Choice Albums of 2019 Part Three: Chris Quelle to Yugen Blakrok


Welcome to the final part of our ‘choice albums’ features of 2019. To reiterate once more in case you missed parts one and two, because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order (since our inception, a decade ago). We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Choice were made by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio.


Previous parts:

One

Two

Q…………….

Quelle Chris ‘Guns’
(Mello Music Group)




“The definition of enterprising, Quelle Chris remains a singular underground voice, loading latest album ‘Guns’ with intelligent angles on a topic never far from the news” – RnV Apr 19





You’ve got guns, we’ve got guns, the serious ones…Quelle Chris leaps to your attention at the best of times, now notwithstanding an album called Guns and his head engulfed in firearms on the sleeve – he could well have parodied the world’s accessory of choice such is the way he owns his own lane (the next album will guaranteed to be off on a completely different tangent). Instead of simply just pointing and shooting, his firing range is well-rounded opinion and scenario without turning Guns into documentary, his chuntering under his breath potent enough to never have to repeat himself, and knitted tightly enough to get you going back over and over. He holds back some of his stock off-kilterness – “I was never a weirdo, they just had to acclimate” – for production that can go from slight and soulful to screwface to thick and sludgily underground. That said, we can’t pass by the fact that on ‘Straight Shot’, he builds into a solemn contemplation somehow featuring comedian James Acaster as an apparitional, free-roaming sensei. (Matt Oliver)


R………………

Raf And O ‘The Space Between Nothing And Desire’
(Telephone Records)







Imbued by both the musicality and spirit of David Bowie, Scott Walker, David Sylvian (both as a solo artist and with the fey romantics Japan), Kate Bush and in their most avant-garde mode, Bjork, the South London based duo of Raf (Raf Montelli) and O (Richard Smith) occupy the perimeters of alternative art-rock and experimental electronica as the true inheritors of those cerebral inspirations.

Sublime in execution, subtle but with a real depth and levity, TSBNAD is an astonishing piece of new romantic, avant-theater pop and electronica that dares to unlock the mind and fathom emotion. I’m not sure if they’ve found or articulated that space they seek, between nothing and desire, but the duo have certainly created a master class of pulchritude magnificence. Lurking leviathans, strange cosmic spells and trips into the unknown beckon on this, perhaps their most accomplished and best album yet; an example of tactile machinations and a most pure voice in synergy.

The influences might be old and well used, but Raf And O, as quasi-torchbearers, show the way forward. They deserve far more exposure and acclaim, and so here’s hoping that TSBNAD finally gains this brilliant duo their true worth. (Dominic Valvona)

Full review…


Rafiki Jazz ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic)





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.

The troupe’s 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. Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other cultures 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’. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing. (DV)

Full review…


Rapsody ‘Eve’
(Jamla)




“An unflinching belief system sees off the ill-equipped not so much striking a chord as demolishing it with style” – RnV Sep 19



Certainly not short on confidence or ambition – second track ‘Cleo’ goes for self over Phil Collins’ most famous ode to lifeguards – this is good and sassy throughout from an emcee going from strength to strength. ‘Eve’ = education, verbs, entertainment, dovetailing with the knowledge and understanding of Sa-Roc and the fearlessness of Rah Digga. “To be more than a woman now comes with some ties” – but digging in and challenging the status quo is all Rapsody knows, not by just saying that women on the mic aren’t going quietly, but you should know that they’ve always been putting in work. Every track is named after an influential female figure (‘Oprah’, ‘Serena’), and 9th Wonder’s lion’s share of production is a direct reflection of the orator – wise, feisty, a savant of pure hip-hop’s nuts and bolts, playful, and able to take on anyone on away turf. A safe pair of hands for the artform’s future that’s celebratory, but adamantly not cutting corners. (MO)


Ras Kass ‘Soul on Ice 2’
(Mello Music Group)




“In the mood for a high score body count, maximising velocity on every single word as if it’s his last” – RnV Sep 19





If you’re fake, wack or simply don’t measure up to his standards, eternal underdog Ras Kass will call you on it, the ‘sequel’ to 1995’s Soul On Ice roaring out the traps with two opening cuts that should soundtrack summits and state of emergency think tanks. In a way the phony stasis of hip-hop should keep up its shoddy work – it’s all ammunition for the West Coaster to dismantle and hopefully reroute some career paths. More than just a battler to the death doling out deliciously vindictive punchlines, the world in its entirety is made to wobble on its axis once Ras has got stuck into society as well: again, thank God life is hurtling towards hell in a handbasket, so Ras can take its photo like an end of rollercoaster insta-snap. His knowledge of album flow and addition of prestige guests, plus production that 1) makes Ras flip his lid and 2) makes him even more potent when reducing the heat…how many more warnings do you need? Go get. (MO)


Royal Trux ‘White Stuff’
(Fat Possum Records)







Royal Trux has returned without great proclamations and arrogance, to put themselves to the test with a music scene completely revolutionized since the early 90s. The duo have maintained the avant-garde drive and the desire to be something else, completely different from whatever the word Rock means today, because even if important projects such as The War On Drugs, The National or others are easily indicated in one vein, the Royal Trux remain other, but not only in terms of sound, their choice is an aptitude that deeply distances the duo from any other band.

