Reviews
Dominic Valvona





Reaching a grand eightieth edition of my eclectic roundup, the Tickling My Fancy column continues to highlight the curious and recommended from across the globe. With no agenda, no demarcation of any kind, you can expect to find spiritual jazz alongside dream pop, space rock doom alongside desert blues.

My latest edition includes the long awaited new LP of timeless hushed reverence from Boa Morte, phobia-themed withering contorted progressive industrial jazz from the Russian band Rootea, the latest tactile album of dance music from the Shanghai Restoration Project, a new EP from the maverick lo fi dreamer Origami Repetika, the new aria space apocalypse augur of beauty and supernatural doom from Elizabeth Joan Kelly, and a double bill of cult excavations, the heavy metal prog Lucifer Was and more genteel short-lived soul-psych-folk-beat-group The Fox, from the Guerssen label hub.

Leading the charge though is the upcoming compilation of Somali funk, disco and Afro-Caribbean nuggets, Mogadisco, from Analog Africa.


Various ‘Mogadisco – Dancing Mogadishu (Somali 1972-1991)’

(Analog Africa) LP/ 13th December 2019



In the making since a security nightmare of a trip in 2016, Analog Africa’s chief instigator, Samy Ben Redjeb, finally releases a treasure trove of previously unreleased and passed-over nuggets from the vaults of Radio Mogadishu.

Researched and compiled on that same crate and archive-digging excursion, Analog Africa put out a celebratory compilation of the first two albums by Mogadishu’s legends-in-exile the Dur-Dur Band in 2018; the first bonafide release of the group’s tape cassette ‘volume’ albums. The infectious loose-limbed funk and fuzz pop group provide a trio of sweetly laced movers and serenades for this showcase of Somali wonders. All recorded in 1991, the last year this compilation covers, whilst exiled abroad, the Dur-Dur Band offer a stick-rattling feverish Indian summer love paean (‘Daradara Muxibo’), slicker dabbing mid-tempo funk workout (‘Shaleedayaa’) and oriental dappled-organ swoon (‘Ladaa’).

Covering a generational period arc, from the burgeoning optimistic dawn of Somali under the dictatorial leadership of Siad Barre to that same leader’s fateful swan song in 1991, as a once more liberal regime in just twenty years lurched towards the repressive, Mogadisco reflects the changes in a fractious state. Barre of course took power in a coup (though with an emphasis on the peaceful), yet the arts and music scenes flourished, with an explosion in both state-sanctioned and private bands. Many of the acts on this collection were hot-housed in the various ministerial department affiliated show bands or in the theatre (notably the Dur-Durs), and were open to outside influences, from Flea Kuti’s Afrobeat sensation – brought back, we’re told, to Somalia by the Mogadishu featured Iftin Band, after representing the country at the Festac Festival in Lagos in 1977 – to Bob Marley’s global-conquering brand of reggae, and later on, a moonwalking Michael Jackson. One of the most obvious of these, and continuing to influence Somalia’s finest in the second half of the 80s, Omar Shooli’s spiritually voiced ‘Hob Isii’ languorously sways to a proto-Wailers rock steady beat. Equally the influence of Motown, Stax, and as the compilation’s title makes apparent, disco can be heard ringing loudly throughout this mixed bag that Samy himself describes as music that “swam against the tide”.

Before Somalia imploded in the 90s and descended into a near anarchic state, the capital enjoyed a tourist boom; the Mogadishu boulevards loaded with ever-luxurious hotels, all playing host to the country’s best and most popular groups. Mogadisco however, selects previously dormant and forgotten recordings from the city’s top broadcaster, Radio Mogadishu. Filed away under ‘mainly instrumental and strange music’, an assortment of discarded jingles, background music, interludes, TV show tunes and theatre numbers now finally see daylight on an eye-opening collection of exotic funk-fried shufflers and sashaying Afro-Caribbean swoons.

Notable mentions should go to the Iftin Band for their Ethno-jazz dreamy shimmer ‘Ii Ouy Aniga’, both the Bakaka Band’s uptown rankin’ slinky ‘Gobonimada Jira’ – think the Lijadu Sisters meet Althea & Donna – and their swimmingly spy-thriller like transformation of a warrior’s song, the tropical Highlife tingle ‘Geesiyada Halgamayow’, and the southern ‘Orleans flavoured raunchy disco turn, ‘Baayo’, by Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi – a slicker 80s Arthur Conley if you will.

