Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Dominic Valvona Forward:

Christ what a depressing annus horribilis 2020 was. Putting aside the pandemic, this was another divisive turd of a year, with hyperbolic indignities and the childish naïve persecution of nearly everything and everyone outside the virtue-card carrying trends of “black square” signaling. Whilst many of my peers were casting the aspirations, collecting bracken for the ritual burnings of the faithless, and delivering the most hypercritical of grandstanding statements on diversity, we were continuing as ever as the outsiders to carry on with a normal service of sharing the most eclectic music from artists across the globe. So many of the most voluminous in this regard are the most guilty of not adhering to their own pontifications: I won’t list them here, but they know who they are; the sort of blog/site that hasn’t even featured a black artist, or not many, let alone bother to look outside their myopic viewfinder to Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. 

We also lost many comrades and sisters this year, including the king of rock ‘n’ roll Little Richard, the late great Afrobeat rhythm provider Tony Allen, Bill Withers, Vera Lynn, Betty Wright, Phil May, Emit Rhodes, Andy Gill, Peter Green, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, Kenny Rogers, Florian Schneider, Genesis P-Orridge Manu Dibango, Andrew Weatherall, Ennio Morricone and even the poor old derided Des O’Conner. A right bastard of a year I think we can all agree on.

A challenging year, the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come, 2020 has nevertheless been a great year for new music (thank god).    

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. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Alongside my good self, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea have made the selections this year.

Spread over three parts, the inaugural selection runs from 3 South And Banana to Extradition Order.

Numbers.

3 South And Banana ‘S/T’
(Some Other Planet)

Bouncing and lolloping onto the psychedelic pop and indie scene like a Francophone Shintaro Sakamoto, Aurélien Bernard brought us a most lightly touched but infectious kaleidoscope jangle of a self-titled debut album this year.

Swapping the drum stool and tenure with the sunny-disposition Vadoinmessico – leaving as the band transitioned into Cairobi – for a polymath solo career, the French born, Berlin-based, Bernard has an idiosyncratic musical style; weaving a cantaloupe gait and a lyrical mix of French and English vocals together in a colourful, often fun, way. Radiant, oceanic, translucent and even cosmic with a Gallic shrug of wistful fatalism, the 3 South & Banana cosmos of rooftop fauna wonderment is a swell place to be in these dark, uncertain times. (Dominic Valvona)

Review In Full

A..

A Journey Of Giraffes  ‘Armenia’
(Somewherecold Records)

Seeming to get better with every release, the unassuming maverick ambient and soundscape explorer behind this most picturesque of animalistic monikers, John Lane, has in recent years been highly prolific in churning out the most subtle but deeply effective under-the-radar soundtracks. To be fair it was a toss-up between this, the atavistic Caucasus transverse Armenia, and his “archipelago of the mind” Sunshine Pilgrim Map peregrination: both great albums of ambient and experimental discovery.

Though he couldn’t have foreseen how prescient this part of the world would become in 2020, with an ongoing uneasy truce between modern Armenia and their Azerbaijan neighbours after a recent fight of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Lane has managed to catch this mysterious land with a 44-track oeuvre of psychogeography, myths, ancient readings and poetry forms. From the air-y and sublime to the more ominous, primal and fraught, minimal evocations sit alongside more churned oblique scrapped moody horrors. Voices from the old religions swirl and echo amongst the hewn stone monuments to Armenia’s ghosts on an outstanding mesmerizing soundtrack of differing stirring soundscapes, traverses, contemplations and ruminations. (DV)

Review In Full

Idris Ackamoor And The Pyramids ‘Shaman!’
(Strut Records)

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

From the burnished Sunbear developing bloodied opus of the Pharaoh Sanders, Brother Ah, Jazz Epistles and Sarah Webster Fabio merging breakout title track to the Afrobeat gospel bolero of ‘Eternity’, an enlightening magical travail of the state of the union is sumptuously paired with the wisdom of the ancients. Narrated and sung howls of anguish are soundtracked and serenaded by a jazz-led voyage of gospel, soul, funk and magic. What an album: an odyssey through the divisive debris of modern America.  (DV)

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela ‘Rejoice’
(World Circuit Records)

Becoming a final bow in the end for both participates in this perfect synergy of Afrojazz, the now late Afrobeat doyen, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the even later Hugh Masekela, finally got an airing of their 2010 recordings together this year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians who help lay down a loose Francophone swinging jazz backing to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. There’s even a nod to Allen’s old bandleader and Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti on this smooth bustling, Blue Note in Africa, laidback work of genius.

This album is the sound of two artists in their element, a performance never to be repeated, and sadly one of the final recordings of Allen now. But as the title says: Rejoice!  (DV)

Read In Full

Axel Holy ‘WonderWorld’
(Split Prophets)

Given the way Axel Holy’s mind works you just know WonderWorld is gonna turn the distorted, freaky reflections found in the hall of mirrors into reality. This ain’t no Scooby Doo haunted theme park caper: the otherwise Baileys Brown slaloms through the queues of demonic smiles for every ride that’s a trap house of horrors. Knowing he can’t leave anything to chance as to what’s real and what’s a genetically modified mirage, yet well aware that fakes and foes never go into hiding, Holy cocks back and breaks the illusion with all of his sawn-off might, possibly under the influence to heighten the experience. ‘Statement’ induces screams as it goes faster, ‘Let It Go’ does a classic switcheroo of upping the anxiety by withdrawing just a touch, and ‘On The Gram’ craftily dispels social media culture, complete with a chorus simply made for a lip synced reel, though like Brown’s ‘Still Fresh’ from last year, there’s definite loosening up towards the album’s end. Grimy, geared to leave your ears ringing and with fellow misfits Jack Danz and Datkid involved, WonderWorld, as a wise scribe once said, will leave you “Delirious like Eddie Murphy”.  (Matt Oliver)

B…

BaBa ZuLa ‘Hayvan Gibi’
(Night Dreamers)

Capturing one of the best performances from the rebellious stalwarts of Anatolian cosmic dub and psych, BaBa ZuLa, the Night Dreamers label’s “direct-to-disc” series proved a congruous creative hothouse for the Istanbul legends.

Fusing the folkloric with solar flares of Krautrock, souk reggae, 60s and 70s Turkish psych and cosmic-blues the rambunctious group come on like a Sublime Porte vision of Can’s Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks albums, only replacing much of the Teutonic legends setup with more traditional instruments like the “oud” and “saz”: albeit electrified and fuzzed up to the gills.

Recorded before lockdown in the pre-pandemic nightmare, Hayvan Gibi (which means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’) includes six almost untethered, unleashed vivid performances from the mavericks. It’s an album that seeks to fulfil the “live” feel and energy that some fans have commented has been lacking on previous studio albums.

A let loose BaBa ZuLa is a most incredible experience; a scuzzed, scuffed, trinket shimmery, rippling and blazing rhythmic energy and dynamism both intense and yet also a mirage of reggae and dub imbued Anatolia mountain gazing. It’s also a reminder of what we’ve been missing in these dragging pandemic restrictive times. (DV)

Read In Full

Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records)

The changing (and welcoming it is too) face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offers a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out with an electrified and rebellious vision of the country’s Islamic Gnawa dance, music and poetry exaltations; the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition; and the popular folk music of Chabbi.

Led by the “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansou, who has caused quite a reaction for taking up an instrument traditionally the preserve of men in Morocco, they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama in a post Arab-Spring landscape. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism. A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor.  (DV)

Read In Full

Batsauce ‘Helter Skelter’
(Full Plate)

Inevitably beatmakers got busy when it came to making a song and dance out of the pandemic, with Batsauce, the Berlin-based producer and underground stalwart with the all-too-perfect moniker, delivering boom bap bad news from his ‘quarantine beat suite’, Helter Skelter a notable entry in creating a 2020-style instrumental biopic out of a mass of disaster movie samples. From the get-go the assembled cast are under no illusions that a worldwide disease is real and happening – no such silver screen/real world naivety here – starting off slow and tentatively before the fever begins to take hold. Mixing up pensive jazz, soul and psych with drums scooped from the doldrums, twitchy, string-lead horror themes worthy of the album’s title compete with bold flourishes that switch between signifying cometh the hour, cometh the man, and said leading role going in head first without the guarantee of making it back. Crucially the dialogue is strategically placed, never overloaded, so as to let the music really run the narrative of what becomes a titanic struggle, and where tellingly the conclusion throws up some worst case scenarios without completely delivering the Hollywood happy-ever-after. Here’s hoping that Batsauce doesn’t have to have a sequel up his sleeve.  (Matt Oliver)

Big Toast & 184 ‘Who Shit In The Sandpit?’
(Revorg)

Not that he needed the trivial matter of 2020 being a complete debacle to fuel his next fed up invective, but Big Toast’s patience reaches dangerously thin levels on this charming titled, eye/nose-gougingly sleeved ode to the money men, privileged elite, ignorant, in-the-flesh stereotypes, Gazza and general ringmasters to the UK circus. Splattered with damning evidence that’s as clear as day but still needs repeating, some might say it’s easy to home on in the obvious targets responsible for the myriad fiascos in these uncertain times. But Toast, eyes rolling to the heavens until his sockets start to fracture, and whose unhurried words mimicking the puppet mastery of those at the lectern, linger like…well, a bad smell, is not the sort of protestor satisfied with just chucking eggs and milkshakes at those who won’t be told. The title track’s lighters-up, all-in-together chorus confirms his man of the people status, and closing track ‘Us/Them’ is a high quality fade to grey conclusion. All to the tune of 184’s claustrophobic, nostalgia-erasing boom bap, equidistant to the edge of doom and foggily attempting a scramble to safety. The fact you can’t help but laugh at such a desperate state of play is an oh-so-British reaction as well.  (MO)

Black Josh ‘Mannyfornia’
(Blah)

Bumping beats whiplashed through the windscreen and straight to the point rhymes that are one false look from Falling Down, Black Josh as Manchester’s mayor of Mannyfornia – the “Sweg Lord – you don’t want him living next door” – creates civilisation that avoids the big city of dreams prefix and instantly nails the ain’t-always-what-it-seems kicker instead. Lockdown restrictions get laughed out of town as well, with Metrodome on the electoral boards deconstructing and hotwiring speakers. The likes of ‘Demon’ sees sinkholes open up and swallow all before it, treated by Josh as minor inconvenience – “I’m only living cos I have to” – and the title track is an aggravated state of emergency to endear your neighbours to, like Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Old Skool’ gone rogue “on a highway to Hell, but I’m undertaking”. Wired on substance intake and the need to hit as many killshots as possible, only half-quelled on ‘Smoke’ and ‘Endz’ as the album’s back end begins to conserve energy, Mannyfornia is restless, anti-social and doesn’t play fair, but Josh is not one to change his game just cos circumstances are different.  (MO)

Black Taffy  ‘Opal Wand’
(Leaving Records)

When filing under hip-hop Opal Wand is the cheat code of this list, particularly when the scope of what is ostensibly an instrumental trap album immediately appears limited. Fear not though – in the hands of Black Taffy aka Dallas alchemist Donovan Jones, Opal Wand perfects the classic axis of massive (and massively rigid) bottom ends, and riffs atop darting like fireflies, unfolding the arms of the screwfaces and feeding them optimism sourced from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Subtle vinyl crackle scoring similar Disney-style sources, and sorrowful Eastern Bloc ballets tiptoeing across dark but exotic landscapes, help bring about another educated one-two – that of the album being based on a booming system when the cascades of strings command you to light incense and candles. Jones continues to shift the pre-conceived by blinding you with the fantastical until disquiet begins to percolate in the distance from ‘A Foxes Wedding’. Synth-shone secrets and doubts begin to reveal themselves on the spirit-raising ‘Palms Up’, and when fear of the unknown takes hold, then the basses, still giving nothing away other than fluttering their eyelashes at low-riders, come into their own. With plenty to interpret, let its curiosity consume you on a cold winter’s eve.  (MO)

Bloom De Wilde ‘The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe’
(Self-Release)

If only life could be as wonderfully magical as this album. Bloom De Wilde has an aura about her that emits a certain belief in the beauty of life, with her songs of nature and love she gives one hope in these times of backbiting misery and disease that music and love can be the answer.

