trans-alpine polyglot nation of Switzerland has a mixed history, both politically and culturally. The neutralized haven for at least the last century, the 26 canton state has proved a fertile climate for the arts especially; a key incubator for the birth of Dadaism and in turn, from its ashes, Surrealism (dreamed up in part by the Zurich Cabaret Voltaire of such luminaries Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Richard Huelsenbeck and Hans Arp, to name just a few), to the role of modern conceptual stars such as Urs Fischer, Thomas Hirschhorn and Sylvie Fleury.

Musically though, I draw a bit of a blank.

Bongo Joe along with their partners on this electrified Swiss odyssey, Décalé Records, are here to help, filling in those blanks with at least one important transitional period in the country’s music history; a twelve-year window in which the synthesized ‘hedonism’ of club and burgeoning Techno scenes emerged from a more politicized radical youth-led movement.

From 1981 onwards the great and good and more obscure mavericks of Switzerland embraced the technology and production; experimenting to varying degrees of success, from louche Euro-pop to the avant-garde; Kosmische style peregrinations to lo fi futurism. Plucked from the crates by Matthias Orsett and Maxi Fischer, a mixed bag of the ‘under-appreciated’, ‘sought-after’ and plain odd are brought together under the INTENTA title.

An intergenerational compilation, old hands like the multi-tasker artist/actor/poet/ski instructor and Jacques Brel adapt Jean-Pierre Huser feature alongside a rabble of Swiss post-punk-turn-synth-pioneers such as the ex-Grauzone saxophonist Claudine Chirac. The former, Huser, high on the Gauloises nicotine of Gainsbourg wraps a seedy Yello-esque gauze-y electro production around the 1984 down and out cocaine languor in ‘Chinatown’; the latter, sees Chirac reimagine what it might sound like if Wendy Carlos had been signed to the early Mute label, composing a Baroque-futurist elegy on the 1982 ‘Etudes’ exercise: part neoclassical, part videogame.





Quality and access, from the privately pressed to bigger full-on slick productions, this collection – which is neither linear nor thematic – dots Eurovision starlets amongst the most rudimentary of early synth tinkerings. At the more polished end, Swiss pop-chanteuse Carol Rich makes the cut with the vaporous hushed air-y ‘Computered Love’; the congruous flip side to Rich’s 1984 Eurovision entry ‘Tokyo Boy’. At the more lofi level, Dressed Up Animals 1983 serialism and ritualistic sound experiment ‘Mondtanz’, morphs Faust and Cabaret Voltaire.

The influences are just as wide-ranging; smoky, sexy Grace Jones vibes and Trevor Horn on Peter Philippe Weiss’ soulfully sultry underground transport diorama ‘Subway’ – a private pressing with high production values, remastered especially for this compilation – and D-Sire’s French-esque bluesy drumpad splash crescendo ‘Wintertime’.





Other notable attractions on this selection include the opening ‘Untitled’ Krautrock traverse, attributed to the 19th century Swiss folk hero Andreas Hofer – the Tyrolean innkeeper/drover turn rebel leader in the fight against Bonaparte; captured and later executed -; the Ryuichi Sakamoto with touches of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, dance across the Alpine glacial, ‘Swiss Air’, by Bells Of Kyoto; and mechanical water-treading ‘Django’, labeled as the Unknownmix.

As varied as Juan Atkins is to the 39 Clocks or Niles Rodger’s 80s Bowie production is to The Normal, the differences in synthesizer production and style is numerous. You can hear more or less every development in electronic music, from soundscaping to city lights NYC electro funk on this eager compilation that traces a less cherished passage in the evolution of European electronica. A collection of artists that absorbed but lent a certain Swiss bent to the genre. INTENTA is well worth seeking out, if not only to own some very rare and expensive sounds.





The Monolith Cocktail is now on Ko-Fi

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

ALBUM REVIEWS
Dominic Valvona





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

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

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


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


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

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

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





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

 

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





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





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

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





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

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

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



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





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

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

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




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





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

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

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



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





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

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

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

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


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





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

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

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

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




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





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

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

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





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





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

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

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

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

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








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

Album Reviews
Words: Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit: Aziza Brahim taken by Ana Valiño






This week’s recommendations and reviews (for the most part) share a musical hunger for the polygenesis; combining and merging a cornucopia of international sounds and cultures to spread a message of universal suffrage. A case in point, the ever-evolving North-of-England assemblage of migrants and refugees, Rafiki Jazz feature voices and musicians from all over the globe: from Arabia to India. Their fourth and upcoming captivating album, Saraba Sufiyana, is featured in this roundup. Channeling a mystical Maghreb, the French trio of Karkara goes heavy and transcendent on their new acid-doom-rock epic, Crystal Gazer. The Belgium outfit Compro Oro manages to circumnavigate a myriad of international destinations without leaving the suburbs of their native home on the new dance jazz LP Suburban Exotica, and UK producer Dan Harper, under the Invisible System title, once more transforms the traditional and courtly music of Mali, on the new album Dance To The Full Moon. Closer to European shores, Xylouris White, the Hellenic framed project of Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris, release a fourth installment of their Cretan soundscapes, The Sisypheans.

Leading the charge this week though is the encapsulating soulful Aziza Brahim with her upcoming new album, Sahari. Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, the beguiled vocalist now lives in a state of exile in Spain. Her latest album continues to draw attention to not only that plight but also that of all refugees on an album that tries some a little bit different musically.

Something a little different, and away from this general thread of global initiatives, Belgium composer Alex Stordiau releases his inaugural album of Kosmische imbued neo-classical visions, Poking Your Imagination, for Pure Spark Records.

Preview/Feature




Aziza Brahim ‘Sahari’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/ 15th November 2019


Bringing the message of the displaced Saharawi people to the world stage, Western Saharan musician/activist Aziza Brahim follows up both her critically rewarded 2014 album Soutak, and the no less brilliant 2016 serene protest of poetic defiance Abbar el Hamada album with her third for Glitterbeat Records, Sahari.

Born in the hardened landscape of a Saharawi refugee camp on the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara, beguiled vocalist Aziza embodies the wandering spirit of her people; their settled, though often borderless and disputed lands, previously claimed by Spain, were invaded in 1975 by Morocco. Though made up of many tribes with many different goals the Saharawi people mounted a fight back. It was in this climate that Brahim was hewed. Exiled in effect, her travails have extended to Cuba, where she was educated as a teenager, and Barcelona, where she now resides and makes music.

Imbued as ever with the desert soul of that disputed region, the latest record, with its visual metaphor of optimism in even the most desperate of backdrops and times – dreams of growing up to be a ballerina proving universal – attempts to marry the beautifully longing and heartache yearns of Brahim’s voice to a number of different styles and rhythms: A subtle change towards the experimental.