As always, the usual due diligence and insights into each and every artist/band and label on this latest brilliant compilation are chronicled in the accompanying booklet; a purview of Somalia’s musical legacy set within a tumultuous historical setting. Analog Africa are the first label to actually set foot in the country in years; the capital especially immortalized for a generation or more as one of the most dangerous places on Earth, synonymous for fractions-at-war and pirates. Progress has been made in recent years, hence Samy gaining permission to visit, albeit under heavy protection. For once though, here’s a celebration of the country’s music; a fit and proper essential joyful showcase of disco and funk inspired dynamism.






Shanghai Restoration Project ‘Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball’

(Undercover Culture Music) LP/ 8th November 2019



If brooding synth poets Japan had taken more stimulating drugs and been dragged onto the dancefloor they may very well have sounded a little like this colourful arpeggiator-cascading duo, the Shanghai Restoration Project. Though based in Brooklyn, the electro-symphonic duo transport the listener to an exotic Orient and beyond on a magical, ruminating flight of fantasy.

As the name suggests, on previous recordings the former Bad Boy label songwriter and producer Dave Laing and his foil Sun Yunfan have transduced the jazz and showtime music of a pre-WWII Shanghai; aligning it with, and filtering it through, nuanced electro pop, techno and hip-hop. The results of which have furnished a myriad of adverts, soundtracks, and even the Beijing Olympics.

SRP’s latest neon-lit dreamy dance album is framed as a reaction to “the increasingly fragmented and mindless soundbite culture we live in”. Softening the edges and lightening the tensions, the crystal ball flashbacks on this serene trip err towards elegance and the sophisticated rippling tactile.

This is a landscape of chopstick percussion, pagoda shaded water gardens, undulating marimba vibes, vocoder chanson, mirage-y waveforms, classical Chinese instrumentation and biplane rotor drones. Futuristically motoring and bobbing along, there are shades of Air, Moroder, Mark Ronson, Cuushe and Cornelius on a cosmic soundtrack of avant-garde Tango dalliances, retro-fit rapping R&B, 2-Step jazz, super-charged Tron video arcades and sweetened elegies.

Flashbacks In A Crystal Ball is a pliable dance album full of bright and magical lilted brilliance and fun; slow building dance music of the highest and smartest caliber.



Boa Morte ‘Before There Was Air’
(Gare du Nord) LP/ 29th November 2019


The understated majestic swells of the Irish band Boa Morte don’t come easy, or arrive regularly. Only the band’s third album proper in twenty years, the misty expansive mini-opuses found on the long awaited Before There Was Air are like gentle but deeply resonating ripples from a distant timeless shore.

Slow, methodical, every second of these air-y hushed suites moves at a stately pace: in no hurry to arrive, with many of the beautifully purposeful songs disappearing into the ether, out of earshot but somewhere carrying on forever.

Signing to Ian button’s one-man cottage industry Gare du Nord label this year, the Cork dreamers’ first complete work in nigh on a decade is worth the wait. Maturing in all that time, the peaceable sagacious results are augmented with subtle synthesized tones and stirring ambient atmospherics; building vague landscapes of longing; a constant ebbing tide lapping on the cerebral.

This is a classy magical music that doesn’t make allowances: the equivalent of slow food culture.

Elegantly unfurled, the burnished and brushed soundtrack moves between entrancing folk and the classical, between the choral and yearned. Songs such as the tenderly rendered ‘Cans’ evoke a more soulful Mogwai and, musically, Robert Wyatt, whilst the pastoral dainty ‘The Garden’ transports the listener to an Elizabethan Hampden Court. The pinning guitar-voiced ‘Sea Creatures’ has an air of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score.

Lonely pianos, romantic prose, shimmered cymbals and sighed strings reverberate on metaphorical nautical terms of lovelorn detachment and the dangers of an emotional landslide. A finely crafted sweeping album Before There Was Air exudes a timeless quality; one that by all accounts has been well worth the wait.