Maybe we all need to return to the spiritual freedom of 1967 and not be wrapped up in the junk and social media that clouds up our minds and hearts, for this album casts a mighty spell that is bewitchingly hypnotic, that slowly seeps through the layers of self doubt mistrust and ego and has you smiling again, has you laughing, has you counting your blessings and looking forward to living your life and making the most of it as you only have one life so why not make the most of it. The Heart Shall Be Rewarded By The Universe is one of those rare albums that is made with pure love and should be treated with pure love: a shimmering delight.  (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)

Read In Full

Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records)

Oh the irony as Brian Bordello himself picked this one for his choice selection of albums from the year: got to hand it to him, the front of the bloke! But then why not, as it seems nearly all blogs and such are now nothing more than promotional platforms for the advancement of their own writers and clique fan club. For those who aren’t aware, Brian has been contributing to the MC for the last couple of years, so this does seem strange: pop will eat itself and all that. Here though is why you should buy it:

The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock ’n’ roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally fell on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.  (BBS/DV)

Read In Full

Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir  ‘As God Intended’
(Mello Music Group)

The embodiment of up-from-the-bootstraps verve and an advocate of what doesn’t kill making you stronger, Buffalo’s Che’ Noir won’t let anyone or anything get in her way right from the very first bar. Despite the dual billing on As God Intended, this is very much her headline act: Apollo Brown retreats into the role of unspoken mentor, nodding his approval from afar without needing too much to prompt sometimes cold-blooded, always measured actions, just rolling out his usual metronome of warm but wary, street-raised, Detroit soul bumps that have seen it all and done it all before. ‘12 Hours’ is an absolute classic storyteller (no spoilers here), and from finding true financial value (‘Money Orientated’, offset by the pull of ‘Worth Gold’) to how to stand up (‘The Apple’, ‘Freedom’ and its theorem of “what’s worse than being physically dead is mentally dying”) and respecting the architects (‘94’), the ice queen bravado is open to just a hint of vulnerability, so that Noir teeters (‘Daddy’s Girl’ and ‘Winter’ contrast relationship obstacles) but never loses her balance. True grit from a fighter expressing her worth as “just a chick from the ‘hood doing Adele numbers”.  (MO)

C….

Lucia Cadotsch ‘Speak Low II’
(We Jazz)

Tripping a light fantastic across a curious and congruous selection of covers and standards, two of We Jazz’s (sort of) house band members, Otis Sandsjo (of Y-OTIS reconstructive hip-hop jazz fame) and Peter Eldh (of the masterful Koma Saxo), once more join forces with the amorphous voiced Lucia Cadotsch to re-shape the unfamiliar familiar under the umbrella of the Berlin-based Swiss singer’s Speak Low Trio. Equally as untethered on a serialism pathway of musical freedom, this broadened set-up that includes both the prestigious ECM label solo pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton, meanders, drifts, floats and hovers over a flowing oeuvre of German stage numbers, ancient folk laments, avant-garde troubadour maladies and jazz balladry across a second volume of such loose interpretations.

Songs from artists as diverse as Eno, Duke Ellington, Brecht and Randy Newman are pulled into this beautifully adventurous cosmos. A mirage of bowed, haunted and rasping rhythms and spiraling tonal work Speak Low II is an unburdened songbook of amorphous jazzy reinterpretations that dares to play with the original source material, whilst showcasing the effortlessly gossamer and stretching lush range of Lucia’s magical voice.  (DV)

Read In Full

Cambatta ‘LSD: Lunar Solar Duality’
(Mello Music Group)

A dose of ‘LSD’ is perhaps a slight departure for Mello Music Group, who once again have had a calendar year the envy of the hip-hop underground. While Cambatta’s label debut unlocks the power of hallucinogens, the super scientific raised from the sewer breaks down the DNA of life, the universe and everything (the maths behind ‘Nxggxrla Txsla’ and ‘Grand Number TheoRam’ will blow your headphones). His persona is a complex, carnivorously blunt mix of Nostradamus, Mr MFN eXquire and prime era Canibus, street apothecary, religious myth buster and otherworldly being, etched with a grim determination to convince everyone of his gospels, particularly as his backdrop is several hell-like leagues beneath the surface at odds with the radiant sleeve (“only in the midst of chaos am I comfortable”). Entertaining in their encyclopaedic intensity, ‘Fall of Feinix’ is a slow-burning cauldron of drug rage (“my spirit animal is a cold turkey”), and ‘33’ is an exceptional, messianic (and very simply formatted) autobiography, but two ear-openers on an album realigning the sun, moon and stars in a bid you flip your belief system.  (MO)

Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers ‘Vodou Alé’
(Bongo Joe Records)

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. The results of which prove congruous and electrifying; a synthesis of Soukri voodoo polyrhythms and bassier dub electronica that proves so attuned to both sensibilities and in-sync as to be difficult to separate the natural ritual from the augmented and synthesized.

A primal ceremony of tumbled, fluttered cylindrical rhythms sucked into a vortex of warped dub and ringing oscillations, this 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.  (DV)

Read In Full

COOPS ‘Crimes Against Creation’
(High Focus)

High Focus were found doing High Focus things throughout 2020, making it a tight call on whether to include Light Work by the Duracell-powered creativity of Fliptrix, Onoe Caponoe’s breakneck night terror Invisible War, or The Four Owls’ victorious Nocturnal Instinct (full length review here). Edging past the post is the concise Coops at a skinny eight tracks and twenty five minutes long, that slightly jaded twang between Wretch 32 and Ocean Wisdom both nonchalant and spiteful at once, making him engagingly hard to read between peacekeeping and reacting – at his most relaxed you can still tell that Coops is itching to right wrongs. Holding the streets down under a nice and jazzy shade is producer Talos, who in parallel can turn up the pressure with no discernible tell, hitting the Queensbridge block as Coops knuckles up on the seething ‘Piss Poor’, with a chorus that outdoes any get rich quick-schemers. Picking off opponents with scything simplicity – when annoyed by everyone, Coops calls out all and sundry as per ‘Factory Reared’ passing through a farm for would-be emcees – Crimes is a classy album that won’t wilt in the heat of the moment.  (MO)

Julian Cope ‘Self Civil War’
(Head Heritage)

Julian Cope is one of the last living motherfuckers in rock ‘n’ roll. He is the spirit personified. He has the adventure talent and intelligence to realise that music is not just something to hum along to on the radio whilst doing the dishes. He knows that being in a band is not a past time but a crusade; it is a life affirming art force that fires the mind, belly’s and loins of old and young alike, and Self Civil War is his latest quest, his latest crusade.

A man now in his sixties would be expected maybe to put his feet up and look back on the past outpourings of a fine, much underrated back catalogue. But no, Julian goes and makes his best album since Jehovah Kill.

Self Civil War is an album that combines all his musical loves beautifully: Krautrock, Psych, Prog, folk and of course pure undiluted pop. This is an album of pure invention, inspiration and adventure. This is the sound of a whirling dervish sticking his fingers up at the industry, a man who does not have to think outside the box, as he has no box, and hopefully never will have. He is a true one-off and this album is the sound of a true one-off on top of his game.  (BBS)

Corticem ‘Planetarium’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Less Holst The Planets magnum opus, more lo fi Krautrock purview of a sinister, mysterious cosmology, beamed from a subterranean bunker in Krakow, Corticem’s Plantetarium dials into the present pandemic dystopia whilst casting a soundtrack of awe at those heavenly bodies. I say from Krakow, and a bunker, but the trio have lost their previous studio/rehearsal space; the loss of which acting as an unfortunate stimulus for the mix of industrial, entrancing, cosmic and experimental exploration on this minor-opus of concentrated malcontent, despondency and rage. Formed by members of the “songs strange and not so-strange” Sawak in the Polish city, Corticem finds the trio of orbital sonic cosmonauts Bogdan Markiewicz, Antonello Perfetto and Greg Nieuwsma looking to escape towards the stars but anchored to the malaise and mounting horrors of terra firma: A world gripped in Covid distress. A liberal dark material contortion of Swans, the faUSt pairing of Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermeir, Mythos, the satellite refraction broadcasts of Gunther Wusthoff, The Cosmic Range, Itchy-O and Ash Ra Tempel, this caustic and often impending oeuvre offers as dystopian and alarming, alien and otherworldly soundtrack to the end times. What’s not to like. (DV)

Read In Full

Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica. Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar. Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. (DV

Crack Cloud ‘Pain Olympics’
(Meat Machines)

A rambunctious expanded collective of filmmakers, artists, designers, and of course musicians, drawn together through drug addiction, the Vancouver-based Crack Cloud channel recovery through much healthier pursuits; raiding the post-punk and no wave wardrobes to form an ever ambitious agit-art-group of malcontents. Rinsing out both the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene along the way, the seven-strong main cohort of this group effort work-in the Gang Of Four, Talking Heads, The Shivers, Officer!, Lydia Lunch, Andy Haas, Pixies and Devo to produce a surprisingly less hostile verdict on the state of the union in 2020.

Pain Olympics is an epic eclectic of torment, frustration and also soaring ethereal voiced scales. The opening diorama ‘Post Truth’ is like a fucked-up, squalid underpass musical on a MGM movie set that moves from a drizzle of industrial Fat White Family post-punk to twinkled These New Puritans dreamy dramatic choral sirens and a performance of electronic Stomp. But changing the makeup, as they do continuously on this album, they go for a creeping merger of La Haine Hip-Hop and Eno on ‘Favour Your Fortune’.  All the while the tensions and tawny angulations of PiL, Wire and Crispy Ambulance wane and conspire in the background. Crack Cloud have managed to convey the unease whilst dreaming big on an album I can’t recommend enough.  (DV)

The Cult Of Free Love ‘Visions’
(Northern Star Records)

What we have here is the first release from the born again influential underground label Northern Star; a label that released the four CD Psychedelica series of compilations that caught the mood and excitement of the bourgeoning new psychedelic scene of the time. This series of releases influenced many a new band and caught some now very well known and established bands early in their careers. So to kick off the rebirth of the mighty fine label we have the second album from The Cult Of Free Love, and to be honest if this album had been released on the Fruits Der Mer label it would have already sold out and been acclaimed as a modern psychedelic masterpiece. Yes, this album is that good.