Previous encounters have channeled the poetic roots of that heritage and merged it with both Arabian Spain and the lilted buoyancy of the Balearics. Working with the Spanish artist Amparo Sánchez of the band Amparanoia, Brahim has chosen to add a congruous subtle bed of synthesized effects to the recording process: before performing live in the studio, but now recording in various places, the results collected together and pieced together in post-production. This methodology and sound furnishes Brahim’s longing traditional voice with certain freshness and, sometimes, shuffled energy. Songs such as the loose and free ‘Hada Jil’ lay a two-step dance beat underneath a desert song drift. Later on there are dub-y rim-shot echoes and undulating waves of atmospheric tonal synthesizer underpinning that blues-y startling timbre. However, the most surprising fusions to be found on Sahari are the Compass Point reggae-gait ‘Las Huellas’ and the Arabian soul channeling Fado ‘Lmanfra’. There’s even room for a piano on the balladry ‘Ardel el Hub’; a song that plaintively conveys the “impossibility of returning home”, a sentiment the activist Brahim is only too familiar with – denied entry or the right of return, effectively in exile.

The sound of the Sahrawi is never far off, despite the technological upgrade. That most traditional of handed-down instruments, the “tabal drum”, can be heard guiding the rhythm throughout; rattling away and tapping out a beat that changes from the threadbare to the clattering. Brahim’s vocals are as ever effortlessly enriching, captivating and trilling. I dare say even veracious.

Articulating a broader message of global suffrage, Brahim once more encapsulates the sorrows of the exiled and stateless on a sumptuous album, The wanderer and Saharan siren invites new dynamics without changing the intrinsic character and message of her craft, yet ventures beyond those roots to embrace bold new sounds. A most fantastic, poetic songbook that will further cement Brahim’s deserved reputation as one of the deserts most serene artists.






Reviews

Compro Oro ‘Suburban Exotica’
(Sdban Ultra) Album/ 18th October 2019





Illuminating Belgium suburbia with a cornucopia of entrancing and limbering sounds and rhythms from across the world, Compro Oro transport the listener to imaginative vistas on their latest album of jazz imbued exotics. Making waves as part of a loose jazzy Benelux scene, the troupe have even managed to rope in the help of Ry Cooder’s accomplished scion, the multi-instrumentalist talent Joachim Cooder, who adds an “effects-laden” mbira and percussion to a trio of imaginative tracks.

Like their comrades on that scene, Black Flower, the Compro sail into various melting-pot rich harbors, soaking up the atmosphere and embracing what they found, weaving the multilingual sounds into a vibrant soundtrack of tropical new wave pop, dance music, alt rock ‘n’ roll, Turkish-psych and Ethno-jazz fantasy. Cal Tjader, Mulatu Astatke and Marc Ribot are all cited as inspirations, their indelible mark suffused throughout this LP. Add to that trio a strange interpretation of Herbie Hancock (on the Somalia ease-up ‘Mogadishu’; imagine the Dur-Dur Band floating on a kooky jazz cloud above the tumultuous city), Soulwax (on the palm tree Latin dance funk ‘Miami New Wave’) and a rewired Modern Jazz Quartet (that will be the often twinkly and trickling use of vibraphone, but also the marimba too). The curtain call thriller ‘Kruidvat’ even evokes the darker stirrings of later period Can, and the wafting ambiguous snuffles of Jon Hassell.

For the most part dreamy and under a gauze-y veil, Suburban Exotica sashays and drifts across a musical landscape of Arabia, Anatolia, Eastern Africa, The Caribbean and Hispaniola without setting foot outside of their Belgium front door. The more you listen the more you discover and get out of this brilliant dance album of borderless jazz. What a treat to the ears and feet.





Invisible System ‘Dance To The Full Moon’
(ARC Music) Album/ 25th October 2019





An apt hand in transforming the traditional sounds of Mali, the British producer Dan Harper’s experiment in this field stretches back two decades; set in motion by the rudimental laptop-produced Acid Mali project he created whilst working as a Capacity Builder for a local Malian environmental NGO. So taken was Harper with the country, he ended up not only meeting his future wife there but setting up home and a studio in the capital, Bamako. His wife, Hawa, would introduce Dan to childhood friend and renowned guitarist Bandjougou, who in turn would bring in tow the dusty soulful rich vocalist Sambou koyaté to sing for him. Both artists appear on this new album alongside the griot siren Astou Niamé Diabaté, who as it turns out sang at Dan and Hawa’s wedding.

Taken from the same recording sessions as Dan’s previous album, Bamako Sessions, his latest transportive exploration under the nom de plume of Invisible System, once more lends an electrified and synthesized pulse to the spiritual soul of Malian music. Originally put together in a more languorous fashion with a variety of musicians coming and going, jamming in a mattress proofed room in a rented house in the capital, Dance To The Full Moon took shape at the end of a tumultuous and violent period in Mali’s history. Experiencing firsthand (literally on Dan’s own doorstep) the terrorist attacks that followed in the wake of a, finally curtailed, Islamist insurrection and the ongoing war between Mali’s government in the West and the Tuaregs of the North and Eastern desert borders, fighting to set-up an autonomous region, known as the Azawad. Though a certain stability has returned in part to Mali, attacks still occur sporadically; the effects of which permeate throughout the work of the country’s artists, the majority offering a conciliatory tone with the emphasis on unity and understanding. With that in mind, Dan’s album is rich with passionate expressive longing and intensity; the varied juxtapositions of the griot tradition and less rural, more urban vocals combine to deliver some startling performances.

The gently resonate accents and fanned waft of the Malian guitarist’s Kalifa Koné and Sidi Touré accentuate the brilliant vocal parts; a gathering of powerful griot acolytes, singers and even a rapper (Mali rap star Penzy) that includes the already mentioned trio of Bandjougou, Koyaté and Diabaté spiral between the sweetened and intense, the hymnal and physical. Dan boosts and filters those strong performances with a production of techno, modern R&B, dub and futuristic post-punk that sonically weaves in echoes of Massive Attack, Daniel Lanois, King Ayisoba and Dennis Bovell.

Nothing can ever truly improve upon the roots and soul of the traditional courtly music of Mali, its desert blues and Bamako rock of course, but you can push it into exciting directions. Dan’s rewired buzz and pulse does just that, giving a kick and lending an attuned production to the Mali soundscape.



Alex Stordiau ‘Poking Your Imagination’
(Pure Spark) Album/ 30th September 2019





Enticing former label mates from Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records to his burgeoning venture Pure Spark, Tokyo electronic wizkid Ippu Mitsui welcomes the Brussels based composer Alex Stordiau to the ranks. Featuring alongside House Of Tapes Yuuya Kuno, Stordiau also previously appeared on the Mid Lothian Bearsuit roster – mentioned on this very blog for his standout Vangelis-style voyager waltz into the cosmos ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, from the label’s The Invisible And Divided Sea compilation.