Twin Infinities (1990) could be a good problem, such a monumental work of historical impact can lead to comparisons, further comparisons, but in the end an album like White Stuff also touches important peaks in songs like ‘Sic Em Slow’ or ‘Under Ice’. The psychedelic progression is preponderant in tracks like ‘Purple Audacity #2’, and the dreamlike wandering that lasted about 20 years offers a solid and iconic cue. Hagerty and Herrema show that they can complete themselves extensively, but above all they can make up for each other at the limits of the other, hiding personal and non personal smears and imperfections: it’s clear that the tumultuous journey that ended in 2001 is an example of what it means to complete, wander and start again. (GM)

Full review…


S………………

Sad Man ‘Untitled Album’ ‘Indigenous & Indigenous 2’







Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under the plaint alter ego of the Sad Man, improves with every release he puts out. Included yet again in the choice features, a trio of releases from 2019 cement a growing reputation for pushing the electronic music envelope. Still on the peripheral, Spackman has been working like a boffin from his shed, building the homemade musical contraptions that form the base of his loony and radical deconstructions for years.

Perhaps coming near to his most perfect album yet, Untitled is a full spread of cosmic techno imbued and ridiculous pottering’s, debris, flotsam and more celestial dancefloor goers. The Indigenous moiety of releases however further muddies the waters, as Spackman’s improvised mixes of his own tracks go into jazzier, tribal and skittish realms of unpredictability. All three are worthy of your attention.  (DV)


Sampa the Great ‘The Return’
(Ninja Tune)




“A debut to have critics clamouring” – RnV Aug 19





Brought to the fore by the fantastic front foot funk of Final Form, The Return is an event calling the shots as to which top 10s it’ll occupy in the year’s retrospectives. Culturally rich, musically articulate and ambitious, and with a rhymer fighting for every movement and inch of space with a heavy side of attitude blowing bubblegum bombs, The Great one carves out a singular mic presence. The album’s extended length turns the Aussie-based sovereign’s debut into act-by-act theatre, full of moving parts and motifs in shifting through global soul and jazz, always evolving and with twists, turns and exclamation points to jolt you from you wind down and settle you back down from a vicious dancefloor circle. These variations mean that even if your powers of endurance aren’t up to much, you can still make two or three separate playlists from the styles she assimilates and owns, including the crowns previously held by Hill and Badu. (MO)


SAULT ‘5’ and ‘7’
(Forever Living Originals)








Knowing next to nothing about this limbered band of no wave funk ravers, I completely came across this release by chance. SAULT has released two albums of similar sassy ESG meets Liquid Liquid buffalo girls hopscotch this year; the sound of New York, an 1980s one I admit, but they have given it a touch of the contemporary to make it once more dynamically and soundly relevant and alive.

There’s nothing in it really, both albums are equally class in merging political funk with post punk, Annie, R&B, early Hip-Hop and neo-soul to infectious heights of both smooth and elasticated contorting. Buy both. (DV)


Seba Kaapstad ‘Thina’
(Mello Music Group)







Soulfully churning a cornucopia of intricate but organic kinetics and beatific yearnings, the polygenesis Seba Kaapstad create a beautiful cosmology on the sumptuous Thina. Capturing the moment and mood with the most meandrous and softened of diaphanous deliveries, they merge R&B with jazz, hip-hop with neo-soul to forge a seamless celestial and spiritual imbued traverse. Joyful and lamentable in equal measures, Seba Kaapstad lushly reaches dizzying heights on this magically sophisticated bowed, arching, liquid soundtrack. (DV)


Silver Sound Explosion ‘Pop Dithyramp’







Hooray the Silver Sound Explosion is back together after splitting about six or seven years ago. They were and are a wonderful band from the Manchester area. They recorded many demos that make up this their debut LP. And after much encouragement and prompting by myself, they have finally released it.

They’re led by Ben Fuzz, one of those songwriters who has soaked up the spirit and history of Rock N roll and releases the spirit in finely written pop songs that take in 60s pop, garage rock, late seventies power pop and the post punk 80s indie, and mesh it all together to make the most perfect pop imaginable.

You will be hard pressed to find a better debut LP this year; an LP that deserves much more than a small scale release on the bands band camp: creeping out without any fanfare. And it is a pay what you want to download release at that. So what you waiting for?! Fill your winklepickers. A true undiscovered gem that needs discovering. (Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea)


Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat)







Channeling the varied topography of their respective parts of the Slovenian landscape via a kitchen table of both recognizable instrumentation and found assemblage (everything including the kitchen sink and water tank), the Širom trio of Iztok Koren, Ana Kravanja and Samo Kutin create another vivid album of dream realism with their second LP, A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse. Inspired by this environment yet ambiguous, they float across the borders to evoke a certain mystery and yearn to create something new. In so doing, they’ve coined the term ‘imaginary folk’ to describe their amorphous blending of geographical evocations and echoed fables.

From the Mongolian Steppes to sorrows of East Europe and the hints of the Appalachians and Sumatra, Širom draw inspiration – whether intentional or not – from a fecund of sources; the Slovenian backdrop melting into a polygenesis mirage. With this spiritual, ritual, dreamy longing for a kaleidoscope of real and imaginary cultures the trio’s second album for the Glitterbeat label’s instrumental imprint tak:til is as poetically wondrous as it is (sometimes) supernatural and otherworldly. An alternative folk fantasy imbued in part by the hard won geography, Širom once more wander unafraid across an ever-ambiguous musical cartography that (almost) fulfills their wish to produce something unique: A soundtrack of infinite possibilities. (DV)

Full review…


Snapped Ankles ‘Stunning Luxury’







The whirring and exciting sounds of post punk circa 2019 coming at you like a extravagant wholemeal piece of chiffon scarred alternative disco meat; the sound of Devo fucking the brains and beats out of the B52s whilst the horny ghost of Mark E Smith watches on making cutting asides whilst stomping on the hopes and dreams of the not yet born love child of David Byrne and Lena Lovich.