Orb like trance and late 80’s acid house mingle with the lost summer of love of ‘67 to weave a spell of blissed out magic. There is no one highlight on Visions as the whole album is one long stream of melody and blissed out splendor. This album I cannot recommend enough to anyone with a love of modern psychedelia or somebody wanting to know what it was like to visit the legendary Hacienda in its pomp: An album to turn this winter of discontent into the third summer of love.  (BBS)

D…..

The Dandy’s Boutique ‘Delightful Weirdo’
(Self Release)

I know nothing of The Dandy’s Boutique, an artist I came across being played on the excellent Graham Duff radio show on Totally Radio; the track being the rather wonderful ‘Stay Away’, which has a bass riff and a half part “Girls and Boys”, part grab your handbag put it in the middle of the dancefloor and boogie: Is there anything quite as life affirming as a DIY disco ditty?!

Anyway, ‘Stay Away’ happens to kick off this rather lovely album; an album that combines synth-pop, dance and indie-pop to great effect, and is indeed greatly affecting, especially on the synth ballad ‘Don’t Let Go’. And goes on exploring the virtues of having humour, originality and talent; ‘Pitter Patter’ being a fine instrumental, reminding me what the Great Joe Meek may have done if left alone with a synth for an hour or so. What I like most about this album is the overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy even on the upbeat dance tracks like ‘Passing The Time’. There is a certain feel that I find quite refreshing. I think Dandy’s Boutique might not quite realize how good they actually are, as this is a fine album indeed and people should give it a listen. (BBS)

Read In Full

Miles Davis ‘The Lost Septet’
(Sleepy Night Records)

Those lucky bastards, and I mean the Viennese crowd lucky enough to have experienced this whomping, sleazed, dark and beastly jazz-rock maelstrom from the late great Miles Davis and his Septet troupe, on the night of the 5th November 1971. Of course they didn’t bloody appreciate it, still hung up on old tooting-in-blue Davis, when the maestro had moved on into the well of mental destruction, hauling his crew across Europe in that pivotal year of bad juju. 

Capturing the grandee of eclectic jazz futurism and an ark of godly status albums (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live Evil and Jack Johnson), The Lost Septet (so-called because this magic collection of cats never recorded together in the studio, and so this exists as one of the only testaments to this grouping actually ever happening) simpers, thralls, gushes and boogies in that trumpet genius’s famous “rock phase”. The enviable lineup of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson, Ndugu Leon Chancler, Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Foreman prowl, skulk, whelp and burble through the riffed-on material, pushing jazz into hard psychedelic heavy rock. Davis’s pal-up with Hendrix was proving a serious influence, and you can hear that throughout this deeply challenging live opus.

From cathouse salacious slinking ‘Honky Tonk’ to a Shamanistic sledge ride through the Ghetto styling of ‘What I Say’, and the sumptuous laidback funk sucker ‘It’s About That Time’, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone sounding this fucking great and dangerously brooding in 2020. Hence why despite being fifty years old, it is still one of the best things you can hope to hear this whole year. Thank Christ it has been saved from bootleg rarity to a proper release in the year of pandemic.  (DV)

Dean & Britta ‘Quarantine Tapes’
(Double Feature Records)

Thank god for the diaphanous, hushed pairing of Luna band mates Britta Philips and Dean Wareham (also formerly of Galaxie 500 fame) to lift spirits and offer a hymnal communal in times of anxious uncertainty. The aptly named Quarantine Tapes is made up of cover versions recorded during the first wave of lockdown, some in the home studio, others taken direct from livestream performances.

It helps that the material is so damn good in the first place, yet the duo’s languid and hauntingly beautiful Lee Hazelwood trademark sound gives a certain translucent and touching quality to songs from acts as diverse as Kraftwerk, The Clash and the late (sadly passing away only this year in March) no wave disco icon Christine. Maybe as a gesture to another unfortunate loss this year (Florian Schneider) they perform a magical, advent version of the candescent Kraftwerk hymn ‘Neonlicht’ (or ‘Neon Lights’) that is just lovely. Elsewhere they give The Bee Gees plaintive ‘Massachusettes’ a touch of Laurel Canyon, and perform a languorous cover of Bardo Pond’s ethereal elegy opus ‘Ride Into The Sun’.

Capturing the current mood music well, the lockdown duo offers a most disarming and quite affair of the heart in mentally fatiguing and depressing times. (DV)  

Die Wilde Jagd ‘Haut’
(Bureau B)

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 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.

It’s certainly an imaginative world that awaits the listener on this 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.  (DV)

The Dupont Circles ‘In Search of the Family Gredunza’
(Beautiful Music Records)

The combination of the majestic jangle of c86 and Beatle boots is and can be a thing of great beauty, especially when it is performed with the vigour and enthusiasm that the – near legendary in some circles – cult band The Dupont Circles gives it. A debut album that has taken 30 years to arrive and now brought to us by the beautiful in name and beautiful in nature and music Beautiful Music Records label.

The Dupont Circles love a good melody and a witty lyric and a 60s garage rock guitar riff: the track ‘Tick Tock’ wouldn’t sound out of a place on a Rubbles comp; a rather marvellous adventure of a track as is the psych tinged Joe Meek like following instrumental, ‘Sputnik’. My Personal favourite track on this album though is the wonderful Television Personalities like ‘53 Bicycles’ – there is also a cover of the TP’S ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’. This album is a joyful romp through the magical world of The Dupont Circles; a world where the guitar and Farisa organ is king and the national anthem alternates between “My Generation” and “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”. A rather marvellous land I want to move to immediately.  (BBS)

Bob Dylan ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’
(Columbia)

Greyhound bus philosopher, medicine show huckster and Boomer Bible troubadour wanderer, Dylan performs another one of his grand illusions in encompassing a whole generational epoch on his latest songbook. Perhaps among his best work in decades, the “Rough And Rowdy” sagacious chapter in a nigh sixty-year career manages to be both elegiac and playful in equal measures; cramming in every kind of reference point, from historical characters to pop culture and the travails of the Kennedys and their aspirations on the epic eulogy finale ‘Murder Most Foul’: A death knell bookend to the previous fifty years of a dominant America that marks perhaps the failures of a whole generation.

He’s Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and then some (names in lyrics that should elicit groans but somehow don’t sound glib and ridiculous) on an album that’s impact can be measured in swigs from a bottle of fine red wine. A humbled legend accompanied by the subtlest, thinnest of brushed drum shuffles, Hawaiian bowed and bluesy guitar, this is a relaxed Dylan, custodian of the faith, raunchy and statesman like yet juggling resignation with serenaded romance, reverence and death. ‘My Own Version Of You’ runs through a lyrical rasp of persecution, slavery and ideals turned murderous (From Troy to The Crusades to Marx), whilst the hymnal lulled and cooed soothing gospel ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ sounds like a genuine token of faith and spiritual willingness. Dylan is almost handing down the baton to the sisterhood on the beautiful saving grace attempt at a spiritual anthem on ‘Mother Of Muses’. Yet Dylan strikes up some of that down ’n’ dirty earthy electrified blues, on the homage to the power of the tragic turned-on blues progenitor Jimmy Reed and his influence.

From Elm Street to the Aquarian Age, and across the Rubicon, Dylan seems as weary as he is unapologetic and nostalgic; dragging that (nearly) 80 year old timbre and soul through the mire to once more offer a grizzled but not yet finished Boomer commentary on our sorry arses. This is the record we deserved and needed, as Dylan proves to be a godsend. Yes it’s nostalgic, and there isn’t any pinning of virtues to any particular political angst, but Dylan isn’t going to make it easy for you. A great work of art that just keeps giving. (DV)

E……

Kahil El’Zabar ‘Spirit Groove Ft. David Murray’ & ‘America The Beautiful’
(Spiritmuse)

Continuing a creative partnership with the Spiritmuse label, Chicago jazz luminary Kahil El’Zabar has released two essential ambitious sweeping titles in 2020; working yet again with an ever changing lineup of fellow visionaries and rising virtuosos from his home city and beyond.  The first of which is the Spirit Groove album collaboration with David Murray, the second, America The Beautiful, sees the School of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians alumni and five decade jazz veteran piece together a suitable afflatus cry from the despair of modern America.

Spirit Groove, sees a reconnection, a spiritual bound between the Chicago jazz drumming and percussionist doyen El’ Zabar and his tenor sax and bass clarinet maestro foil Murray. Quenching the soul with that “spiritual groove”, they’ve laid down a both swinging and mesmeric alternative jazz service of mediation but also, and above all, they push for a positive change in the most inflamed and dangerous of times. El’ Zabar’s atavistic with a modern pulse soul and jazz experiments are coupled with Murray’s untethered long and short breath saxophone contortions on an album of new, specially written material and expansions of compositions from the back catalogue.

The second title sees him build a fully realized album around the aggrandized anthem, America The Beautiful. An extraordinary portrait of the current mood, El’ Zabar’s conscious divine spiritual jazz opus channels the contorted soul of Chicago’s rich musical heritage; spanning eras as old as ancient Africa, the be-bop, swing eras, leaping through the avant-garde and 80s dance music culture to create a soulful and always grooving purview of the American social-political divide in 2020: Election year. From Coltrane to Bernstein, primitive Chicago House to Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, this is an expansive dig into the soul, heart and health of a nation in divisive turmoil: A healing process in fact. 

Both albums offer a congruous communion of transformative, essential jazz, just when we needed it.  (DV)

Read In Full Here and Here

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’
(Blang/Gare du Nord/HLP19/I Blame/Jezus Factory)

Willed on by a whole quintet of labels, the first album in a good few years from the excitable and soulful no wave Warrington troupe Extradition Order is a poignant return to the American history books. Dedicated in part to founding member Nick Boardman who passed away in 2018 (his legacy permeates this album, whether as a guiding influence or through his bass hooks and singing), the Order’s vessel this time around is “the destroyer of worlds”, polyglot genius behind the fateful A-bomb Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Taking the album’s title from the Oppenheimer biography of the same name, American Prometheus is a guide to a visceral concept of the lamentable, profane and hysterical. Just as the band did with their both pining and erratic opus to the Kennedy dynasty (on the 2015 Kennedy LP), the extended cast of unfortunate and listless wives, lovers, set adrift family members, rivals and enablers are given a voice in the linear story of this incredible scientist; one who, as it turns out, had quite the checkered and controversial life story. With colliery soul requiems, prowling hints of Blurt, cheerleader Grease rah-rah and bursts of My Life Story, The Pop Group, Style Council and The Mekons, Extradition Order find parallels in 2020 by blowing open the myths and dramas behind the conflicted Oppenheimer: warts and all. American Prometheus is another mini triumph from a band that manages to bridge the fury and wrath of punk with the contorting squawks and funk of no wave and the brassy heralded romantic yearns of northern soul: good going guys. (DV)

Read In Full

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.