Like a missing neoclassical Kosmische suite from the Sky Records vault, Stordiau’s inaugural album for Mitsui’s imprint is a serene, though often dramatically stirring, exercise in sculpting retro-electronic soundtracks.

With a classical background, studying at various Belgium conservators, Stordiau combines elements of cascading, romantically accentuated piano and suffused strings with synthesized and computer programmed sine waves, glassy tubular glistened percussion and vaporous sweeps.

The Belgium visionary often works with Bristol musician Lee Williams, who plays, among other things, both electric guitar and bass, and sometimes drums. It sounds as if Williams is present once more, on hand with warm ponderous bass and the odd bit of wilder kooky lead guitar.

Track titles on Poking Your Imagination only go so far in describing each composition’s route on an album of undulating mood pieces. The opening descriptive ‘In The Tepid Shine’ is pure escapist air-bending; crafting vague echoes of Jean Michel Jarre with Roedelius’ more beautifully spherical elevations. Most of these tracks waver over the course of duration; changing or pausing between parts, starting off like the Blade Runner neon skyline lighted ‘Tree Healing’ with a darker, theatrical classical grandeur but suddenly joined by drums and a touch of Vangelis sci-fi. Elsewhere you’re bound to identify the space peril looming shadow of Tangerine Dream and the more popcorn kookiness of Cluster amongst the Baroque cathedral and gravity arcing visions.

A panoramic, mostly cosmic soundtrack of classical Kosmische and humanized electronica, Poking Your Imagination is an assiduous suite of the mysterious, scientific and dreamy.





The Mining Co. ‘Frontier’
Album/ 25th October 2019





Not that you can detect it from his lilted peaceable, if hearty, Americana burr, or the Western-alluded nom de plume that he goes under, but singer/songwriter Michael Gallagher was born in Ireland. Obvious now you’ve read his actual name I know, but just sound wise, it is difficult to hear that Irish bent. In a similar vein to such luminaries as Simon Bonney, the County Donegal troubadour subtly channels a timeless vision of the lyrical, pioneering old West (and South for that matter) on his new LP, Frontier.

Via a Nashville, Texas and New Mexico panorama, Gallagher tailors personal anxieties of disconnection, dislocation and growing pains with familiar old tropes on a songbook of “hangdog” country fare. A romantic album at that, with shades of a pining Josh T. Pearson, The Thrills, Lee Hazlewood, Tom Petty and the Eels, Frontier showcases the artist’s most tender swoons and yearnings. This is a soundtrack of purposeful blues, skiffles and mellow gospel, all softly laced with a subtle echo of Mariachi horns and tremolo twang.

Various memories of a childhood back in Ireland (the night Elvis died sounding a special resonance on the lilted lap-steel rich ‘The Promised Line’) and phobias (a rational fear in my book of flying inspiring the country-prayer ‘Empty Row’) are transported to wistfully articulate American musical settings; a landscape and sound it seems Gallagher belongs.

The third such album from his The Mining Co. alter ego, Frontier is full of romantic intent and stirring candid cathartic heartache; a shuffling songbook handled with care and tenderness that will unfurl its charms over time.




Xylouris White ‘The Sisypheans’
(Drag City) Album/ 8th November 2019





Less a Greek tragedy, more a kind of acceptance of one’s fate (or, play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it), the Hellenic inspired collaboration project of Giorgos Xylouris and Jim White take their lead on the purgatory fate of boulder carrier Sisyphean from Albert Camus: to a point.

The absurdist doyen once wrote a famous tract on that Greek fella’s predicament: Punished by Zeus to roll a large boulder up a mountainside in Hades, each time he reached the top the boulder would roll right back down to the start. And so the process began all over again: An endless, thankless trudge and metaphor for all the all too real daily grind of life outside the mythological imagination. Or so you’d think. Camus however saw it not has a pointless waste of effort and slow punishing meaningless task but as a challenge: noble even. That Sisypheans’ repeated burden should be seen as an achievement, that the struggle should be enough to “fill a man’s heart”. Sisyphean has accepted his it and so should you, or, words and sentiment to that effect.

Of course, even deeper contentions can be found in Camus’ essay; how our tragic figure confined to a limited limbo landscape created in his mind a whole universe from it. Xylouris and White themselves pondered how he might experiment with carrying that burdensome rock; alternating hands, carrying behind his back and so on. Essentially though, this is about experiencing, seeing and discovering anew each day with a concentrated mind the things you take for granted: especially your surroundings. The duo initially turn to the atavistic in conveying these ideas and sentiments; using the suffused blown stirrings of the Greek flute (Aulos) and vibrato resonating spindly fanning tones of the laouto (a long-necked fretted scion of the lute family). In addition to these two lead instruments, the scene is set with shrouded misty and soulfully yearned voices, Giorgos’ son Nick on cello and on the serialism waning moodscape second track a ‘Goat Hair Bowed’ instrument. And so a sweeping, mournful at times, traverse that takes in dancing Grecian figures, wedding celebrations, bewailed lament and travels to the furthest reaches of the Greek borders: sailing at one point into the tumultuous mysterious vision of the much-disputed and fought over ‘Black Sea’.

However, the both taught and freeform, skittish experimental percussion and breaks of Dirty Three drummer White adds another dimension to the rootsy and earthy feel. Always tactile and congruous, White lifts or underpins certain tracks with avant-garde taps, clutters, rim rattles and jazzy frills and crescendos. A touch of progressive jazz, even Krautrock, that sends this project into more contemporary climes.

Between the chthonian and ethereal, the philosophical and viscerally dreamy, The Sisypheans minor epic is an extraordinary musical peregrination worth exploring: Music for the cerebral and the senses.




Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic) Album/ October 2019





It’s no idle boast to suggest that the North of England based Rafiki Jazz could be one of the most diverse groups on the world stage. Testament of this can be heard on the troupe’s previous trio of polygenesis albums: an untethered sound that simultaneously evokes Arabia, the Indian Subcontinent, Northern African, the Caribbean, South America and Balkans.

With representatives from nearly every continent, many of which have escaped from their homelands to find sanctuary in the UK, Rafiki Jazz is an ever-evolving ensemble of migrants and refugees alike coming together to produce sweeping divine borderless music.

Their latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The following floaty and ethereal well-of-sorrows ‘Azadi’ even features a Celtic and folksy air (one that is repeated later on). This is in part due of course to the guest performances of both the English fiddle extraordinaire and songwriter Nancy Kerr and traditional Gaelic singer Kaitlin Ross. A third vocal addition, Juan Gabriel, can be heard lending a guttural throated underbelly to an already eclectic chorus of singers.

Buoyant tablas and spindled kora sit in perfect harmony with Arabian oud, tropical steel drums, the Brazilian berimbau and the varied voices of Sufi, Hebrew, Hindu, Egyptian-Coptic and Islamic, without ever feeling crowded or strained.

Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other culture as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Twenty years in and still improving on that global remit, Rafiki Jazz delivers a magical and rich fourth LP. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing.