Stunning Luxury is dirty, it is funky, it is experimental, it is blistering rock ‘n’ roll. (BBS)

Full review…


Stereo Total ‘Ah! Que! Cinema’







This LP is bloody genius. Any LP that kicks off with a track that sounds like The Prodigy but played on a Bontempi organ is not going to go very wrong, and then carries on with the pure blissfulness of French lo-fi garage pop.

This LP is so good it has pissed me off a little. I thought I’d made the album of the year with the Bordello and Clark Atlantic Crossing LP, but this has knocked it into a cocked hat. But I don’t mind, especially when there are bands capable of making records of such beauty; when bands can come on like Stereolab one minute and a French Velvet Underground the next – ‘Brazil Says’ is a track worthy of the Velvets at their finest: pure pop heaven.

I think the playing of Ah! Quel Cinema may become a daily event this year; an LP to lose yourself in the pure beauty of perfect lo fi pop. (BBS)

Full review…


SUO ‘Dancing Spots And Dungeons’
(Stolen Body Records)





Stolen Body Records have released some wonderful albums this year, and here is yet another one. This is a fine pop album, all power punk chords and girl group kisses. Part Blondie part Suzi Quatro, it really has a late 70s feel to it; the kind of record you can imagine blasting from your old tiny transistor on a summer night. An LP with a lovely warm sound (maybe one of the best sounding records I’ve have heard all year) it embraces all that is magical about pop music; it is sexy, laid back, moving and fun all at the same time, an album of extremely well written and crafted guitar pop songs with a 70s new wave twist. Dancing Spots And Dungeons is a really lovely sounding record. (BBS)

Full review…


T………………

The Telescopes ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’







There is no place like drone, well not at least if you are a member of The Telescopes: Just over thirty minutes of top class dronery, not something I normally spend my Friday evenings listening to but as they say a change is as good as a rest.

If this LP were a debut album by some young new psychsters they would be being raved about and hailed to the rafters as the second coming, the next new big thing. I hope the same platitudes are heaved onto this wonderful LP by this wonderful band, as it really has taken me by surprise how much I love it and I feel guilty in not expecting to like it. For that The Telescopes I offer my humble apologies you have indeed blown my head. (BBS)

 Full review…


Thirty Pounds Of Bone and Philip Reeder ‘Still Every Year They Went’
(Armellodie Records)







This is a bewitching LP of old sea shanties recorded on a working fishing boat at sea; a wonderful idea and quite stunningly performed. There is a beauty in the loftiness which captures the dark magic romance of the sea and also keeps alive some quite genius beautiful old folk songs.

Acoustic guitars blend beautifully with the sound of crashing waves and sea birds weaving a spellbinding web of sound. In this day and age of here-today- thrown-away-tomorrow it makes more than a refreshing change to hear a album that you will keep and play and be a mainstay in your music collection for the rest of your days: a truly beautiful collection. (BBS)

Full review…


Toxic Chicken ‘Uncomfortable Music’







This LP has everything that I love about the magic and joy of music. It has humour and a madness that at times reminds me of the great Syd Barrett and the wonderful White Noise Electric Storm LP. It is eccentric pushed to the extreme. Songs with the subject matter of eating politicians and love songs for cats and for Mother Nature and what is bad about England, but that track only being under two minutes long does not quite manage to list everything.

Uncomfortable Music is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding listening experience, and at times, the subject matter does live up to its title. But this album is a pay-what-you-want to download, so is well worth a listen. Another great album from a great artist: And I mean artist. And the track ‘Little Snail’ is the best dance track I have heard all year. (BBS)

Full review…


Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’
(Sacred Geometry)







In the spirit of maverick adventure, Hampshire-based singer-songwriter Owen Tromans walks a similar path to the arch druid of counterculture and psychogeography traversing, Julian Cope. The co-founder of the most informative sonic accompanied rambling fanzine guide, Weird Walks, Tromans (and his co-authors) circumnavigates the hidden British landscape of run-down flat roof pubs whilst waxing lyrical about the fantasy role-play meets Black Metal flowering of the Dungeon synth scene, and the more well-known traipsed chalk pits and megalith landmarks.

The soundtrack is important, both as an enriching experience and communicative tool. And on Between Stones the soundtrack could be said to be a surprising one. Ambling certainly; wandering this sceptered Isle imbued typography with all the ancient lore it entails, yet far from held-down to the British sound, Tromans actually channels a English pen pal version of R.E.M. and the great expansive outdoor epic trudge of Simon Bonney on the album’s hard-won stirring opus ‘Grimcross’: Imagine an 80s American college radio John Barleycorn. There’s even a touch of a mellower Pixies and early Dinosaur Jnr. on the grunge-y ‘Vague Summer’, and hints of Mick Harvey throughout the rest of the album.

Beautifully conveyed throughout with subtle Baroque-psych chamber strings and a country falsetto, Tromans follows the desire lines, hill forts and undulating well-travail(ed) pathways on a most ruminating magical songbook; a thoughtful and poetic accompaniment that goes hand-in-hand with those “weird” and wonderful walks. (DV)

Full review…


Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records)







Freshly signing over to the German-based label Glitterbeat, the multi-limbed quartet play off gnarling propulsive post-punk menace and tumult with echo-y falsetto despondent vocals and hymnal rock on their fifth album, Of The Sun. Feeding into the history of their regularly fought-over home city, Gdansk, Trupa Trupa create a monster of an album steeped in psychodrama, dream revelation and hypnotic industrialism.

A sinewy, pendulous embodiment of their Polish city environment and metaphysical philosophy, Trupa Trupa write “songs about extremes”, but use an often ambiguous lyrical message when doing it: usually a repeated like poetic mantra rather than charged protest. On one of those framed “extremes”, the wrangling guitar-heavy post-punk-meets-80s-Aussie-new-wave ‘Remainder’ sounds like Swans covering The Church, as the group repeat the refrain, “Well, it did not take place.”