Playlist/Dominic Valvona




Cool shit that the Monolith Cocktail founder and instigator Dominic Valvona has pulled together, the Social playlist is a themeless selection of eclectic tracks from across the globe and ages. Representing not only his tastes but the blogs, these regular playlists can be viewed as an imaginary radio show, a taste of Dominic’s DJ sets over 25 plus years. Placed in a way as to ape a listening journey, though feel free to listen to it as you wish, each playlist bridges a myriad of musical treasures to enjoy and also explore – and of course, to dance away the hours to.

The latest volume includes a few tributes to those we’ve lost; a sprinkle of rock deity Little Richard, Afrobeat and Afrojazz doyan Tony Allen, and electronic music progenitor Florian Schneider amongst the unusual usual mix of post-punk, transcendence, psychedelic, electronic, folk, acid country, dreams…blah blah blah. We could go on and on. Just listen and have a whale of a time, even in these most anxious of times.


https://open.spotify.com/user/dominicvalvona/playlist/0EtbufwUYoWJRBU8NffvO7

Tracks in full: 

Little Richard  ‘King Of Rock And Roll’
Rasputin’s Stash  ‘What’s On Your Mind’
Rodian G.A.  ‘Nu Tu Vei Fi’
Nat Turner Rebellion  ‘Laugh To Keep From Crying’
24 Carat Black  ‘Brown-Baggin”
Hieroglyphics  ‘All Things’
Faine Jade  ‘Ballad Of The Bad Guys’
Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies  ‘Nightmare Train’
Blonde On Blonde  ‘Circles’
Merrell Fankhauser & H.M.S Bounty  ‘Everybody’s Talkin”
Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso  ‘Cento Mani e Cento Occhi’
Peter Janes  ‘For The Sake Of Time’
Le Orme  ‘Summer Calling’
Jeff Simmons  ‘Appian Way’
Lula Cortes & Lailson  ‘Satwa’
Anandi Bhattacharya  ‘Jai Ganesh’
Yusef Lateef  ‘Ching Miau’
Tony Allen  ‘Cool Cats’
Oliver Nelson  ‘Anacrusis’
Embryo  ‘Code 7’
yuk.  ‘Kulam’
Autechre  ‘sinistrailAB air’
Jennifer Touch  ‘Chemistry’
Kraftwerk  ‘Pocket Calculator’
Lizzy Mercier Descloux  ‘Sports Spotnicks’
Jean-Luc Ponty  ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
Allan Wachs  ‘The Lord Will Provide’
Delaney & Bonnie  ‘Poor Elijah’
Will Boelts  ‘Boring’
Dunkelziffer  ‘(Do Watch You Can) Prof.’
Officer!  ‘Anagrams’
Little Richard  ‘Hound Dog’
Essential Logic  ‘Quality Crayon Wax O.K.’
Granicus  ‘Hollywood Star’
Tony Allen  ‘Nepa’
David Sancious  ‘further In The Forest Of Feelings’
Damara  ‘Mmamamkhabtha’
Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘Salilento’
Boogie Down Productions  ‘Remix For P Is Free’
Keith Hudson  ‘Man From Shooters Hill’
Julian Koster  ‘The Sea Of Tranquility’
Kraftwerk  ‘Endless Endless’


And for those without Spotify access, a smattering of video versions:



























Videos/Singles/LPs
Dominic Valvona




In quick succession, following last week’s inaugural roundup of 2020 of perused singles, videos, previews and the odd album that threaten to overload our inboxes, another selection of releases that you need to know about. This week’s honors go to Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela, Brona McVittie, Ippu Mitsui, Verses Bang and JZ Replacement.


Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela  ‘We’ve Landed’
(World Circuit Records)  Preview Video


 

This is one convergence of talent worth ‘rejoicing’. Arguably two of the most important motivator/instigators in the development of African music over the last 50 years, Afrobeat progenitor, drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen and his foil trumpet virtuoso, bandleader, activist and South African national treasure, the late Hugh Masekela, finally crossed paths in 2010 to record this sublime swinging and lilted atmospheric album: an album that had been in the making since the two central figures in Afrobeat and Afrojazz first met in the 1970s. However, those original sessions were put on hold until last year.

With renewed resolution, Allen and producer Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album last year at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians including Tom Herbert (Acoustic Ladyland/The Invisible), Joe Armon-Jones (Ezra Collective), Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko) and Steve Williamson.

Rejoice is set to drop on the 20th March 2020; until then here’s the loose Francophone swinging jazz announcement ‘We’ve Landed’ to savior: every bit as effortlessly cool, bouncing and smoky as you’d expect. Look out for a full review on the site in the next month or so.

Links of interest from our archives

Hugh Masekela ’’66-‘76’

Tony Allen ‘The Source’

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra  ‘A.H.E.O’


JZ Replacement  ‘Tubuka’
(Rainy Days Records)  Single/Now

Introducing the new dynamic fusion project from saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev (Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland) and drummer Jamie Murray (Sun Ra Arkestra, Native Dancer), the first single to drop from the JZ Replacement moniker duo is the off-kilter acceleration of moodier Massive attack prowls, lurching breakbeats, d’n’b and vortex squawking contemporary jazz with blasts of hard bop, ‘Tubuka’.

With an already enviable providence as both a performing duo in their own right and with a host of luminaries on the scene, Strigalev and Murray look further afield to develop and challenge their sound. As part of that challenge, the duos upcoming new LP, Disrespectful (due to drop on the 13th March 2020) was recorded with the increasingly in-demand L.A. bass master, Tim Lefebvre (who played with the Donny McCaslin led troupe that backed David Bowie on his swansong album, but also such notable talent as Wayne Krantz, Elvis Costello and Mark Guiliana). On the evidence of this precursor single, the album promises to be a ball of exploratory jazz and grooves.


Verses Bang  ‘The Eagle Has Landed’
Single/Video/January 2020


In case you missed one of the UK’s most burgeoning talents on the Hip-Hop and beyond music scene, the ever sartorially sharp Verses Bang drops a reminder single and new video from last year’s high anxiety deconstruction of an addicted personality, Cardigans & Calories, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. From his own mission control, Verses’ convergence of rap, grime and trap lurks menacingly on this unsanctioned Apollo flight into the shadows.

Verses name drops idiosyncratic references to British culture and TV and tongue-in-cheek digs at the varnished validation culture of many of his more puffed-up peers on social media, with the pressures of trying to make it whilst battling those addictions. One to watch for sure in 2020.


Ippu Mitsui  ‘Break Through 50 Watts’
(Pure Spark Records)  LP/23rd January 2020


Always in a state of developing and reworking, Tokyo electronic composer and label boss Ippu Mitsui draws breath with an album of rerecorded, remasterd and in some cases, alternate visions of his back catalogue on Break Through 50 Watts.

Delivered via his very own burgeoning experimental electro and dance label, Pure Sparks Records, Ippu hurtles and careers through a miscellaneous of tracks from 2017, including a freshly coated twitch-house take of the opening 32-bit, dial-up tone skittish collage ‘Bug’s Wing’s’ (taken from his L+R LP for the Edinburgh label Bearsuit Records) and a sophisticated shadowy airy refresh of the cruising ‘Rotation’ (taken from his Shift Down EP for Submarine Broadcasting Company). Ippu watchers might also recognize remasters of the E Noise EP’s breakbeat thriller ‘Chromium’ and the Resonance EP’s re-Warp busy percussive ‘Biorhythm’. Scattered amongst these are a host of equally cybernetic and machine code engineered techno treats: the dulcimer chiming timepiece soundtrack ‘Recovery’, melodic childlike piano downtempo ‘Playground’ and the strange putting-robots-to-sleep deconstructive techno number ‘Sea Slug In Love’ being some of the more interesting and diverse tracks on offer.

New to the charms and exploration of Ippu Mitsui, then this collection would be a grand starting point to a one-man electro and techno industry.

Links of interest from our archives

Ippu Mitsui  ‘L + R’


Brona McVittie  ‘The Green Man/Eileen Aroon’
(Company of Corkbots)  Single/20th January 2020


In anticipation of the ephemeral harpist and diaphanous lulled singer’s second solo album this year, Brona Mcvittie releases a couplet of fluttery yearnings that pay homage to Celtic imbued contoured landscapes. Brona’s magical, lingering, self-penned ode to the atavistic ‘The Green Man’ (a song idea that “literally grew out of the trees visible from my living room window”) and beautifully sang version of the Carroll O’ Daly 14th century paean ‘Eileen Aroon’ (a song in which the protagonist of that tale espouses his love for Eleanor Kavanagh, daughter of the Leinster chieftain, comparing her to a “flower of the hazel glade”) continue the harp-led evocations and trip-folk cinematic landscaping of the debut LP We Are Wildlife (which made our albums of 2018).

Producing melodies and phrases that often feel like a breath or just the merest presence of the harp and voice, Brona amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or Boards of Canada the next.

Be sure to keep an eye out for a future review of that upcoming album.

Links of interest from our archives

Brona McVittie  ‘We Are Wildlife’

CHOICE  ALBUMS/EPS  OF  2017  PART  ONE:  A – L
SELECTION/WORDS:  DOMINIC  VALVONA  &  MATT  OLIVER





The decision making process: 

Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavors to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album is more deserving of their fatuous number 32 spot than another.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2017 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2017, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

 

The Context: An Age Of Hysteria. Dominic Valvona

The silent majority to the wrath and often derision of a mouthy, louder, minority carried on defying and surprising the establishment on both sides of the political divide in 2017. The ‘outraged’ of Tunbridge Wells in the letters pages of yore has been replaced with the ‘outraged of social media’, as the year’s unofficial collective anxious end times tagline #losingourshit replaces moderation, distance and analyses: comment before taking it in fully and reading without prejudice.

Context is thrown out the window when the instant gratification of outrage surfaces.

Despite the rolling news miasma of events feeding into the social media vacuum that has now, more or less, become impossible to ignore or leave; despite the encroachment on every facet of our daily lives by technology and the progressive zealots augurs of a complete matrix like synchronization with our gadgets and tech, the fact that people can be bothered to release music on vinyl still, let alone cassette tapes, is heartening, even if the naysayers bemoan that it’s a gimmick, mostly repackaging old material and reissues or an excuse to charge a lot of money for the tactile and physical. The death of everything physical – from books to newspapers, vinyl to CDs – has always been exaggerated; fueled in hope more than actual demand by the camarilla of Silicon Valley.