Karkara ‘Crystal Gazer’
(Stolen Body Records) Album/ 25th October 2019





There’s a hell of a lot wind blowing throughout the mystical and spiritually Toulouse trio of Karkara’s Crystal Gazer epic. North African wind that is; the exotic charms and mystery of the Maghreb on a swirling breeze, flows through and introduces each incantation heavy communal transcendence.

The mirage-shimmery title-track vignette even features a sirocco echo of ghostly enervated Tuareg desert guitars, whilst the electrified speed freak ‘Zarathoustra’ doesn’t just allude to Nietzsche’s infamous Thus Spoke but astrally heads back to the founding father of that mystical Persian faith via an eastern Link Wray and Gothic soup of Krautrock jazz and acid rock.

The counter flow breathes of another desert also permeate this LP, the sound of a veiled didgeridoo constantly present in building atmosphere and mysticism. Loud and physical, though not without some sensitivity, the trio chant, howl and pray their way through a vortex of flange and fuzz as they soar over a fantastical landscape that takes in the southern constellation star of “proxima centauri” and the gates of the Tunisian Medina, ‘Jedid’.

Allusions to seers, mystics and Gothic romantics abound, whilst the musical inspirations fluctuate between heavy space rock (Hawkwind) and Krautrock (Xhol Caravan, Embryo), post-punk (Killing Joke) and baggy (Stone Roses on a bum ride), and spooked, sleazy rock’ n ’roll (Alan Vega).

Transcended Tangier trips, Karkara aren’t exactly the first group to occupy this space, but they do it with volume and dreamy élan.





Review & Recommendations Roundup – Dominic Valvona




Kicking off 2019 this inaugural edition of Dominic Valvona’s eclectic roundup of new releases includes the new, and only second solo, autobiographical framed album from art/sex/music icon Cosey Fanni Tutti; the dual-album celebration of Germany’s Station 17 collective (originally formed as a musical therapeutic experiment between a Hamburg group of mentally handicapped residents and musicians), marking thirty years of experimental sonic sculpting and collaboration; the dazed jingle-jangle shoegaze from the London outfit Deep Cut – releasing their first album for the Gare du Nord label –, a new album from Tim Presley’s White Fence of soft psychedelic, new wave, fragile troubadour and yearning off-kilter analogue electronic bulletins; a single-type release of bewitching romantic morose from the Uruguay duo Clovvder and a real bona-fide 7” slice of vinyl from legendary English psychedelic luminary Twink and the Gare du Nord label’s unofficial house band all-stars, Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox.

 

Chasing up releases from the fag-end of 2018 I also take a look at the repackage appraisal of the rare and much sought-after 1978 Celtic-folk album from Flibbertigibbet, Whistling Jigs To The Moon, and a collection of previously unreleased recordings from the obscure 60s/70s, genre spanning Paraguay duo JODI, plus delve into the mind of the music composer artist Garrett N., who follows up (tens year later) on his debut album with an ambitious progressive suite of high quality-produced hard rock, funk, sound collage, Hip-Hop, psych and astral synth, Let’s Get Surreal.



Albums

Cosey Fanni Tutti ‘Tutti’
(Conspiracy International) 8th February 2019




After five decades at the cutting edge of subversive performance, conceptual art, and with pushing the envelope of cerebral industrial electronic music there’s no sign of stopping the grand dame icon of the leftfield Cosey Fanni Tutti from continuing to deconstruct and contextualise the limits of the sonic abyss.

Even in recent framed ‘autobiographical’ years, Cosey could hardly be accused of languishing on past glories; the results of a pinnacle year in retrospection revitalized and worked to produce this, Cosey’s only solo album since 1982’s Time To Tell. It could be said that the controversially open artist’s – who has all but laid herself bare physically and sexually in the pursuit of pushing the boundaries of morality, taste and censorship – practice is wholly autobiographical; Tutti being no different in that respect.

Originally created as a soundtrack for the Harmonic Coumaction film as part of a wider COUM Transmissions retrospect (the Dadaist, and to an extent, Fluxus inspired enfant terror group of which Cosey, alongside Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge, co-founded in 1969) that opened the Hull, UK City of Culture celebrations in 2017, the caustic but often vaporous diaphanous eight soundscapes that make-up this latest album can be read as a continuum of Cosey’s biography (published in the same year) and on-going assessment.

Untethered to any particular place or time, spanning the decades to inform both present and future, Tutti is meant to be both an extension yet ‘stand alone document’. Transformed, manipulated and re-processed in the ‘now’, the various abstract perspectives and past incarnations are presented as a sophisticated soundtrack of mostly serialism shifting moods and evocations.

Nuanced and subtle, Cosey refines a legacy that includes Throbbing Gristle and various Chris Carter partnerships to produce a minimalist Techno with ominous otherworldly atmospherics, wafting esoteric style jazz pines and both inner and outer minded cosmological elemental style conceptual album. The title-track itself layers lingering mysterious exotic lingers of jazzy saxophone over distant pounded kinetic beats, cutting tetchy subdued mechanics and suffused drones that touch upon that sonic legacy.

Elsewhere on this series of suites pattering beats cloak alien avian squawks on the wilderness of ‘Drone’; hollow winds blow through metallic rotations on the wizened alluded ‘Sophic Ripple’; Cosey’s veiled apparition lulls drift amorphously in liquid reverberations on ‘Heily’; and leviathans pass over a bending Tangerine Dream like expanse on ‘En’.

Those more familiar with Cosey’s history might recognize title references, sonic prompts, and the use of atavistic arcane spiritual language (the album’s cascading crystalized mirror, ‘Orenda’, using and channeling the Iroquois group of Native American tribes’ name for the spiritual power inherent in people and their environment; the force behind divination, prophecy and soothsaying, amongst others), yet Tutti is a deconstructive breakdown of that same past, built back-up and put together to offer a new dialogue and visage going forward.

Not so much a revelation as ‘continuum’, Cosey’s first solo album in over thirty-six years is a clever atmospherically mysterious and sagacious soundtrack that transmogrifies a lifetime of ‘art, sex and music’ into a most recondite purview of effective electronica.









Station 17 ‘Werkschau’ & ‘Ausblick’
(Bureau B) 1st February 2019




Growing and developing way beyond the initial perimeters of a social experiment between the mentally handicapped residents of a Hamburg community and the independent musician Kai Boysen, Station 17 (as they would become known) has made a sizable and influential mark on the German music scene. From humble beginnings as a stimuli therapeutic project in 1989, the always evolving collaborative group has blossomed into an internationally acclaimed touring band, released over ten albums of eclectic experimentation and worked with an enviable cast of cross-generational artists: from members of the old guard such as Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream and Neu! to more contemporary Techno and electronic artists as DJ Koze, Datashock and Kurt ‘the Pyrolator’ Dahlke.