 The PR spill that accompanies this nihilistic-with-a-heart LP is right to state, “Of The Sun is an unbroken string of hits.” There are no fillers, no let-up in the quality and restless friction, each track could exist as a separate showcase for the group’s dynamism: a single. East European, Baltic facing, lean post-punk mixes it up in the Gdansk backstreets and harbor with spasmodic-jazz, baggy, math-rock, psych, doom and choir practice as this coiled quartet deliver an angst-ridden damnation of humanity in 2019. (DV)

Full review…


U……………….

Uncommon Nasa & Kount Fif ‘City as School’
(Man Bites Dog)




“Blockbuster burners laid end to end as outlaws of the corridors, “trust the process, avoid the nonsense” at all costs” – RnV Nov 19





If Uncommon Nasa and Kount Fif were headmasters, the pep rally would be a Deftones meltdown and the Ofsted inspection would get ‘Funcrusher Plus’, ‘The Cold Vein’, ‘The Multi Platinum Debut Album’ etc straight on the syllabus. Blocky, rocking beats, rhymes that hang with a critical pause and judder across the page for greatest impact, b-boys and backpackers and headbangers all in the same corner…City as School gives hope as to what the underground can still be. By mining the last great boundary and perspective shift from the mid to late 90s, its drum machines and steel rain synth sweeps also sound like a comic book metropolis to sink yourself in, and its New York influence replicates there being so much to take in amidst a battery of dazzling lights, but with something always rumbling in the sewers. “History don’t repeat, it rhymes” is Nasa & Fif’s ‘O Captain My Captain’ call to arms – class not to be dismissed. (MO)


The Untied Knot ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’
(Sonic Imperfections)







Imbued with a sense of scientific methodology and monocular dissection, the experimental United Knot duo of Nigel Bryant and Matt Donovan attempt once more to sonically convey the wonders and enormity and chaos of the universe on Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder.

With both band members serving a variation of roles in the improvisational and electronic music fields, Bryant and Donovan have all the experience and skills needed to create something that is refreshingly dynamic as it is ponderous. Playing hard and loose with a myriad of influences, Donovan’s constantly progressive drum rolls, tribal patters, cymbal burnishes and more skipping jazzy fills recall Faust’s Weiner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier and Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier, whilst surprisingly, on the late 60s West Coast rock experiment ‘Rhythm From Three Intervals’ a touch of Mick Fleetwood. Meanwhile, Bryant, on both bass and atonal guitar duties (both also share the synth), channels Ax Genrich, Jah Wobble and Youth.

On what could be the duo’s, in this incarnation, last furore together, the Untied Knot sound far from weary and burnt-out: going out on a high. They stretch their influences with improvised skill and depth, a buzz saw, scrawling caustic but investigative soundtrack for the times. (DV)

Full review…


V………………….

Vampire Weekend ‘Father of The Bride’
(Columbia Records)





Vampire Weekend sings on Father of The Bride, of a humanity that lives on a suffering planet. The album is, however, an opportunity to subvert a catastrophic narrative and, in fact, throughout the work, it raises, through a series of pop melodies perfectly designed by Ezra Koenig and his companions, an aura of incredible positivity. Vampire Weekend give their best in songs like ‘Married In a Gold Rush’ or ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’, which through a dialogue between various piano chords draws a line that links stories, eras and ideas, not only in music but also in politics. The key to the album is the story of a humanity that, on the brink of a catastrophe, finds the right coordinates to find itself, to be reborn.

The Vampire Weekend in each of the 18 tracks try to deconstruct, both conceptually and semantically, the idea of an end in itself chaos applied to the world. The essence of the poetic and tragic paradox of life itself is sung in ‘Harmony Hall’: “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.

Vampire’s songs always show an ethereal shine, this characteristic has always been fundamental for their clear and absolutely unique songwriting. The culture in which Ezra & co are immersed is a melting pot functional to the construction of a strong identity, and that in a few years has also established itself in the live dimension of the band. The album plays with the tragic and stimulating oppositions of contemporary society, confronts itself with the cultural and technological change that pushes all of us to a deeper analysis, which also touches on issues such as faith and the mystery of humanity.

Ezra Koenig is a pop-priest, but he doesn’t need to draw moral conclusions, he simply points to a new way to tell us the tales of the world.

Exactly in this set of meanings and themes moves this band that, in recent years, has shown to be a multifaceted reality but perfect.

The strength is all in the centered ability to develop a story, an idea and a vision of the world that is transformed into storytelling that speaks and is combined with the present. (GM)


Verb T & Pitch 92 ‘A Question of Time’
(High Focus)




“Grown man hip-hop in the business of casual downtime – will see off those that can’t handle ‘Time’ on their hands” – RnV Sep 19





One of the UK’s great unflinching voices – get all up in his grill and he won’t bat an eyelid, just deconstruct you with a slight shrug – teams with a producer becoming a fixture on the phones of homegrown hip-hop’s best and brightest. A muscular sound full of fluid funk melodies, dimming the lights before snapping out of it with Mobb Deep levels of hectic on ‘Frostbitten’, is glided over by modern life manifestos with the usual one-take snap that could go back to chatting at the bar at any moment. This is the 14th+ album Verb T has put his name to in a remarkably consistent run, but there’s much more to simply knowing what you’re gonna get. He won’t be starting anything stupid, but has formed yet another partnership of strong potential when in cahoots with someone who sounds like he’s tracked his partner’s every move for the whole of the noughties (also see Pitch 92’s ‘3rd Culture’ collaboration from this year). Beats and rhymes not to be questioned. (MO)


Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records)







In a constant state of erratic flux, you never know which particular inception of Vukovar will show up when the time comes to laying down their brand of hermetic imbued visions for posterity, the only constant being de facto avatar, whether anyone agreed or not to this appointment, Rick Antonsson.