Still, streaming is fast becoming the most popular model, even though hardly anyone is benefitting – even Spotify, whose business model is particularly hostile towards the artist, is branching out into other industries, including makeup, because though their value is constantly marketed as high, they have failed to make a profit. Soundcloud, running ads now, is constantly teetering on the edge of folding. And the high expectations, glossy launch of the artist love-in Tidal has failed likewise in changing that model, currently languishing way behind its rivals. Bandcamp meanwhile remains the best choice for artists at present, and gives more control to those who use it. Yet, Bandcamp have recently moved into marketing those who frequent its site, writing roundups and blog posts, moving into a promotional critic’s role. How far this will go is anyone’s guess, I’m a little uncomfortable myself with its implications, its method of choosing the worthy from its vast catalogue, and what incentivizes them. How any of these platforms will hold-up going into another uncertain year politically and economically is anyone’s guess, yet despite the constant harping and expectancy of one of these sites and many like them to close, they’ve all managed to limp on regardless.

A teetering stasis between the physical and the digital exists for now. Writing anyone off at this stage would be foolish.

 

History is a marvelous scholarly pursuit. Yet anything past the year dot of social media’s conception is either revised to fit contemporary fashions or discarded totally. And so a sense of perspective is needed more than ever, especially up against the worrying diplomatic and military developments taking place throughout the Middle East, Europe (both at the very heart of the EU, including Brexit and with the unfolding independence row in Catalonia, but also Russia’s continuing moves and baiting in the Ukraine), Central and South America and Asia.

We also have the march of the robots and automation to consider, the impact of which will take a little time to filter through but will eventually change all our lives, not necessarily for the better – the most repeated mantra that it will only replace the most monotonous, labour intensive and under resourced job roles shtick is evidently untrue, as automation, bots and the programs being designed and rolled out are coming not only for the middle class occupations but all our creative roles too.

Unsurprisingly much of the music that has been released in the past year reflects the ‘fake news’ obsessed, Trumpism, post-postmodern era in which we find ourselves, some brilliantly, others whining and melodramatic – the cyclone of #metoo and the mounting charge sheet of sexual assaults and misdemeanours stacking up against men in, it seems, most industries is live, but yet to filter through yet on record (well there are few exceptions of course). Not many artists offer answers, certainty or solutions though. And some would say that we’re missing the venom, bite, and the rebellious streak that defined the spirit of rock’n’roll, punk and hip-hop.

And so below, the albums and EPs chosen by myself, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms reflect the concerns, protestation, lament of the times in which we live: for better or for worse. And not just from the myopic view of the UK, Europe and North American music scenes, but also from Africa, South America, Australasia and Southeast Asia. The Monolith Cocktail has always done its utmost to draw our readers attention to what’s happening outside the Western dominated music industry, and this year’s two-part feature includes artists as diverse as the entrancing Algerian/Tunisian Bargou 08 and Moroccan Gnawa legend Maalem Mahmoud Gania.

So without further ado…here is the first part of this year’s ‘choice albums’ feature. Part two will follow in a week’s time, and our final Quarterly Revue Playlist the week after that.

A.

Yazz Ahmed   ‘La Saboteuse’   (Naim Records)

Encapsulating the dreamy enchantment and exotic peregrinations of her Bahrain heritage with the polygenesis jazz scene of her London home, soloist, collaborator and composer extraordinaire Yazz Ahmed takes us on an evocative, transcendental at times, voyage with her new album, La Saboteuse.

Working with everyone from Radiohead – who’s Bloom track is covered by Yazz on this imaginative Arabian suffused suite – to These New Puritans, from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to Amel Zen, trumpet virtuoso – though she seems to be proficient with most wind and brass instruments, including the flugelhorn – Yazz steps out to lead her own small troupe on her first solo album since 2011’s Finding My Way Home. With Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes piano, she lingers in an entrancing and often mysterious world of magical brooding vistas and dusky silhouetted sand dunes.

Isolated trumpet lingers and wafting meditations and traverse style vignettes are placed between longer performances of spiritual and Miles Davis sublimity, as Yazz guides us under the starry skies of Arabia and beyond. Dominic Valvona


Tony Allen  ‘The Source’  (Bluenote)

The divine rhythm-provider to Fela Kuti, trustee of the Afrobeat groove, Tony Allen has, and not before time, been recognized for his ability to transcend the style he’s rightly venerated for. Hardly surprising to find him furnishing the jazz tastemakers choice label, Blue Note, with an impressive hybrid album of both – though arguably Afrobeat and jazz have influenced and inspired each other over the decades.

Releasing a four-track homage earlier in the year for the same label, a nod to one of his inspirations, Art Blakey (A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers), Allen traverses that Blakey swing and the sound of the Savoy label via Lagos and the Parisian joints of the city he has called home for years on the polyrhythm elasticated The Source. Joining him on this enterprise is a band of Paris jazz musicians and the Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue providing the licks, as well as the odd guest spot, including Damon Albarn’s low key contribution to the heralding Kuti funk Cool Cats – a reference no doubt to ‘Sir’ Victor Olaiya’s highlife band of the same name that Allen was hired to play claves for in his early career.

As I say, it has the swing, it has the funk, it has the jazz, and most definitely it returns to the source. Allen bends morphs and pushes those rhythms beyond showboating to produce a remarkable fusion and synergy. DV


Chino Amobi  ‘PARADISO’  (UNO)

Looking out from the balcony of a crumbling civilization, reciting a chilling poetic melodramatic transmogrification of Edgar Allan Poe’s The City In The Sea, as tumultuous storms and waves, the sound of seagulls, the crashing of towers fallen into the sea and gargling howls conjure up all manner of Chthonian trepidation, Chino Amobi’s displaced stark and bleak electronic collage soundtrack PARADISO begins as it means to go on.

The Richmond, Virginia artist has dropped his Diamond Black Hearted Boy moniker in favour of his own name for this expansive plunge into the void. And what a dark world it is to discard masks and alter egos in.

A co-founder of the NON collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, Amobi’s remit is focused on ‘using sound as’ the ‘primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power. The exploration of ‘non, prior to the adjective gives intel into the focus of the label, creating sound opposing contemporary canons’.

This translates in the short concatenate serialist style vignettes and passages of worrying trepidation, heavy thumping, bleak, chilling and uncertain twisted minimal electronica, concrete, post punk, Foley sounds and experimental dystopian vistas. A long list of NON collaborators make appearances on this disturbing, at times violent, end times suite, whether it’s through narrated passages, occasional erratic and gauze-y raps or radio show interjections.

A contorted reality awaits, a world without end. Are we circling the void or already in it? Meanwhile crows feed on the flesh, heralded fanfares sound and bestial cyclones blow us off course from Paradise Lost into a sonic chaos. Yet, we’re not so lost as to be totally incapable of redemption; and the ill effects, as the glimmers that do appear allude and Amobi himself has suggested, are reversible. DV


Austra  ‘Future Politics’

Imbued by, amongst others, the work of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams and their manifesto for the end of capitalism tome, Inventing The Future, which calls for and envisions better days for all of us – an escape from the toxic neoliberalism that has defined that last twenty years -, the Canadian synth siren Katie Stelmanis creates a most encapsulating, pining and beautiful glossy synthesizer pop opus on Future Politics.

Written before the Trump victory of 2016 and the spiraling decay of both political and societal moderation that followed in its wake, Stelmanis, under her Austra persona, has inadvertently synchronized her angelical and suffused dreamy pop swooning airs, arias and coos to the anxious end times.

Stelmanis excels, as you will hear for yourselves, in evocative and cool glimmer-of-hope dreamy minimalist electronica pop. She strips away any excess this time around, going further than usual in producing a starker but highly melodious, trance-y and vaporous swooning melodrama fit for the club and heart. DV


B.

Bargou 08  ‘Targ’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, soaring scale vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening track, Chechel Khater. And that’s all you’d need, except there’s another eight equally evocative and thrilling tracks to hear.

The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.

Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the album’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with his musical partner, producer and the album’s keyboard player Sofyann Ben Youssef captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure. DV

Full review…


Beans  ‘Love Me Tonight’  (Tygr Rawwk Records)

 

Returning after a short hiatus with a highly prolific fervor, the founding member of the legendary Anti-Pop Consortium leftfield hip-hop troop Beans has made a sort of triple album comeback; putting out a triumvirate of bold, salacious, congruous and provocative records all within a few months of each other. It’s hard to choose but preference dictates that it is the middle of that trio Love Me Tonight that edges it.

A futuristic gleam of eeriness and trepidation hangs over proceedings as Beans travails Cliff Martinez meets Daft Punk club, torture chamber chiming gloom, Super Mario jazz acceleration, Exorcist organ and female led R&B. Changing moods convincingly each and every time, you think you’re getting a Kanye West style dancefloor disco rap album one minute, the next, a dystopian cerebral hip-hop ride into the abyss.

Reading out prose, narratives, scripts and passages like a rap ‘beat poet’ (as well as recording Beans has also released his debut novel, Die Tonight, this year) Beans spit is almost like abstract narration; lyrics broken down into compounds like chemistry and descriptive soliloquy.

In keeping with rap music’s provocative of featuring a roll call of collaborators and guests, Elucid and the Kid Prolific chide in on the hiccup scratching, “that dream is over”, – and perhaps my favourite track of Beans – dark chiming Waterboarding, and the darkwave R&B artist Prince Terrence adding the right soulful yearning tones to the Talons love-in, and pep to the club pumped opener, Apeshit.

Passing lyrical dexterity and abstract thoughts on all the ills currently spinning round in the tumult vortex of 2017, but also carrying on a theme of domestic abuse through a number of tracks, with a running forensic detailed commentary on a father and son crime scene on the disturbing V.X., Beans Love Me Tonight seems like a cry for help, or at least an attempt to make sense of it all. Though at times the lyrics are outright schlock pornographic, and accent hardly plaintive. In a manner it’s a tease, attracting certain condemnation as well as respect. DV


Big Toast & Ill Move Sporadic  ‘You Are Not Special’  (Starch Records)

“Blocking today’s culture of aspiration with dollops of common sense; a specialist subject for this year’s UK curriculum that won’t fail you”. RnV, Aug 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Big Toast and Ill Move Sporadic are not the knights in shining armour the situation requires, rerouting British bulldog spirit by mapping out modern reality more genuine than a million so called keep-it-realists. With one of the great voices to dwarf the mic on his way to becoming his own protest march, Big Toast hammers home the black and white of life ten times over, a dismissive totem who won’t budge for anyone and will battle any life aspect until it’s crying back to its casting couch.

IMS has the cheek to throw in a couple of slow jams to tuck you in when Toast is tucking you up, otherwise coming out swinging from the first bell and landing tooth-loosening one-twos. Anti-motivational speakers who will get your arse in gear, and what the youth of today should be listening to. Matt Oliver


Black Angels  ‘Death Song’  (Partisan Records)

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic Death Song must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory. DV

Full review…


The Bordellos  ‘Love, Life And Billy Fury’  (Recordiau Prin)

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public at a whim, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances. DV

Full review…


Brother Ali  ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’  (Rhymesayers)

“A triumph of crowd gathering words to the wise meets devil’s advocacy, guaranteeing end of term honours”.  RnV. May 17

In these troubled times we need assurance and support more than ever. Comparing two of 2017’s most prominent protesters, Joey Bada$$ (on All Amerikkkan Bada$$) got you to show your colours while keeping it funky. Brother Ali on the other hand was there so a circle could form around him when handing out affirmative rhymes that wouldn’t sound out of a place around a campfire, promising the “type of love you can’t type with your thumbs”.