Spontaneous throughout, the constantly-changing lineup behind Station 17 effortlessly merge and rework Krautrock, Kosmische, Pop, Post-Punk and Techno music into something unique and, above all, democratized: the varying disabilities of the collective’s cast inevitably feed into the process, yet offer no barrier to creativity.

Celebrating thirty years of such experimental and inspired music exploration and performance, on the 1st of February Station 17 will both pause to take stock of the back catalogue, with the retrospective collection Werkschau, whilst looking forward to new sonic horizons, with the release of their eleventh LP proper, Ausblick – a companion piece to last year’s Blick (which made our albums of the year features). The first of these albums – sporting a homage to Can’s Landed album cover art – Werkschau crisscrosses the group’s cannon; from the 1990 self-titled debut album right up to the already mentioned 2018 triumph, Blick.

Certain albums gravitated towards the trends and zeitgeist of the times, but tracks, often a decade or more apart, sit together well with no discernable difference in quality or production. The first trio of tracks for instance, stretch across three decades; moving between the panted, mooning and gasped vocal free-form post-punk of ‘Feeger’, from the Debut LP, to the industrial drum’n’bass, Kraftwerkian meets NIN ‘Budemeister’, taken from the 2006 LP Mikroproffer, and the shimmery bossa electro-pop of ‘Techno Museum 2’, taken from the 1997 LP, Bravo. Elsewhere there are shades of limbering DFA Records-sign-Populare Mechanik, on the 2011 Fieber album track ‘Uh-Uh-Uh’; Bowie oozing over the Art Of Noise on, what could be homage to the Hamburg district and city’s infamous pirate insignia football club, ‘St. Pauli Der Hat Heute Geburts Tag’; and the luminous lunar bound’s of Can’s ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ can be heard permeating another 2011 track, ‘Zuckermalone’.



Guest appearances/collaborations being Station 17’s forte this retrospective includes an abundance of them; including the gangly-Hip-Hop Fetter Brot match-up ‘Ohne Regen Kein Regenbogen’ and the slick sonar reverberated Yellow Magic Orchestra hued, Michael Rothar travelling ‘Bogie Bogie Báka’. (Both tracks of which are taken from the collaborative dedicated 2008 album, Goldstein Variation). It also neatly ties-in with the group’s upcoming album rather well, featuring as it does Station 17’s bridging collaboration with Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! fame, ‘Dinge’, taken from the last album Blick: The upcoming Ausblick conceived in the PR spill as that record’s congruous twin. A companion piece, it shares more or less the very same lineup of guests, featuring once more the mischievous faUSt instigators Zappi and Jean-Hervé, new wave pop appropriator Andreas Dorau, the power-up Düsseldorf and Berlin straddling duo of one-time Ashra and Klaus Schulze drummer Harald Grosskopf and former Kraftwerk, Neu! and Pissoff journeyman Eberhard Kranemann, Tangerine Dream convert Ulrich Schnauss, contemporary electronic artist Schneider TM and of course, Spechtl.

Though this time around tracks seem to be far more expansive on the whole, loose and cosmic, especially the Pyrolator team-up ‘Geisterstunde, Baby’, which bounds and bends to a craning Jah Wobble-esque elasticity, and the Soon Over Babaluma galactic dusting ‘Un Astronaut’, which features both Schneider and old Krautrock hand, founder of GAM and echo guitar pioneer, Günter Schickert.

Wafting aromas of Eastern mystery, free-form jazz and liquid serialism permeate this album as Techno meets with Industrial, post-punk funk and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts era bass lines; resulting in one of Station 17’s most sophisticated, mature and thoughtful albums yet. A Teutonic odyssey, Ausblick’s enviable guest list certainly helps, yet it is the enthusiasm and spirit of the collective’s ‘wohngruppe’ that enrich and offer a distinct perspective.

Not resting on their laurels, Station 17 simultaneously looks back whilst cosmically being propelled forward, releasing both their new and retrospective albums on the same day. Thirty years in, those humble origins far exceeding expectations, Station 17 continue to produce the goods.



White Fence ‘I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk’
(Drag City) January 25th 2019




The unassuming maverick artist Tim Presley paints outside the lines; his idiosyncratic applied coloring-in like a double vision of kaleidoscopic floating blurriness. Deeply felt yet softened and often languid in practice, Presley’s off-kilter musings blend lo fi psychedelia with quirky troubadour sadness, jilting punk, library music, and early analogue synthesized music, and on this latest album of sweetened, hazy malady, the Kosmische, to create the most dreamy of soft bulletins.

Wise in his choice of associations, Presley has in recent years formed a fruitful bond with fellow American maverick Ty Segall – their latest collaboration, Joy, was released back in the summer of 2018 -, and Welsh artist Cate Le Bon – pairing up to form the odd lolloping DRINKS. It was whilst bunking down at Le Bon’s grotto in the Lake District in the winter that he wrote the songbook that would eventually become I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk; the admittedly rudimental skilled Presley, sat crafting ideas on Le Bon’s piano whilst she was out adding another string to her already stretched polymath bow, designing wooden furniture at night school.

Once back in the States, imbued even further by his recent move from L.A. to San Francisco, Presley called upon fellow lo fi graduate and face of Lazy Magnet, Jeremy Harris, to help mold and transform his halcyon transatlantic sketches. Harris is credited as the all-round talent that learnt and then, more or less, played and recorded this curious collection in the San Fran located studio of former Bees founder and producer, Paul Butler.

Amorphously wafting between the bucolic and tragic psychedelic whimsy of England, the Warm Jets era of Eno, the fragility lament of Nilsson and the cerebral lurch of The Swell Maps, Richard Hell and David Byrne, Presley’s bendy vulnerabilities sound understated and lo fi but dream big. The title-track, with postmodernist élan, embodies this spirit perfectly; merging the magical if unsure twinkle of Willy Wonka with Pete Dello, Syd Barrett and a slacker Ray Davis. Suffused venerable organs, monastery-like intonations, and the lightest of washes all sit well with the gangly disjointed lolloping guitars and the woozy drug-induced new wave rock’n’roll longing of such tragic mavericks as Johnny Thunders, who Presley dreamt appeared before him, from beyond the grave, with a message of encouragement: “To be honest and simple”. Opening up to a point, Presley’s sighed, understated vocals deliver lyrics swaddled in psychedelic analogy and lazed daydreaming resignation.

Closing the album, the final two-part suite of Ham Reductions, is an experiment in perpetual arpeggiator analogue-electronics. Split in to ‘A: Morning’ and ‘B: Street & Inside Mind’ bookends, these pleasant retro-futurist never-ending instrumentals both evoke the familiarity of Cluster and Eno. Reconfiguring a binary computerized language, each piece is probed and piqued by glistened but more caustic harsher interruptions flows and the sound of the traffic: The inner workings of Presley’s mind transduced into calculating, ruminative passages from another era.