Suffused with disillusion, as they row across a veiled River Styx (or in this case, as alluded to in the yearning slow junk ride over the lapping black waves of tortured cries of ‘The River Of Three Crossings’, the Japanese Buddhist version of that mythological destination), Vukovar and converts add more fuel to a bonfire of vanities to an overall sound that reimagines Bernard Summer as the frontman of a Arthur Baker produced Jesus And Mary Chain.

Though always wearing their influences on their sleeves, there’s also this time around a trio of cover versions, both obvious and more obscure. These include a despondent if scuzzed growling bass with radiant synth live version of the Go-Betweens ‘Dive For Your Memory’, a cooed ethereal voiced dreamy, with phaser-effects set to stun, diaphanous vision of Psychic TV’s ‘The Orchids’, and, most poignant, a gauze-y heaven-bound ghostly homage (complete with Hebrew vocals) to the late Tel Aviv cowboy Charlie Megira, on the hymnal ‘Tomorrow’s Gone’.

Cremator is a death knell; the end of one era and setting in motion of a new chapter: whatever that ends up looking or sounding like. It just happens that they’ve bowed out in style with, perhaps, the original lineup (of a sort) most brooding masterpiece yet. Long may they continue, in one form or another. (DV)

 Full review…


W…………………..

White Fence ‘I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk’







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.

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”.

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. (DV)

Full review…


Y……………………

Your Old Droog ‘Transportation’
(Mongoloid Banks)





“The smoothest source of scornful, so-what couplets and eyewitness accounts” – RnV May 19




An end of year round up in itself given that Droog release two more stellar albums within months of one another, Transportation edges out the prior It Wasn’t Even Close (though just buy both and be done with it) on account of its vaguely attached vehicular theme (see the ad campaign-in-waiting ‘Taxi’). Otherwise it’s Droog groundhog day: punchlines to pull faces to, and that ever pleasingly natural delivery that for all its cheek-pinching aggression is like a serene countryside commute, while a batch of funk, soul and psych rock rifles gambol and prance (YOD doesn’t seem to have a natural habitat beats-wise, everything’s fair game to get taken). Also housing a bunch of sampled misfits, the kind of which you’d only meet on the night train or on the highway with their thumbs out, ‘My Plane’, including the most straightforwardly effective dis on everyone, and ‘Train Love’ smooth it out with a knowing nod, still creating an expressive world as easy on the eye as the ear. (MO)


Yugen Blakrok ‘Anima Mysterium’
(IOT)




“Prophecies and riddles raining down like an RPG sherpa, where you best take the right path or else” – RnV Jan 19





Hip-hop has a long, varied and invariably inaccurate relationship with the scientific and forces of another nature. On Anima Mysterium, South Africa’s Yugen Blakrok pulls back the curtain to her own vision of Alice in Wonderland, a grimly relentless world of full moon theoreticals, secret handshakes and rune-patterned combination locks to burial ground gates. Karma is looking bad, and believable, with this one. With her expressive doom-mongering, Kanif the Jhatmaster’s 50 shades of black production is as big a trigger for imaginations running wild, leaving you fearful as to what’s not being revealed, intimation and presence of blank gaps as powerful as revealing truths by torch light. Which brings up another premise – Yugen, delivering parables like she herself is being subjected to some sort of mind control. You’ll be hard pressed to find an album from the last 12 months that sounds like anything like this one: umpteen rewinds later and you’ll still only be half way towards the truth. (MO)

PLAYLIST
Dominic Valvona




Cult B-movie European soundtracks, spine-tingling schlock and spooked, chain-rattling horror fuzztones aplenty. Yes, its that time of the year again, the bewitching hour is nigh, and so another one of Dominic Valvona’s special Halloween playlists.

To accompany any freaks ball, ghoulish themed soiree, candelabra lit dinner party, macabre shindig and black mass, the perfect soundtrack of devilish nonsense. Includes the bell tolled meaning doom of Acanthus, the kool aid hell-trippers St. John Green, the rebel county seedy James Gang, horrorcore rap doyens The Gravediggaz, the despairing Gothic romantics Vukovar, bewitched folk troupe Sproatly Smith and many more.




Previous ghastly selections:




REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona




The 76th edition of Dominic Valvona’s ever-eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews includes new albums from the improvisation-heavy Krautrock-Kosmische-Post Punk duo The Untied Knot; the newly formed Gare du Nord label trio of haunted surf, rock ‘n’ roll and avant-garde Föhn, a group made up of the iconic Italian underground artist and poet Napo Camassa, label boss polymath Ian Button and Liverpool psychedelic stalwart Joss Cope; the first ever vinyl format release of Nicolas Gaunin’s exotic amorphous Noa Noa Noa LP; a new epic two-track EP of theatre of ritualistic doom psychedelia from the Japanese band Qujaku; a masterful lesson in compositional balance and experiment from the South African jazz icon Abdullah Ibrahim; and the debut album from the emerging Swedish songwriting talent Julia Meijer.

There’s also the recent EP from the balladry classical meets Trip-Hop and winding troubadour Munich-based artist Elizabeth Everts; another limited edition cassette of experimental abrasive soundscapes from the Crow Versus Crow label, in the form of a cathartic album of dissonance from Chlorine; and news and review of the upcoming flight of jazz fantasy single from the newly formed We Jazz label ensemble, Koma Saxo.


The Untied Knot  ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’
(Sonic Imperfections)  Out Now


Imbued with a sense of scientific methodology and monocular dissection, the experimental United Knot duo of Nigel Bryant and Matt Donovan attempt once more to sonically convey the wonders and enormity and chaos of the universe on Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder.