The Fox ‘For Fox Sake’
Lucifer Was ‘Underground And Beyond’
(Sommer/ Guerssen) LP/ 13th November 2019




Churning out untold forgotten and cult missives and classics alike, the Guerssen umbrella of reissue imprints knocks out albums and compilations at a fair old rate. It’s often easy to miss the odd trio of same date releases from this hub of specialist labels: such is the turnover. One strand of this operation in digging up everything from 80s Spanish political underground cassette tape culture to 70s Turkish kitsch pop, is the 60s/70s garage band, psych, prog and heavy rock leaning Sommor, who retrieve and facilitate first-time vinyl reissues of albums by the blue-eyed soulful psych outfit The Fox and proto-metal theatrical troupe Lucifer Was.

The former of these has been a much sought-after album from a band of also-rans who’s sound harks back to the fag-end of the Mod boom; when beat group combos graduated to more psychedelic and progressive, heavier heights. Recorded a couple years after inception in the Mod haven of Brighton, The Fox released their debut and only LP proper, For Fox Sake, on the cusp of a new and changing decade. Though not entirely past-the-sell-by-date and removed from those shifts, the able-enough group could have been contenders (to a point).

With a dazzle of classical psych-baroque and faux-gospel church organ ala Procol Harum, softened fuzz guitar and swooning soulful vocals this fleeting South Coast combo recorded some glorious, if redolent, halcyon pop paeans and psychedelic shakers. Trouble is, Love Sculpture, Spooky Tooth, The Moody Blues, The Gods, Marmalade, Bread and Chris Farlowe had pretty much already covered this ground already rather well. Outside of those influences The Fox played with a Get Back/White Album honky-tonk McCartney (‘Goodtime Music’), Bacharach (‘As She Walks By’) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (in fairground waltzing mode on ‘Madame Magical’).

Notable for supporting the Orpheus imbued Herd and opening for a burgeoning Bowie, The Fox’s brief fandango came to an end a year later; the only fruits of their labour being this album and a single. Still, in certain collectors’ circles this is a cult classic. For Fox Sake has its endearing charms and a couple of fuzz-thrilled love potion hits to make it worth the entry price.





A far heavier, and just as rare, prospect is the album-that-never-was from the Nordic psych-metal marauders Lucifer Was. Despite that satanic moniker (the group wore a number of macabre cloaks, such as Empty Coffin/Autumn Serenade and Erza West, before sticking with the daemonic Lucifer Was) the group’s debut dramatic opus is influenced as much by the flighty flute-playing prog of Jethro Tull as by the scuzzed leaden menace of Black Sabbath.

The first incarnation formed in Oslo in 1969 and lasted until ’75. Though they built a reputation and fanbase on the strength of their performances, this bewitched coven never actually recorded an album in that entire period. Songs were written and played live, yet lay dormant until more than two decades later, when a middle-aged version of the band picked-up from where they left off, entering a studio and finally recording that debut showcase. And so with music from another age now propelled into the late 90s, Underground And Beyond is a strange missive of fighting fantasy Tolkienism and River Styx schlock dark arts preening – all brooding romantic warrior troubadour, yearning for his muse whilst skulking by mythological waterways.

If you dig your Edgar Allen Poe, baroque metal, fairytale tangos and doomed tormented love lost suites then get a load of this. Josefus, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple and Ipsissimus hatched by proto-metal Vikings: what’s not to love?!

An album no one asked for, but buy it anyway.





Origami Repetika ‘Night Of The Jaguar’
EP




None the wiser after receiving the second CD of maverick chiming psychedelic pop from Adam Sigmund (otherwise known as Origami Repetika), I’m going blind with this recommendation. With scant information at hand, Sigmund’s drifty hallucinating-like music can be summed up as a stained glass lo fi union of Brian Wilson and Gary Wilson.

Following on from a recent radiant and glorious album, Singing Gulls, the four-track Night Of The Jaguar EP offers something slightly more dreamy and moody. Named not in homage to any literary title, the Jaguar of the title refers to the iconic electric guitar; a birthday present that’s put to good experimental use over a quartet of mellow vibrato and gauze-y alternative melodramas.