Tethering a multitude of ideas and influences to something more concrete and solid can’t have been easy, but I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk captures those blurred reimaging’s within the amorphous boundaries of a successful off-kilter album of dreamy magnificence and wonky indulgences.





Flibbertigibbet ‘Whistling Jigs To The Moon’
(Sommer) December 5th 2019

JODI ‘My Espontáneo’
(Out-Sider Music) December 5th 2019




Feeding an insatiable hunger for obscure (sometimes for good reason) missives and forgotten links in the chain of music history, the Spanish Guerssen hub of multifaceted labels dishes up an abundance of rarities from around the world, and across time. Two such rare finds have piqued my interest this month, the first from the Paraguay duo JODI, and second, a reissue of the fleeting Celtic lunar imbued Flibbertigibbet album, Whistling Jigs To The Moon.

Faithful to the name, the Out-Sider Music imprint digs out a hotchpotch of previously unreleased recordings from the Wenger brothers, Joem and Dirk. Gathered together under the Pop Espontáneo title – a title that only goes so far in describing the duo’s highly diverse styles and influences – this compilation captures the brother’s at their most experimental, as they graduated from the schoolmates band The Rabbits to the sibling duo JODI and later still, after signing a contract with EMI-Argentina, IODI.

Isolated to a degree in their Paraguay homeland, cut-off to an extent from their peers, an unburdened and unpressured JODI relentlessly recorded an abundance of genre-bending songs and instrumentals at their 8-track studio in Asunción. The results of which, in the main, were self-financed and released in very small numbers privately.

Early adepts of the Moog, which they use with a cosmic relish throughout the majority of these recordings, the Wenger’s could be said to have been innovators in South American psychedelic boogie and space-age disco rock. Aggrandizing the brothers further, the PR spill and accompanying linear notes hold them up as pioneers; diy and lo fi doyens whose sound was ahead of its time. To be fair, at times you think you’re hearing the kernel of Ariel Pink or R Stevie Moore, but far from humble beginnings, the Wenger’s certainly had the cash to spill, owning as they did a state-of-the-art studio, a mellotron, moog and clavinet, which were hardly cheap or even easy to come by at the time of their late 60s and early 70s flowering.

If you’ve already heard Out-Sider’s repackage of the duo’s 1971 album, Pops de Vanguardia – possibly, as claimed, the first lo fi diy garage-psych album to be produced on the continent – you’ll be familiar with their method of blending Santana-like Latin rock with clavinet croaking heavenly funk and psychedelic garage to produce melodious pop. Digging deeper into the archives and stockroom, their ‘sound-alikes’ collection unearths such hidden gems as ‘Change Your Mind About Me’, which pitches soft American 70s rock with phaser-guitar and tropical percussion; the Steppenwolf-in-leather bastardized Beatles riff at the discotheque Glam-rocking, ‘Take Me Higher’; the Brian Auger rock’n’roll meets psych sermon, ‘Sunburst Of Bees’; and The Monkees harmonize over The Smoke, ‘I Will Wait For You’. But you’re bound to hear smatterings of Bolan, Mick Ronson, Sensations Fix, Amen Corner and The Kinks on this crisscrossing compilation.

Technically proficient they use all kinds of tricks, effects and overlays to skewer their visionary rock music pop. And if this kind of thing interests you, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the booklet describes all these various methods and the instruments used in great detail – guitar wise, the brothers showed a penchant for the Fender Jaguar and Jazz bass. Unfortunately enervated by the pressures of recording for a major label, the German-Paraguay brothers were forced to record more commercially viable hits. And so these recordings are only seeing the light of day forty odd years later, after the JODI heydays of the mid 70s.

This is a worthy collection and obscure curiosity that could lead to revival of forgotten treats from 60s/70s Paraguay; the sons and daughters of the German diaspora that ended up there, sharing an unconscious link to similar pioneering musical innovations back in the Krautrock homeland.












In a different direction entirely, the Sommer imprint revival of the critically well-received but commercially poor Whistling Jigs To The Moon album by Flibbertigibbet looks to place the Celtic-South African troupe in the upper echelons of prog and psych-folk greats.

Formed after the break-up of the earlier cult Irish group Mellow Candle by band members Alison O’Donnell and David Williams, after an unsuccessful 1972 album release for the Deream label – Swaddling Songs despite the attention and band’s reputation, failing to revive the Candle’s fortunes -, the prevailing Flibbertigibbet was born in the immigrant and local communal houses and clubs of the South African folk scene. Leaving the Emerald Isle after that Candle’s light went out for good, O’Donnell and Williams hooked-up in South Africa with ex-pats Barrie Glenn and Jo Dudding to form the earnest, romantically lamentable band of well-travail(ed) musicians.

From initial live performances in a homely community, the obviously gifted and talented group of like-minded folk lovers were soon patronized; their admirer and facilitator, Prof. David Marks soon offering them the help to record and release, what would be, their debut LP. Expanding the ranks further with classical first violinist Francesco Cignoli, jazz bassist Dennis Lalouette, string-bassist Nippy Cripwell, flutist Colin Shapiro and fiddle player Dave Lambert, they recorded an attentive songbook of beautifully lulled traditional folk sagas.

Taking old Irish standards, but also weaving their own deft tapestries, they dance jigs in drunken stupor to the moon cycles and swoon like the French Lieutenant’s Woman, waiting on the smugglers cove for loved-ones to return. They do this with the most understated of lilting charm, evoking the subtlest hues of Fairport Convention prog and the softest of psychedelic rock influences.

The stalwarts of bucolic and coastal folk are all present and correct – from English Oak and seafaring analogies to the protestations of the oppressed working classes -, as Flibbertigibbet travel back and forth across timelines. Special mention must go to O’Donnell’s voice, which is diaphanous and longing, channeling Sandy Denny, Linda Ronstadt and The Poppy Family as she woos and sighs over both the perfectly administered acoustic and electrified backing – itself a mix of the Trees, American country-folk rock, Fotheringay and Fleetwood Mac, but also a faithful interpretation of far older, more bodhran frame drum led, traditional forms too.

Saved hopefully from obscurity and the clutches of record-dealers – the original 1978 album fetching a pretty price online, if you can indeed find a copy – this repackaged appraisal of a folk rarity should be well-received by the folk and head music communities. Beautifully crafted storytelling from a band with much to offer, Whistling Jigs To The Moon is an enjoyable and stirring treat for the soul.




Deep Cut ‘Different Planet’
(Gare du Nord) January 25th 2019




As if Ian Button isn’t busy enough already juggling a multitude of projects, he’s not only the drummer in the London-based Deep Cut band but also facilitating the release of their third LP, Different Planet, through his very own Kentish cottage industry imprint, Gare du Nord (a good time to mention that labels impressive showing in our albums of the year list).