Possibly, in this form anyway, the duo’s last album the follow-up to the previous science paper laid out Descriptions Of A Flame (highly recommended at the time by us, an album of the year in 2015) continues to sear, wrangle and grind through an imprint of Krautrock, Kosmische, Shoegaze, Post-Punk (imagine a Lyndon free PiL) and Rock, and drone-like ambience.

With both band members serving a variation of roles in the improvisational and electronic music fields, Bryant and Donovan have all the experience and skills needed to create something that is refreshingly dynamic as it is ponderous. Playing hard and loose with a myriad of influences, Donovan’s constantly progressive drum rolls, tribal patters, cymbal burnishes and more skipping jazzy fills recall Faust’s Weiner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier and Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier, whilst surprisingly, on the late 60s West Coast rock experiment ‘Rhythm From Three Intervals’ a touch of Mick Fleetwood. Meanwhile, Bryant, on both bass and atonal guitar duties (both also share the synth), channels Ax Genrich, Jah Wobble and Youth.

Though gleaming the geological, anthropological and chemical, they can’t help but be affected by the most concentrated themes of climate change and, especially in the duo’s hometown of London, knife crime. The echoes of an early Popol Vuh permeate the chthonian Anthropocene reference to a proposed dating title of a modern epoch: one that would mark an era that had seen the most significant human impact on the climate. ‘Span Of A Knife Fight’ is an untethered slasher; a sonic nervous breakdown of fretboard rock and the avant-garde, riled in fact. Though I’m not sure what the ‘Tattooed Brain’ is all about, it does have an air of 80s baggy, mixed with The Telescopes drone-wrangling: imagine The Pixies and Stone Roses sharing a spliff.

Far from weary and burnt-out, the Untied Knot go out on a high; stretching their influences with improvised skill and depth, a buzz saw, scrawling caustic but investigative soundtrack for the times.





Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records) 10th July 2019



Vinyl (and the odd cassette tape) specialists with a considered taste for something different, the Hive Mind’s burgeoning roster of international discoveries once more gives a platform to the unusual and difficult to define.

Already, through a quartet of re-releases, bringing to a wider audience a range of established and emerging global practitioners, such as the late Gnawa maestro Maalem Mahmoud Gani and rising South American jazzy-traversing star Rodrigo Tavares, the Brighton-based imprint is now inviting us to immerse ourselves in the strange exotic minimalism of Italian electronic artists Nicola Sanguin, who’s original ambiguous mash-up of world music influences and surreal sound experiments Noa Noa was released by Artetetra Records in 2018. Now with an additional extra “noa” to the title this odd curiosity of atavistic African percussive rhythms and stripped radiophonics is getting another pass with its first ever vinyl release.

Using the barely interchangeable anagrammed Nicolas Gaunin name for his solo projects, Sanguin builds a both recognizable but exotically amorphous soundscape that at times recalls the Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James. And yet still, it doesn’t really sound like any of these, or, anything else for that matter.

Definitely in the sunnier light-hearted, more diaphanous and optimistic camp of electronic music – a scene that all things considered is duly reflecting the anxiety and uncertainty of the times, moving towards the dystopian – there’s still less than a bubbly, even euphoric radiance to these tropical heat intensive recordings: Many of which, we’re told, were recorded in one take. Abstract to say the least, vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums ride over, merge with or undulate under a minimalistic Techno workshop accompaniment. Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.





Abdullah Ibrahim ‘The Balance’
(Gearbox Records) 28th June 2019



Rightly occupying the same lauded heights of veneration as his late South African compatriot and good friend Hugh Masekela, the sagacious adroit Abdullah Ibrahim enthuses nothing but respect and praise for his activism and music; with even Nelson Mandela no less, anointing him as “South Africa’s Mozart”.

Embodying the many travails of that country, giving voice to the townships with, what many consider the unofficial national anthem of the anti-apartheid movement, ‘Manneberg’, Ibrahim (who converted to Islam in the late 60s, changing his artistic name from Dollar Brand in the process) spent decades fighting the system through his music: mostly jazz. In a former epoch, when merely performing that form in South Africa was seen as an act of resistance, the pianist-composer was mixing it up with his legendary jazz counterparts across the Atlantic, playing with a staggeringly impressive cast of doyens including Duke Ellington, Max Roach, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Now in his 84th year and four years since his last album, Ibrahim has returned to the studio, recording a counterpoint album of both full band arrangements and solo piano improvisations. The Balance, as the title suggests, does just that; balancing purposeful ruminating evocations with gentle pushes (outside the comfort zone) into more experimental skittish, sometimes, lively performances.

Recorded over the course of one day in the RAK studios in London last November, with his Ekaya troupe in full swing, this accentuate attuned album of sophisticated jazzery and the classical is rich with the musical language of those lauded greats he once played with: a early touch of 50s New York skyline Coltrane via Gershwin and Bernard Herrmann on the gracious balancing act between subtle gliding blues and more thriller heightened discordant notation ‘Dreamtime’, and Ellington on the flighty ascendant with chorus of saxophone and trumpet ‘Nisa’. There’s even a certain air of bouncing-on-the-balls-of-your-feet Broadway jazz on the lively ‘Skippy’.

Elsewhere the inspiration is more homegrown; the almost cartoonish scurrying score ‘Tuana Guru’ alludes to a mystical East but features an African soundscape of the wild and trumpeting. The fast skimming drum and busy bandy double-bass partnership opening ‘Jabula’ even features a joyful embrace of Highlife on a what is a celebratory-like composition of timeless quality.