Without detracting from the former, it’s the latter’s warmth that makes him sound like he’s talking to you one to one, and where a rapt audience will follow, that gets the nod; a soft, grit-speckled delivery assuring everything’s gonna work out even when he’s recounting history lessons to the contrary. To a backdrop of blazing suns starting to dip and winter huddles taking shape thanks to great cleanse and polish from Atmosphere’s Ant Davis, it’s confirmation you should always put faith in Brother Ali’s hands. MO


C.

Dr. Chan  ‘Southside Suicides’  (Stolen Body Records)

Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.

Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, The Standells, The Rationales, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap” – cue Florida’s $uicideboy$ and their dollar sign typeface indulgence – into the riot on their Southside Suicides protest. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.

Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s rage and insolence is in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast. DV

Full review…


Oliver Cherer  ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’  (Wayside & Woodland)

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) from the man behind Dollboy, Oliver Cherer, weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic protagonist Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, but every bit as revealing about our present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

In short, it is a most stunning, ambitious and beautiful minor opus. For those who like their folk and pastoral eerie and esoteric. DV

Full review…


The Church  ‘Man Woman Life Death Infinity’

To infinity and beyond, Australia’s stalwart alternative rock and pop guitar romantics The Church, nearly thirty years since their inception continue to breathily produce quiet masterpieces; continue to experiment and explore new sonic textures. Travelling into the ethereal, the sagacious Man Woman Life Death Infinity is a suffused glide and traverse of air-y vapours and misty mystery; beginning with the opening, soaring minor opus Another Century, sustained throughout, with each song materializing out of the ether.

Reflecting but an unconscious inspiration, The Church’s founding member Steve Kirby calls this album the group’s “water record”. Though all the characteristics of water, trickling chords, cascaded dripping notes and a sense of floating are all correct, this dreamy pop and transient songbook seems to leave the ocean floor and rivers for something more astral. Songs such as Submarine for instance seem imbued with a spirit of the Kosmische. Yet fans of the group’s staple of pop guitar swan songs and subtle psychedelic 80s lovelorn classics will love Before The Deluge and I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know: both of which show traces of that college rock meets garage riffage that arguably inspired or was picked up by The Stone Roses.

Still writing timeless anthems without lazily reverting to the back catalogue, still pushing forward after four decades, The Church can still illuminate and surprise. This, there 26th, album is anything but jaded. If anything it seems that The Church are still very much in the game, and able to balance familiarity with discovery.  DV


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah  ‘The Tourist’

Inimitably jump-starting a cerebral indie-pop scene in the mid noughties with his unique off-kilter melodies and quivered, yodeled vocals, the fiercely independent, Alec Ounsworth created major ripples with his nom de plume, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-released debut in 2005.

Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying to make sense of it all on The Tourist. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet this album is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs.

Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.

Clocking in at well under the forty minute mark (bands and artists take note) The Tourist is an unlabored, near-perfect melodious album. It says all it needs to and more; free of indulgence, and despite its bombast, sophisticated suffused layering is incredibly lean and brisk. A most enjoyable if poignant experience, this album already sets the benchmark in 2017, and is without doubt one of CYHSY’s best. DV

Full review…



Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produces a ‘wave’ fixated lamenting and balletic travail and a surprise highlight of 2017. DV

Full review…


D.

Daniel Son  ‘Remo Gaggi’  (Crate Divizion)

“Toasting the high life and low lives, gangster rap bearing honourable intentions”. RnV, May 17

Canadian slick talker Daniel Son is the front for this, one of many Giallo Point heists that the UK producer ran during 2017. With the authentic mob experience evident in such titles as Flat Tyers, Car Seizures, Strippers Den etc and the kingpin adoring the sleeve, it’s instantly noticeable how dry GP’s noir-ish production is; sharply tailored loops of muted house band jazz that has seen nefarious comings and goings, but are gagged by confidentiality agreements and the fear of loose lips sinking ships.

Potent in what it doesn’t disclose, display one bead of sweat and you’re in trouble. Before you know it Daniel Son – “we the reason that the yacht insurance be going up” – has decked you with a leg sweep before disappearing back into the night. While it’s easy to apply Godfatherly stereotypes to Remo Gaggi, the style of this international union contrasting brash and diligent, compellingly separates the best from the rest. MO


Dope KNife  ‘NineteenEightyFour’  (Strange Famous)

“An absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Big Brother would think twice about listening in”.  RnV, Feb 17

We’re not trying to discredit Dope KNife by saying that NineteenEightyFour is an almost unfashionable antidote to tween trap, happily, mercilessly fanning the flames of the very 2017 argument of what constitutes real hip-hop between upstarts and originals (and if there’s an argument abound, it’s only right that Sage Francis is tagged in as well). Far from an Orwellian vision yet probably something of a dystopia to some as he walks with an intimidating shadow, DK comes slathered in dirt, ready to punch you in the ear with a splattered larynx.

As a one-man steamroller on beats and rhymes it’s not an exact science, but that’s absolutely fine with us, the battle-hardened, bitter-as-blasé (yet also able to reference the Fresh Prince theme tune) Georgia emcee leaving competition standing (“I can’t help being a damn cynic, this damn planet got a fucking lot of wack in it”). MO



The Doppelgangaz  ‘Dopp Hopp’  (Groggy Pack)

“A drop of ‘Dopp Hopp’ a day will keep the haters away; will creep up on the button marked ‘repeat’ until it progresses to heavy rotation”. RnV, Jul 17

Despite the sub-Gothic sleeve looking like the NY pair are auditioning badly for a death metal gig, Dopp Hopp ranks high on this year’s list on the strength of its smoothness alone. “Live by the cloak, die by the cloak” say The Ghastly Duo; but the mystery ends once their views from West Coast low riders, developing a smoky lens that’s intoxicating but never fuggy, embrace the inevitable sunshine.

Also readymade for reminiscing as on E.W.W. and Strong Ankles, the ‘Gangaz have set themselves the relatively easy task of riding the vibes properly, and they oblige with a natty turn of phrase prepared to shift towards the nearest street corner at their leisure. Dopp Hopp is another feather in a cap looking more and more like the crown jewels. Beats and rhymes guarantee return visits to golden-edged climes, where you simply have to rewind the boast that “if ‘Dopp Hopp’ was a beer, it’d be an IPA”. MO


75 Dollar Bill  ‘Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock’
(Glitterbeat Records)

This album could have rightly qualified for last year’s feature, but re-launched, repackaged for Glitterbeat Records’ burgeoning new imprint tak:til, 75 Dollar Bill gets another shot: mainly because it slipped under most radars on its maiden voyage in 2016. Now in 2017 with a hopefully wider global release it will shine.

Adhering to Jon Hassell’s “fourth world music” blurring of the division between futurism and tradition the 75 Dollar Bill duo of NYC-based musicians Rick Brown and Che Chen, traverse the psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues in a most indolent but listless transient manner on W/M/P/P/R/R. Motivated by an interest in “compound meters” – meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time; a compound essentially dividing the beat into three equal parts -, but playing in a fashion that feels natural and organic, the follow-up to 2015’s more “forward momentum, stomping and shaking” style Wooden Bag is a nuanced clever exploration of interconnected tonality and tactile responses to a wealth of harmonics and melodies from a pan-global array of influences: from modal jazz to Arabic modes and eastern scales.

What they produce is an often adumbrate, repetitive experience that builds gradually, slowly releasing various tangents of interplay between the principle duo and their extended backing group of friends; traversing genres and moods to evoke new expletory musical spaces. DV

Full review…


E.

Ester Poly  ‘Pique Dame’  (Ikarus Records)

Experimentally rocking the cantons of their Swiss home for a while in their respective separate outfits, Béatrice Graf and Martina Bérther unite as an unholy drum and electric bass alliance under the Ester Poly (a scramble of ‘polyester’ of course) banner.

Pitching generation X(er) Bérther with Y(er) Graf, this rambunctious vehicle for the duo’s feminist protestations and irony is hardly hampered by the limitations of their chosen drum and bass instrumentation, and hardly comparable to any of the many such similar combinations plying their trade. Instead, Ester Poly use a stack of effects and distortion tools to widen their sound spectrum; evoking hints and obvious homages to post-punk, art school, Jazz, doom rock, heavy metal, no wave and Krautrock in the process.

Recorded in more or less one-takes, both combatants facing off against each other in the studio with no headphones or click track, Pique Dame captures not only the lively, hostile and enraged but also the humour (even if it is dark and resigned) of this energetic union. Despite the raging tumults, dynamism and soundclash of ideas, this album is a steady and even showcase of festering ideas and moods. It’s also quite brilliant and encapsulates the ‘pique’ perfectly; arousing, curious and irritated! DV

Full Review…


F.

Faust  ‘Fresh Air’  (Bureau B)

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier duo version of Faust – at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound – and their latest protestation Fresh Air is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste” by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophyll, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma. DV

Full Review…


Craig Finn  ‘We All Want The Same’  (Partisan Records)

Occupying a rich postmodern American literary landscape, channeling such celebrated chroniclers as Bruce Springsteen and Vic Chesnutt, former The Hold Steady, and prior to that Lifter Puller, front man Craig Finn has in more recent years carved out a career as a successful solo artist. In true Springsteen style, though with far less guttural bombast, Finn brings a certain levity and importance to the lives of America’s “ordinary folk”, building a highly erudite diorama to stage the unfolding, and to outsiders, the often inconsequential dramas that are acted out across the States on a daily cycle.

Subtly tapping into the “liberal” creative psyche of America, one that’s still in a state of shock, but also the so-called “blue collar” America that put Trump in the White House, Finn doesn’t so much point fingers or berate as reflect the resignation of a cast on the peripherals of society.

Enriched with the graceful subtle presence and soaring vocal harmonies of Caithlin De Marrais and singer/songwriter Annie Nero, the keys of Sam Kassirer, swaddling and lifting horns maestro Stuart Bogie and longtime contributor from The Hold Steady, guitarist Tad Kubler, the musical backdrop is a mix of rolling Warren Zevon piano psychodrama, bluesy rock’n’roll and Ashbury Park period E Street Band brass. A solid performance and assiduous edition to the modern American songbook, Finn’s third solo album shows a full-bodied, sagacious artist at his pinnacle. DV

Full review…


G.

Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Colour Of The Night’  (Hive Mind Records)

Maalem Mahmoud Gania, the near-exulted star of the Moroccan honed Gnawa – a style of traditional Islamic dance, music and poetry with roots spread across the sub-Saharan crescent of Africa; considered by many to be one of the origins of the “blues” rhythm – and artisan of the genre’s key instrument, the camel-skin covered three-string lute like “guimbri”, released an extensive catalogue of recordings for labels such as Tichkaphone, La Voix El Maaref and Sonya Disques.