Romantic driftwood at its most idiosyncratic; a diy Beach Boys if they signed to Anticon; there’s a certain oddness lyrically. The naivety of the melting candy maudlin ‘Meet Me At The Peppermint’ belies a slight whimsical jar in its finale wafts: “It’s the way you smile, before you lost your teeth”.

This is cozy surf-psych pop and lo fi ambition at its finest. Disarming yet attuned to the ways of the world. Seek out this maverick pop excellence immediately.



Rootea ‘Phobias’
LP




I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a collective noun for phobias but the strung-out Russian prog-jazz and industrial post-punk band Rootea attempts a reification of thirteen such debilitating fears on this untethered freeform therapy session. An often caustic, sometimes haunted travail, Phobias moves in an unshapely form. The vaporous soundtrack even threatens to drift off and escape from its performers: both riled and wafting into the ether, or down ambiguous passages and the dark recesses of the mind.

Emanating from east of the Urals, from Russia’s “third” city of Yekaterinburg (or Ekaterinburg), Rootea might very well be tapping into not only this Tsarina-christened (named in honour of the first Catherine, Tsar Peter The Great’s wife) city’s historical vantage but its more troubled psychodramas too. This is after all the fatal site of the Romanovs’ horrific, and botched, execution.

Anguish, paranoia, fear but also dream-like slumbers are triggered across a spectrum of air-y pondered phobias; from ‘Autophobia’ (that’s a fear of being alone or lonely) to the oddest, ‘Hellophobia’ (fear of Greeks; perhaps a hangover of that old adage, beware of Greeks bearing gifts). Thirteen tracks long, with a finale of post-industrial withering in its name, sufferers of ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ may want to avoid this album. But for the rest of us, this record (if over long) is a wrangling, caustic hallucinating avant-garde therapy session of apparitional narrators, strangulated guitars, sonorous trickles, Gothic throbs, gangly buzzing resonance and hi-pitched pecked saxophone. Permutations of dank lo-fi, Einstürzende Neubauten, A Happy Kitchen Is A Clean Kitchen, Faust, Cabaret Voltaire and 39 Clocks revolve like a languid carousel.

Untied to a particular location or time, Rootea amorphously linger in both the cerebral and visceral as they transcribe the untranscribable on an ambitious work. A difficult, often overlong, experience Phobias should be prescribed in small doses.





Elizabeth Joan Kelly ‘Farwell, Doomed Planet!’
LP/ 25th October 2019




Into the great expanse of a universe as ominous as it is magically mysterious, New Orleans-based composer Elizabeth Joan Kelly ventures far on her latest electronic suite. From the enormity of space the Cassandra of imperiled doom gazes back at Earth from advantageous lofty heights: a siren voice of lyrically cryptic lament and woe, strung-out aboard some sort of Kubrickian mission to gather research.

Equally deft at composing contemporary symphonies as she is Warp label imbued kinetic and industrial electronica, Kelly coos and soundscapes a lamentable vision of the apocalypse that combines aria-like space operatics with tubular metallic breakdowns, stirring ambient swells and darker twists of contorting nuanced sonics. Kelly even transduces the afflatus classical hymnal music of Bach on the swooned and serene ‘Trinity Quadrant Cantata’.

From pollution on land and in the seas to inner existential angst, the protagonist cosmonaut at the centre of this bleak analysis mourns amongst heavenly bodies in the celestial.

An album of both impending doom, yet filled with wondrous pulchritude, Farwell is a haunting enough score with evident supernatural atmospherics on tracks such as the reversal ethereal elegy ‘Harm’ – echoes of a spooked Broadcast and Quimper – and the ghostly nuclear landscape desolation ‘Exclusion Zone Earth (Or, All Hail Chernobyl Wolves)’.

Present vocally on a majority of the album’s tracks, Kelly’s voice is often veiled and gauze-y: so much so that you can barely hear a trace of it. Even in full song that voice is obscured; sounding like either a spirit from beyond the ether or, a distant broadcast from deepest space and time.

Cinematic in places, setting an astral mirage of dreamy and bestial proportions, Farewell is a beautifully scary drama that evokes touches of Bowie, Tangerine Dream, Bernard Szajner, Diva Dompe, Moroder and Vangelis. Kelly does wonderful things amongst the stars; the apocalypse has seldom sounded so celestially operatic and electronically choral.





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