Nuanced and masterfully performed, both on the bounce and when more agitated, and whether it’s in brushed burnished contemplation, or solo devotional élan, Ibrahim and his accomplished band of players do indeed find a nuanced balance between the classical and contemporary: a balance between those timeless qualities and the need for reinvention. A most dreamy, thoughtful way to pass away an hour or two with.





Koma Saxo ‘Port Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’
(We Jazz) 2nd August 2019



Fast becoming one of my favourite labels, the Helsinki-based We Jazz (as the moniker makes pretty clear) imprint ‘does jazz’: an innovative, progressive and thoroughly modern kind of jazz at that. Only last month I included a track from the blowout peregrination baritone sax and wired-up Jonah Parzen-Johnson, and last year, We Jazz label mate, Otis Sandsjö made my albums of the year features with his reconstructive, remix-in-motion, Y-OTIS – think Madlib deconstructing 3TM. Sandsjö, as it happens, is just one of a frontline triumvirate of saxophonists to appear in the exciting newly formed Koma Saxo quintet.

Assembled by the Berlin-based Swedish bassist/producer Petter Eldh, the horn heavy ensemble includes a veritable feast of European players, with Jonas Kullhammar and Mikko Innanen flanking Sandsjö, and Christian Lillinger on the drums. Though they made a performance debut at the label’s own festival last year, this double A side single, the exotic flight of fantasy entitled ‘Part Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’, is the troupe’s inaugural recorded release.

Cut from the same cloth but atmospherically and rhythmically different, ‘Port Koma’ is an ennui psychosis of breakbeats, prowling, jostling conscious jazz with Scandinavian thriller noir aspirations (Bernard Herrmann lifted and dropped in the cold ominous landscape of a Stig Larsson novel), whilst ‘Fanfare For Komarum’ is a spiritual carnival tooting parade of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Lloyd Miller, Leon Thomas and Spiritual Unity era Albert Ayler; a bustled procession through the Valley Of The Kings, a veneration to Ra.

Kept in check somehow, the forces at play on both tracks threaten to veer and spin off into separate directions, with the heightened Port sounding like three individual signatures simultaneously riding and sliding in and out of focus.

This is an exciting, traversing jazz odyssey; and so an essential purchase. We Jazz keep on delivering.






Föhn ‘Ballpark Music’
(Gare du Nord) 4th July 2019



Ever expanding the remit of his Kentish Estuary satellite label, Gare du Nord, Ian Button’s latest project provides a melodious if experimental base for the avant-garde sonic work and poetry of Italian artist Napo Camassa III. A stalwart of the late 1960s and 1970s Italian underground scene, a smattering of tapes from that period were due a mini-revival through Button’s highly prolific label. As fate would dictate, those tape recordings proved far too brittle to transfer, falling apart in the process. Taking this as an opportunity to instead create something new but in keeping with the spirit of Camassa’s experimental soliloquy and ad-libbed one line poetics, and quivered ghostly channeling seedy rock ’n’ roll vocals, the outsider music framed Ballpark Music merges the lingering, almost supernatural, presence of its influences with deconstructive homages and vague elements of jazz, surf and art-rock to produce something recognizable yet chaotic and skewered.

Balancing on the edge of this chaos the Button/Camassa dynamic, widened to bring in label mate and stalwart of the psychedelic/art-rock and Liverpool scenes Joss Cope (sibling to arch druid Julian, and just as active an instigator of countless bands in his own right over the decades), uses the well-chosen descriptive weather name of Föhn to articulate the relationship between the random, improvised and more structured, Föhn being a warm summer wind that blows in from the Alpine uplands; strong enough at times to blow tiles off a roof, at others, an enervated breeze, barely felt. Musically representing this windy phenomenon, the trio at their most blowy and heavy reaches for an abstraction of post-punk, no-wave, garage, shambling blues and Krautrock; at their most subtle and drift the surf noir dreaminess and mystery of The Beach Boys and evangelical spiritualism, gospel ye-ye and rock ‘n’ roll of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

Tributes of a strange kind are paid to the latter in the form of a reference heavy trio of Beach Boys mirages. ‘Shiny Seeburg’, ‘The Scenenaut’ and ‘Wilson Mitt’ namecheck Pet Sounds and SMiLE as they weave nostalgia for a more giddy carefree, surface age – when the “deck chair” patterned shirt attired legends were chronicling the “fun, fun, fun” and teenage romance of the Boomers – with a certain lamentable weariness at what mental anguishes would soon befall the group’s genius, Brian Wilson: The first of these three tracks actually sounds like a deconstructed ‘Do It Again’.

The surf synonymous twang of that same era is celebrated on the Trashman-meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets Adam And The Ants ‘Surfin’ Dan Electro’, a quivery, rattle ‘n’ roll bandy homage to the iconic guitar.

Elsewhere there are hints of Alexandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain soundtrack, Spiritualized and a vision of Wah! Heat as fronted by Malcolm Mooney.

Though the central tenant of nearly everything that Ian Button does musically is nostalgia (Button and his unofficial label house band, Papernut Cambridge, have also released more or less at the same time another volume of Nutflakes inspired cover versions), Föhn is one of the more interesting and progressive projects he’s been involved with of late; heeding the past certainly, but pushing the original concept for this enterprise to produce something anew, the wilder poetic assemblages of Camassa tethered, in part, to an amorphous melodious soundtrack.

Hopefully this is one area that Button will continue to pursue with his foils Camassa and Cope.





Julia Meijer ‘Always Awake’
(PinDrop Records) 12th July 2019



Making good on a trio of singles that promised a tactile skewed and angulated vision of Scandinavian pop; Julia Meijer’s debut album expands the musical horizons even further.