Choosing such a revered icon with which to launch their inaugural new imprint Hive Mind Records, the Brighton outfit’s inaugural baptism is the legend’s final studio recording, the afflatus, entrancing Colours Of The Night. What makes it special is that this is the first solo release by the artist outside his native homeland to be released on vinyl.

Stringy, wiry, occasionally a tone or two lower and played like a quasi-bass guitar, Gania’s playing style is raw, deep and always infectious: from blistering solos to slower and lighter ruminating descriptive articulations; this is equally matched by his atavistic soulful voice and the chorus of swooning, venerated female and male voices and harmonies that join him on each track.

Colours Of The Night is a highly hypnotic collection of performances both magical and transcendental, beautifully traversing Arabia and desert blues traditions. DV

Full review…


Golden Teacher  ‘No Luscious Life’

Seeming to just follow wherever the groove takes them, whether it’s ESG uptown/downtown Boho Noho Soho New York, electro Afrobeat, the griot traditions of West Africa or 80s Chicago House, the polygenesis influences of Glasgow’s sonic multilingual Golden Teacher sextet seamlessly entwine to produce the most solid of on-message dance music.

Flexing and limbering to a hip 80s heavy melting pot of sounds and references, the Glasgow troupe move like liquid through a soundtrack of polyrhythms, acid and tight drum presets, oscillations, clean and not so clean futuristic galactic house funk. Not many groups can inaugurate and move between both the Senegalese griot matriarch Aby Ngana Diop and Cabaret Voltaire on the same album, but such is the myriad of musical backgrounds, and they encompass every kind of genre you can think of, of the band members that make up this loose collective, you’re never quite sure what you might hear next.

Though rhythmically and melodically, pumping and sonically doing all the talking for them, there are succinct, atmospheric vocals from Cassie Ojay and Charles Lavenac to give either a certain sway and louche entrancing quality or, as on the opening Afro-funk meets pumping House Sauchiehall Withdrawal – a reference to one of Glasgow’s most, famous and popular main thoroughfares, with everything from the Glasgow School Of Art and CCA art hub of venues and galleries to shopping and nightclubs on its mile and a half long strip – a soulful austerity groundhog day political context: dutifully working the daily slog and for what?!

Moving to Glasgow, from about as far south of the border as you can go, a couple of years ago, one of the first gigs I saw was a sort of impromptu, diy style, performance from the group at The Old Hairdressers in town. Improvised to a degree they caught the wide-eyed excitement and dynamism of an earlier time as if it was fresh and new. A must-see live turn, the group has, unlike so many others before them, captured that free spirit and looseness on record. Yet production is really slick.

The city has always enjoyed a reputation for the eclectic, and Golden Teacher more than most, encapsulate that cross-pollination, borderless approach to absorbing music from across the globe – from The Levant to Compass Point – and making it funky. DV


H.

Happyiness  ‘Write-In’  (Moshi Moshi)

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their brilliant album Write In.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”. DV

Full review…


Here Are The Young Men And Uncle Peanut   ‘This Is Standard Life’
(Musical Bear Records)

Unceremoniously released almost on the sly, though because we are inundated with 100s of releases every week it could be we missed this one, the brilliant cut price, and with far more humour, authenticity and irony than the Sleaford Mods (as if scribbled by David Shrigley) Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are back with a load more broadsides leveled at life’s most cunty personalities and foibles.

Not so much poetic, not really rap in the true sense of the word either, they make observational snatches of overheard misnomers, condemnations and Estuary patois on the modern toss life of a pissed-stained mattress society. Modern life isn’t so much rubbish as depressingly shite, as the group transmogrify a sort of Daft Punk ‘Teachers’ style litany of great influential bands into a council estate, backroom punk paean to the spirit of punk and good music; safe in the knowledge that Mark E Smith Is Still Doing The Fall, even after a hundred years!

Diatribes on outsourcing, hipsters (the Day The Hipsters Stole Our Look; those penny-farthing riding tossers), lads banter (“yes mate, yes mate, standard”), gentrification, “nobbers” (who are “fucking everywhere!” on the Underworld goes punk song of the same name) and pop stars abound, and there’s even collaborations with Art Brut’s inimitable Eddie Argos (on the and Billie Ray Martin (of S’Express and Electribe 101 fame).

It’s nothing short of fucking brilliant, short and anything but sweet. The use of swearing alone is commendable. A sort of vitriolic, generation X middle-aged series of rants on what we’ve lost, what we are set to lose and what we could do without. DV


I.

Ifriqiyya Électrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Capturing something quite unique, the collaborative industrial post-punk and avant-garde rock scenes of Europe clash head-on with the descendants of the Hausa slaves atavistic rituals styled group, Ifriqiyya Electrique, create an often unworldly chthonian conjuncture of Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and technology.

A film project and now immersive sonic experience, inspired by the important Banga music traditions and the accommodating, rather than exorcising, of spirits ceremonial wild dances and call and response chanted exaltations of the black communities – originally transported to the region from sub-Saharan Africa – in the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, this astounding meeting of cultures and history is anything but scenic.

Formed in the Djerid Desert, the idea forged by field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club -, the Ifriqiyya Electrique spans both continents and time. For their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”, whilst, offering a dialogue with the spirits and the tradition, Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which includes Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – provides peripheral sounding evocative echoed and esoteric vocals and equally haunting nagharat.

Spiritual conversations transformed and realigned with the machine age turmoil of industrial noise, Arthur Baker style rock and hip-hop production, post-punk and even Teutonic techno, Rûwâhîne is a rambunctious unique force. DV

Full review…


J.

Jam Baxter  ‘Mansion 38’  (High Focus)

“Half cut, whip smart. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor”.  RnV, Mar 17

UK crown rulers High Focus reached new levels of cult when Mansion 38 became that creepy house at the end of the road that may be good for a heart-in-mouth laugh at Halloween, but not somewhere you’d venture to acquire a friendly cup of sugar.

Recorded and produced in Bangkok, Jam Baxter’s quotable cynicism is of an emcee breed that gets caught in a landslide escaping reality in a bid to keep himself amused, but whose focus is actually doing overtime. Seeming nonsense suddenly swoops down at you with lethal intent, most notably on the shrewd consumerist commentary on offer For a Limited Time Only. He of The Gruesome Features squats on Chemo’s production, and where there’s no such thing as a wrong turn, it’s alien, exotic, and worryingly comforting at once, slowly beginning sinkhole formation, and with Dumb demanding you take cover while running in slow-motion. Bugged out, bug-bombed, brilliant. MO


Jehst  ‘Billy Green is Dead’  (YNR)

“Showing the sort of word association and plain English penmanship that has long made him the UK’s premier emcee”. RnV, Jun 17

Whether the eponymous subject of Jehst’s sixth full-length is man or myth, a reflection on society or the High Plains Drifter letting his imagination run wild while disclosing clues from his own personal memoirs, you’ll be hanging on Billy Green’s every move, tic and confession.

It’s the album’s lost, tired soul trying to keep the walls from closing in, but then seeming to be at peace with any pending doom. It’s the human element, from the debilitation of an everyday Joe to referencing the Kardashians and when the most important decisions can sometimes boil down to choosing “the Snickers or the Mars, E&J liquor or the six-pack of the Stella Artois”. It’s Jehst’s delivery that even when close to succumbing to heat exhaustion, finds a reserve from deep down that’s of an improbable, impeccable sharpness. It’s the simmering sphere of wax and wane production whose highs and lows run a perfect parallel. ‘Billy Green is Dead’, long live Jehst. MO


Jonwayne  ‘Rap Album Two’  (Authors Recording Co)

“Personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand…watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year”.  RnV, Feb 17

 Rap Album Two approaches that long-standing hip-hop (and society in general) elephant in the room: the refusal to admit vulnerability. In laying crises on the line, Jonwayne becomes his own therapist and subsequently an outlet for the hesitant and anxious to claim as their own. At his most lo-fi, the times to think become deafening and don’t necessarily mean there’s a clean pathway to redemption.

It would take a kingsized about-turn for Jonwayne to become self-destructive on record, but it’s the legitimacy of his 20/20 vision and the potential of the what-ifs that sit kindly. Particularly on the beautifully dejected/accepting Out of Sight and Afraid of Us, bearing the powerful “look at these people, counting on me when I can’t even count on myself”, you can hear him fighting for his very survival. Also behind the excellent Black Boy Meets World by Danny Watts (who features here), Rap Album Two bridges the gap between cult hero and everyman icon. MO


K.

King Ayisoba  ‘1000 Can Die’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking, lively King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least. DV

Full review…


L.

L’Orange  ‘The Ordinary Man’  (Mello Music Group)

“An evocative performance capturing a concerto producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary”.  RnV, Nov 17

Another 12 months of might and magic on Mello Music Group, including must-checks from Oddisee and Mr Lif and Akrobatik as the reconvening Perceptionists. However, it’s the beatsmith with the knack from Nashville building up quite the back catalogue where Tenneseein’ is Tennebelievin’. Loosely based around the sleight-handed history of when illusionists were the rockstars of their day – on premise alone, L’Orange is out by himself – the mostly instrumental The Ordinary Man is described as “vaguely reminiscent of RJD2’s ‘Deadringer’”, where loops slip off straitjackets and straight up gallivant.

Reserving the mic for only a handful of guests after a starry stack of collaborative LPs, L’Orange offers jazziness with a spring in its step, even when its grainy monochrome quality appears to be suffering (perhaps reflecting his own personal health issues). Covered in a sweet patchwork of samples, the headnodding will rock your neck stiff (Cooler than Before soars like the plane on Raekwon’s Criminology), while placing it delicately upon a pillow. MO


Liars  ‘TFCF’  (Mute)

The confusing soundtrack to a musical divorce, the enduring creative partnership behind the Liars, Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill, finally fell apart after the release of Mess. Though confounding fans and critics alike on every release, the now streamlined version of the Liars sees Andrew at the helm of, essentially, a one-man band, churning up and lurching through what should by rights be another ‘mess’ of ideas to produce something quite vivid and experimentally sharp.

Chronicling what he felt was akin to a musical marriage, Andrew sitting miserably slumped in a wedding dress, left holding the bouquet on the cover of TFCF (Theme From Crying Fountain) charts a deteriorating relationship, with dysfunctional material – some of which was marked for the next Hemphill & Andrew Liars album – spun into a brilliant sulky, miserable melodrama of electronic, new wave, punk and cerebral pop.

Leaving L.A. for his native home of Australia, a dethatched Andrew transmogrifies those American influences into acoustic, labored drum break lamentable sneers (The Grand Delusional), Love style Mexican psych flare crossed with Medieval courtship (Cliché Suite) and disjointed daggered, The Knack meets Beck, lurches (Cred Woes).

Often resigned, hurt, pranged with pity throughout, it hardly sounds appealing, yet TFCF is full of reinvention, experimentation and lyrically, both dreamily and petulantly opprobrious. DV


Al Lover Meets Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Nymphaea Caerulea’  (Hoga Nord)

A meeting of exotic minds, San Francisco producer/remixer Al Lover (The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Goat) and the Tilburg collective Cairo Liberation Front set out on an evocative mesmerizing flight of escapist fantasy on the extended Nymphaea Caerulea EP.