Formed around the dreampop shoegazing indie pop songwriting of the group’s founder, Mat Flint, and Emma Bailey, Deep Cut could be said to appeal to the Gare du Nord label’s penchant for nostalgia. Squeezing plenty of mileage out of The Byrds (8 Miles of it in fact on the track ‘Washed Up’), Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain, Throwing Muses and Ride, they inhabit another decade – though considering how bloody popular the 80s and Britpop eras both are, they’ve probably hit upon a winning formula.

In a spirograph haze of jingle-jangle paisley hued fuzz, drifting lingering cooing vocals and attitude power pop, the former Revolver frontman and Death In Vegas bassist Mat adds shades of his previous bands sound to the make-up; pitching up with trip-hop indie beats on the baggy-candour ‘Spiraling’, and switching on the Fujiya And Miyagi version of the motorik, on the early pulsing Sheffield electronic ‘Alarm Button’.

Playing with that lush signature of cracking indie pop, Emma (shadowed on backing vocals and harmony throughout by Mat) can at any one time channel Tanya Donelly, Sonya Madan and Miki Berenyi simultaneously. Though as breezy and shrouded in vapours as it is, Emma has a certain swagger and attitude that manages to pierce the daze.

The backing meanwhile shifts between all those already mentioned reference points, but can also throw up a few surprises, especially with vague passing influences such as Cabaret Voltaire, Ringo Deathstarr, Teenage Fanclub, Altered images and the Happy Mondays all swirling around.

A decent sound with plenty of variation, subtitles and energy, Deep Cut refine and breathe life back into the yearning shoegaze and Britpop of another era. With conviction, well-crafted songwriting and a captivating lead singer, they manage to stand apart from their influences just enough to avoid cliché and a reliance on the nostalgic.





Garrett N. ‘Let’s Get Surreal’




Channeled into an eclectically blended opus of a showcase, in a sense a purview of Garrett’s tenure as a composer and sound designer creating incidental music and soundtracks for a litany of American networks, the pun-tended riff entitled Let’s Get Surreal runs through the full gamut of its creator’s skillset and tastes. In the decade since his first and only other album thus far, Instrumentals And Oddities, there’s been a hell of a lot water-under-the-bridge, and Garrett’s album at times seems like one out-of-sync with its time: Leitmotifs and themes, including a growing cacophony of multiple George Bush Juniors reading out his infamous address to a nation speech on the eve of the second Gulf War (overlapping and twisted until the word “terrorism” echoes like a broken mantra), are evoked on the WMD condemnation, undulated by a Kubrickian menacing drone, ‘Saddam/Espace’ – just one example of a subject overtaken by a catalogue of equally destructive and important events; the incessant hunger for stimulation, reaction and validation of 24-hour news feeds quickly replacing world events at such a rate as to make anything longer than a few years back seem ancient history.

The sound quality indicates a talent for production: Garrett N. is attempting to bring hi-fidelity and a verve of polish back to music production; arguably a lost art in so many ways, especially in an era when availability and convenience is valued above audio quality, and when music is accessed, predominantly, through compressed digital streaming platforms on smartphones. If nothing else, Let’s Get Surreal sounds good in its bombast; loud when it needs to be, clean and crisp when more thoughtfully meditative and ambient. It makes a refreshing change to hear it.

The music itself is epically framed, following a concept that errs towards progressive rock and beats opera; there’s even an ‘Overture’ to kick things off, part of a triple suite of tracks that (surreal indeed) morphs Michael Caine’s anecdotes about gay slurs and allusions to a changing musical landscape of 70s Floyd, ethereal synth work, hues of heavy Muse prog guitar gestures, brighter shades of MGMT and psychedelic pop and Todd Rundgren. Continuous with recurring hooks, bridges and fades connecting each track on this hour plus filmic soundtrack, Let’s Get Surreal blends lofty noodling with longing composure as it confidently zaps and fuses the cosmic with Hip-Hop instrumentalism, library music with 80s flange rock, 8-bit robotics with conga funk, and low-riding RNB with the psychedelic.

A curious album from an obviously talented music producer and musician, this ambitious suite does seem like a home-studio project from a bedroom maverick, dressed-up as a resume, yet remains an impressive expansive astral oddity of constantly progressive and twisting musical tastes: An album where nothing, quite literally, is spared!




Singles

Twink ‘Brand New Morning/ Dream Turn into Rainbows’
(Gare du Nord) February 1st 2019




A match made in halcyon nostalgic haven, quintessential English psychedelic journeyman Twink (the nom de plume of former Pretty Things, Pink Fairies, Tomorrow, and the fleeting Stars instigator, Mohammed Abdullah John Adler) breaks bread with Ian Button’s Gare du Nord label’s unofficial house bands, Papernut Cambridge and Picturebox, on his latest bucolic single.

Taking a while to materialize on wax, the Gare du Nord lineup of Button, Robert Rotifer, David Woolf and Robert Halcrow first worked with Twink back in 2017; backing one of the doyens of early psych for a series of ‘rare’ shows, which included a guest slot at Kaleidoscope’s 50th anniversary Tangerine Dream jamboree.

Essentially Twink’s spotlight, the (traditional) A-side, ‘Brand New Morning’, was co-written with Picturebox main man Halcrow. A genital kind of vicarage Baroque-chimed harpsichord period Syd Barrett dream capsule from psychedelic rock’s back pages, this earnest Village Green enchanted ditty breaths in the optimism of a sunny-side-up kind of day. The more interesting companion B-side, ‘Dreams Turn Into Rainbows’, is a flute-y and mellotron dreamy romantic yearned number. Building from folky psychedelics echoes into a diaphanous Moody Blues fantasy, Twink’s repeated sentiment of, “I still dream about you/ But dreams they turn into rainbows”, is carried on the currents and vapours of his backing troupe’s melodious lush lingers.

Ever expanding the catalogue of nostalgic and halcyon age signings, Ian Button’s label dissects the past but lives in the present, whether it’s the 60s, 70s or even 80s (see the label’s Deepcut LP, which also features in this roundup): The metaphors and analogies proving timeless, even if the music isn’t. Twink is an obvious fit and addition to a label so endeared with England’s less celebrated mavericks.

By the time this review reaches you, the limited-to-200-copies vinyl single should be available via the shared Twink Bandcamp page. A digital copy for streamers is also being made available.





Clovvder ‘Traits’
November 13th 2018




Invoked during an ‘astral winter by the seas’ of the Uruguay port city they call home, Montevideo, the Gothic atmospheric conjurers Clovvder and their most recent couplet of eerie and poetically forlorn bewitching drones (Traits) merges the ominous with the ritualistic diaphanous surrealism to unsettling, spiritualist effect.

Channeling the unconventional morality of the celebrated surrealist Uruguayan-born French writer/poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse’s Les Chants de Maldoror, ‘old gods’, magik and hermetic beliefs, the duo’s Tanky and CO3RA personal peer dramatically into the void as they navigate the aloof philosophical quandaries of existence and self: The second of the two tracks, ‘Solipsismo’ can be translated as both ‘alone’ and ‘self’, a prompt in this case to the eternal downer that the ‘self is all that exists’.