Subtle throughout, Always Awake showcases the Swedish-born (now Oxford-based) singer-songwriter’s naturalistic ability to switch between tightened new wave and the hymnal, and mix the glacial enormity of the Icelandic tundra, as so beautifully conveyed in prose by the frozen Island’s own late national hero poet Steinn Steinarr, with the vaporous veils of an English Avalon: Inspiration for the album (the first on the new label venture from the music management firm PinDrop) opener ‘Ocean’ flows from that first half of the 20th century poet’s very own ‘Hav’ peregrination, fashioned into a dreamy mirage that evokes Lykke Li drifting out of Mondrian’s abstracted Pier And Ocean series. Originally accompanying that stripped diaphanous plaint, the more eerie Gothic folksy ‘England’ errs towards Florence And The Machine, whilst the love-longed, synth-glistened ‘I’m Not The One’ has a hint of a fey Debbie Harry.

Featured recently on the Monolith Cocktail, the page turning metaphorical single ‘Train Ticket’, with its two-speed verse and chorus change, even imagines the New Young Pony Club channeling the Tom Tom Club.

Backed in this enterprise by a couple of Guillemots and their offspring (band members Greig Stewart on drums and Fyfe Dangerfield on Hammond duties, whilst Grieg’s daughter, Effie, adds a spell of saxophone) plus guitarist Andrew Warne and label honcho and all-round prolific polymath Sebastian Reynolds offering various synthesized parts, the sound palette is widened: as is for that matter Meijer’s vocals, which once more are deceptively subtle in filling the space, fluctuating gently between lulls, lyrical trill and partly Kate Nash narrated ‘whatevs’.

An electric debut of nuanced indie brilliance and melodious songwriting, far outgrowing the Scandi-pop tag, Always Awake is a fantastic eclectic record, and the ideal launch for a new label.



Elizabeth Everts ‘Contraband EP’
25th May 2019



An EP of contrasts, pianist-troubadour Elizabeth Everts fluctuates vocally between balladry pop and crystalline aria, and musically between the cheaper ticking metronome of a Casio preset and the more lofty rich swells of classical instrumentation. Her latest release, a beautifully off-kilter articulated EP called Contraband is a case in point: a mini-requiem of both lo fi and expensive.

Everts, ever the true confessional, lays herself open to various degrees of success over the EP’s controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament. With Californian roots but living for the past decade or more in Munich, the melodious voiced Evert has a fairly unique sound that ebbs and flows continuously, weaving echoes of Tori Amos, Raf Mantelli and Fiona Apple with touches of lounge-jazz, trip-hop, the classical, and on the closing, almost played straight, attuned weepy ‘Black Is The Colour’ the elegiac folk of Christy Moore.

From the diaphanous rolling aria sowing of the opening ‘Harvest Time’ to the ethereal vibraphone flitting prowl of ‘I Just’ the Contraband EP is an experiment both in vulnerability and musicality: a subtle one at that. Everts is pushed gently to expand her horizons, which can only be a good thing.



Qujaku ‘In Neutral’
(So I Buried Records) 26th July 2019



Invoking an almost operatic daemonic theatre of an album last year (making our choice albums of 2018 features in the process) the Hamamatsu, Japan doom-weavers Qujaku return with a sprawling but intense new two-track EP, ahead of a mini European tour. Reflecting two sides of the psychedelic band’s ritualistic sound, title-track (dare I suggest) shows a more delicate, subtle visage (at least at the start anyway), whilst ‘Gloria’ pursues more of a gnashing and bestial course.

Building slowly towards its goal, ‘In Neutral’ turns a wafting wash of guitar noodling and wooing saxophone into a menacing Gothic-jazz incantation. ‘Gloria’ has more heft, bigger ritual drumming, slaying guitar and dark arts psychedelics – imagine the Acid Mothers on a bad trip.

Communing with ghosts, inhabiting an underworld, Qujaku once again conjure up an ambitious dissonance of doom, stoner, operatic, dark and witchery rock.

Be sure but be quick to pick up one of these EPs, as stocks are limited to only 200 copies.



Chlorine ‘Gallooner’
(Crow Versus Crow) 12th July 2019



Somehow managing to convey a cathartic tumult of anxieties and distress from a (mostly) high-voltage abstract soundscape, Gateshead-based multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Graeme Hopper creates a sort of autobiographical profile on his new LP for Crow Versus Crow.

Under the oxidizing halogen Chlorine moniker, Hopper’s latest set of recordings (limited in physical form to a run of 50 copies on cassette tape, but available as a digital download) traverse a caustic buzz of abrasive music-concrete and sentinel pylon metallic at its most ominous, yet offers a glimmer of light, even the barest of serial notation and tuning-up, at its most serene.

A reification of feelings you could say, the dissonance-frazzled, static and electrical steel-dragon whiplash licks of the daemonic goes scrap metal fairground gallop ‘Song For Silhouette’ could be read as an unsettling concentration of the mind. Craning leviathans and industrial machinery-in-motion meet obfuscated strings to fashion a strange rhapsody of esoteric frayed emotion on ‘My Trying Hands’, Lost And Tired’, whilst a more naturalistic ambience of distant dog barks and bird song offer a short release on ‘Confessions Of A Broken Temperament’.

Post-this and post-that, Gallooner subverts a myriad of genres from the experimental fields of exploration, be it industrial, Techno, ambient or noise, yet remains somehow removed from any of them. There’s even a sporadic breakout of veiled spontaneous free form drumming amongst the polygon-ambient electronics of the album’s track, ‘Perfect Lust’, and hints of either a ghostly fiddle or string instrument on a few others.

A conductor-charged pulse to the membrane; sculpting something that bears a resonance of both depression and alienation from the caustic wall of noise, Hopper has produced a most unlikely empirical soundscape.


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