Tar black waters, swirls of minimal dark majesty, resignation, and wispy apparitions posing descriptive esoteric longing lyricism (“Black abysses, swirling/I felt born in me”) materialize in waves across both of Traits haunted soundtrack evocations. A sad melancholic beauty and glints of escapism however lift the mood of the drowning-in-the-River-Styx vibe.

Relatively obscure, with only a handful of singles online, Clovvder may well dissipate back into the ether that they appeared from; their non-linear visions and dark arts sorcery poetic minimalism (imbued in part by the genius experimental cinema of Russia’s exalted Andrei Tarkovsky: Scenes from his loose amorphous interconnected autobiographical movie The Mirror are used to accompany ‘Hydrophila’) demand total absorption and the time to take hold.

Difficult to place; neither electronica, field recordings, drones or that dismissive ‘Witch’ prefix trend, Traits is closer to the perimeters of occult soundtrack magic realism poetry and despondent esoteric romanticism.






Words – Dominic Valvona

Album Review/Dominic Valvona



R. Seiliog ‘Megadoze’ (Turnstile Music) 30th November 2018


The Welsh producer’s most cerebral and tactile electronic evocations yet, Robin Edwards’ (under the mantle of his R. Seiliog moniker) new album subtly pushes out into the expanses of a naturalistic imbued void with a depth and patience seldom heard outside the fields of ambient and new age music.

Echoing the trance-y and controlled build-ups of techno’s burgeoning creative epoch in the early to mid 1990s – especially the likes of Seefeel, Sun Electric, Beaumont Hannant and, well, a fair share of the Warp and R&S labels output in that period – Edwards ‘ambisonic’ visions shift seamlessly between the mysterious and radiant; weaving together elements of Kosmische, minimalism, intelligent techno and even psychill into wondrous soundtrack of discovery.

Megadoze is in no way, as the title might suggest, one big somnolent snooze fest; even if there is a lot of suffused ambience to be found, and tracks take an unhurried amount of time to unfurl their brilliance and scope. The minimalist whispery, silvery and peaceable ‘DC Offset’ (a reference to ‘mean amplitude displacement’ too lengthy to discuss here) for example bears traces of The Orb and David Matthews, yet also features the sort of downplayed beats and rhythms associated with sophisticated dance music. In fact, no matter how gentle or languid, each track features constantly stimulating and evolving textures of metallic and crisp, whipped beats amongst the vapours, undulations, drones and waveforms.

A manufactured wilderness and cosmos, Megadoze sounds like Autechre rewiring The Future Sound Of London and Steve Reich: Imagine cascading waters, volcanic glass, the dewy lushness of fauna and awe of the constellations organically shining or ringing through omnipotent machinations and the itchy, pitter-patter of computerized, sequenced drums.

In many ways a 90s album thrust into the next century, produced on more sophisticated apparatus; Edwards’ brand of nuanced electronica is rich with the possibilities of both eras. His most ambitious work to date, Megadoze is alive with ideas and tactile sensibilities, a moody record that can, over time, open-up with wonder and radiant magic.




Dominic Valvona’s new music reviews roundup





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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

 

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

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

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

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






Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’ October 2018

 

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

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

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

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



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

 

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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





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

 

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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






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

 

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

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

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

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





Playlist: Chosen by Dominic Valvona & Matt Oliver/ Curated by Dominic Valvona





Priding ourselves on the diverse, pan-global playlists we collate for your aural pleasure and indulgence, the Monolith Cocktail Quarterly Revue series is the eclectic behemoth of them all. With no demarcation of any kind or rules we mix the harrowing and gothic with beckoning polyrhythmic dancefloor screamers, flights of panoramic fantasy with raging protestations, and the most sublime peregrinations with experimental cries from the wilderness.

Everything you find on this playlist has either featured on the site over the last three months or been in our general orbit (the sheer volume of music we get sent means there is inevitably issues of space and time, and so some great tracks just don’t make it; this is our chance to feature those lost tracks). Below you will find a full track list, including links to reviews.


Tracklist:-


Malawi Mouse Boys  ‘Hunger (Hymn)
Spike & Debbie  ‘Strike – Compilation Version
Dur-Dur Band  ‘Yabaal
Goatman  ‘Jaam Ak Salam’
Mac Miller  ‘Party On Fifth Ave.
Parquet Floors  ‘Wide Awake’
LCD Soundsystem  ‘Oh Baby – Lovefingers Remix’
Papernut Cambridge  ‘The Hobbledehoy
Yuzo Iwata  ‘Gigolo’
Soft Science  ‘Undone
Stella Sommer  ‘Dark Princess, Dark Prince
Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami  ‘Delight
Yiddish Glory (Loyko, Alexander Sevastian, Sophie Milman)  ‘Shpatzir in Vald (A Walk In The Forest)
Yazz Ahmed  ‘The Lost Pearl – Hector Plimmer Remix
John Coltrane  ‘Impressions – Take 3’
Thelonious Monk  ‘Nutty, Pt. 2’
RAM  ‘Dambala Elouwe’
Vaudou Game  ‘Tata Fatigue’
Derya Yıldırım, Grup Şimşek  ‘Uc Kiz Bir Ana’
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids  ‘Land Of Ra’
Bixiga 70  ‘Quebra Cabeça
Etuk Ubong  ‘Black Debtors’
Ayalew Mesfin  ‘Hasabe (My Worries)’
Ippu Mitsui  ‘Shift Down
Otis Sandsjo  ‘Teppich
Nyeusi  ‘Jupiter’s Giant Red Spot’
Angels Die Hard  ‘Acid Beach
Mothers  ‘PINK’
Rat The Magnificent  ‘Up The Street
American Nudism  ‘Future 5-0’
Dead End, M, Second Son  ‘Let The Music Talk
Tenesha The Wordsmith, DJ Khalab  ‘Madea’
CRIMEAPPLE, Big Ghost Ltd.  ‘Your Love’
The Last Skeptik, Mikill Pane, Allana Verde  ‘Rules Of Engagement
Beans, Sam Fog  ‘The Black Chasm’
Bronx Slang  ‘Rushing The Stage
Wordburglar  ‘Rental Patient
Gunshot  ‘Sulphur
Stringmodulator  ‘Betwixt & Between
Laure Briard  ‘Janela’
Brian Bordello  ‘Eddie Cochran’
Simon Love  ‘God Bless The Dick Who Let You Go
Picturebox  ‘The Vicar’s Dog
Atmosphere  ‘Make It All Better Again’
Daniel Rossen  ‘Deerslayer’
White Denim  ‘Good News’
La Luz  ‘Mean Dream’
Kammerflimmer Kollektief  ‘Action 3: Thoughtless, Hamburg


Previous Quarterly Revues From 2018 



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