 

Continuing a partnership with the Hoga Nord label and following up the previous Zodiak Versions, Al and his collaborators merge psychedelic dance music with a spiritually mysterious imagined vision of Egypt: Nymphaea Caerulea being the Latin name for the blue Egyptian lotus, a flower of the Orient.

Over six ‘levels’ they traverse and evoke entrancing Egyptian flute led feverish ritual, mysticism, sweeping desert winds, ancient kingdoms, belly dancing and cyclonic Afro-Futurist beats.

References to a new sonic deliverance, a musical Arab Spring, infuse the six instrumental tracks with a certain levity and theme. But rather than bang the drum of rage and protest in the land of the Pharaohs and old gods, Al and the Cairo Liberators create a moody mysterious, veiled soundtrack fit for the dancefloor. DV


PLAYLIST
Selection: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms





An encapsulation of the Monolith Cocktail’s tastes and a showcase to reflect our very raison d’être, the ‘quarterly revue playlists’ feature an eclectic selection of tracks from artists and bands we’ve enjoyed, rated highly or believe have something worthwhile to offer. Chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms this latest collection includes both recordings featured on the site, and a few we’ve either missed or not had the room to include.

Though we try to offer the best listening experiences, ordering tracks in a certain way for highs and lows, intensity and relief, we don’t have any particular concept or theme in mind when putting these playlists together. Yet by accident we have selected quite a few moody, meditative and often contemplative tunes this time around; from the most brilliant (corners) exposition and vivid experimental jazz suite and beat poetic descriptions of John Sinclair and Youth‘s recent Beatnik Youth Ambient team-up, to the Slovenian peregrinations of Širom. We also include however more upbeat, if in protest, Afrobeat flexing from the Chicago Afrobeat Project (featuring the original rhythm provider legend Tony Allen, who as it happens appears twice on this playlist, on both the Chicago collectives What Goes Up collaboration and on his own solo album debut (proper) for the illustrious Blue Note label, The Source); and at opposite ends of the spectrum, the cool kids aloof post punk of Melbourne’s mini supergroup Terry. We also include tracks from the sauntering laxed smouldering grooves of Africa Analog’s Bro. Valentino reappraisal Stay up Zimbabwe, Hive Mind Record’s debut re-release of Maalem Mahmoud Gania‘s Colours Of The Night, and a host of ‘choice’ hip-hop from The Green Seed, Skipp Whitman, The Doppelgangaz and Tanya Morgan.

Circumnavigating the globe and beyond, the third playlist of 2017 is as eclectic as ever and also features music from India, South America, West Africa and Sweden. See below for the full tracklist and links.


TRACKLIST –

Chicago Afrobeat Project & Tony Allen  ‘Race Hustle’  Review
Golden Teacher  ‘Sauchiehall Withdrawal (Edit)’
Msafiri Zawose  ‘Chibitenyi’
Tony Allen  ‘Moody Boy’
Bro. Valentino  ‘Stay Up Zimbabwe’
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble  ‘One Hunit’
Chino Amobi  ‘BLACKOUT’
Nosaj Thing (ft. Kazu Makino)  ‘How We Do’  Review
Beans (ft. Elucid, That Kid Prolific)  ‘Waterboarding’  Review
The Green Seed  ‘Revolution Ok’
Tanya Morgan  ‘Truck Shit’  Review
Skipp Whitman  ‘Downtown’
Room Of Wires  ‘Game Over’  Review
Sad Man  ‘Birman’  Review
Tyler The Creator (ft. A$AP Rocky)  ‘Who Dat Boy’  Review
Open Mike Eagle  ‘My Auntie’s Building’  Review
The Church  ‘Another Century’
Co-Pilgrim  ‘Turn It Around’
Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Waiting’  Review
Vukovar  ‘The Clockwork Dance’  Review
Liars  ‘Cred Woes’
Candice Gordon ‘Nobody’  Review
Hajk  ‘Magazine’  Review
Gary Wilson  ‘You’re The Girl From The Magazine’
Terry  ‘Take Me To The City’  Review
Pale Honey  ‘Get These Things Out Of My Head’
Trudy And The Romance  ‘Is There A Place I Can Go’
CHUCK  ‘Caroline’  Review
Modern Cosmology (ft. Laetitia Sadier)  ‘C’est Le Vent’
Diagnos  ‘Reflections’  Review
Sebastian Reynolds (with Anne Muller, Mike Bannard, Jonathan Quin and Andrew Warne)  ‘Holy Island’
Teonesse Majambree  ‘Umuyange’
Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Sadati Houma El Bouhala’  Review
Nicole Mitchell  ‘Timewrap’
Clutchy Hopkins & Fat Albert  ‘Mojave Dervish’
Širom  ‘Just About Awake’  Review
Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Raga Bageshri In Teentaal’  Review
Yazz Ahmed  ‘Bloom’
Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Casinha Pequenina’
John Sinclair  ‘Sitarrtha’  Review
A Lover & Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Level 1’
The Doppelgangaz  ‘Beak Wet’  Review
Ill Move Sporadic & Big Toast  ‘Do Wat Sunshine?’  Review
The Menagerie (Professor Elemental & Dr Syntax)  ‘Only A Game’  Review


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





This latest roundup of the imaginative, exploratory, venerable and refined musical discoveries includes a second collection of film and field recordings from the late legend ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya; the third peregrination from Glitterbeat Records’ new imprint tak:tile, Širom’s Slovenian soundscape odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper; a rebooted soul-in-the-machine electronica collection from Nosaj Thing; and the latest ambient soundtrack from Odd Nosdam.

But first of all we have a reenergized Afrobeat collaboration between the genre’s doyen rhythm guru, Tony Allen, and the eclectic, protest driven, Chicago Afrobeat Project, called What Goes Up.

Read on…

Chicago Afrobeat Project Feat. Tony Allen   ‘What Goes Up’
September 15th,  2017


Starting life as a shifting collective of musicians jamming in a artist’s loft, channeling the fervor of Afrobeat’s progenitor Fela Kuti, the Chicago Afrobeat Project initially covered the Nigerian icon’s back catalogue before developing their own variant style. Transducing the sound of downtown Lagos and the Afro-Spot nightclub via the rich musical heritage of their own native metropolis, the group, now settling with a regular lineup, open the studio doors to embrace the city’s famous blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, house and hip-hop culture.

Expanding on and playing with the Afrobeat foundations but staying true to the roots of the African fusion that first merged the popular Ghanaian Highlife hybrid with funk and soul, the project members invite a number of vocalists and rappers from the area to enthuse, lead and prompt the music towards the political; reinforcing the main message and activism behind much of Kuti’s own, often dangerous, protestations and rebellious denouncements.

As if it wasn’t already enough, the Afrobeat ante is upped with the appearance of Kuti’s wingman and rhythm guru, Tony Allen. Showing those youngsters a thing or two, Allen brings certain levity, a craft and connection to the source, to this ten-track album. Flown in especially from his home in Paris, Allen, who’s also recently recorded a tribute album to Art Blakey (which he says fits in well with the Chicago Afrobeat Projects What Goes Up), doesn’t just turn up to add a roll and drum flair here and there, he plays on all the tracks, laying down the foundations, leading the way and rattles off his trademark polyrhythm shuffles, jazz timed syncopations and, most important of all, infectious grooves: the fight against injustice has never rarely so funky.

The elder statesman of Afrobeat, sounding almost effortless with his limbering and relaxed drumming, brings a sagacious quality to What Goes Up, though his comrades bring the bright and heralding horns, laser zappy synths, church organ and sunny Hammond sustained rays to the get-down.

Guests, of which there are many, on this sweltering and sauntering conscious album include a new jack swinging, bordering on gospel house style hook, protesting JC Brooks (Race Hustle and Sunday Song); an Igbo lullaby and Afro-futurist meets atavistic soul of Western Africa Oranmiyan (Cut The Infection, Must Come Down and Afro Party); the soulfully sassy, tumbling R&B songstress Kiara Lanier (No Bad News); and a metaphorical conversationalist style Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle (as sparring partner) of Sidewalk Chalk (Marker 48).

As Rico Sisney puts it on the skit for environmental justice, Marker 48: “Something’s gotta change!” And over the course of the album the collective tackle every kind of current injustice filling up the newsfeed: from the alarming murder rate in the inner cities, including Chicago’s own widely publicized tragic rates and by extension the Black Lives Matter campaign; racial profiling and harassment; tensions between communities; and of course, Trump.

Speaking Kuti fluently, channeling the Afrobeat totems and the most hustling, hot footing rhythms, the Chicago collective offer a unique take on the genre under the watchful eye of Tony Allen. Bridging two generations, adding some fresh licks and eclectic sounds from their own backyard, they do more than most in reenergizing the Afrobeat blueprint.




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

An urgent rewire; a forced reboot; the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based electronic producer/composer/performer Jason Chung, under his Nosaj Thing alter ego, focused the mind like no other project before. As a warning to us all that backing up your hard drive is not only vital and reassuring but also a security precaution, Chung lost three years worth of demos, sketches and compositions, many of which were destined for this LP, in a robbery whilst out on tour with Warp Record’s signing Clark.

Losing all his equipment and a number of precise hard drives, all of which were never backed-up or saved anywhere else, meant that Chung would have to start from scratch, and as it has proven, reexamine not only his methods of storage and quality control but also his process of creativity.

Parallels is in fact billed as some kind of “epiphany” for Chung; a journey into “uncharted territories” for an artist renowned for his collaborative fusions with Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Changing direction and playing to it to his advantage, Chung uses this as an opportunity to explore deeper expanses. Far from wild and edgy however, Parallels is a quite vaporous but controlled soulful listening experience. Counterpointing various succinct philosophical questions (‘Dystopia or Paradise’, “Love or Regret?’) and themes (‘Emotions vs. Technology’, ‘Soul vs. Machines’) Chung’s electronic suffusions linger in a woozy sometimes haunting fashion between his many juxtapositions, yet always remains connected with a touch of humanity: from the resonating visages of a taped conversation with a security guard watching over the Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibition, to the trio of varying degrees of ethereal and soulful vocal contributions from guests Kazu Makino, Steven Spacek and Zuri Marley.

Emerging from the ether, Chung opens the album with a veiled drone rumble, piano arpeggiator and ring of articulate beats before hooking up with London producer/singer Spacek on the haunted broody lament, set to a Polygon Windows meets minimalist R&B pop, All Point Back To You. A precursor, a taster, of what you can expect to hear on the future Makino/Chung collaborative EP (released we’re told at some point later on in 2017), the breathlessly whispered cooed and chilled suffrage How We Do, adds a ticking drum beat and Japan style ice-y synth to the gauzy shoegazing Blonde Redhead signature. Nocturnal dreamy downtempo house, ambient meditations and finely-tuned kinetic soul-in-the-machine meanders follow, before reaching Marley’s rich soaring to lilting contour hovering past love affair ruminations on Way We Were.

Finely chilled, articulated electronica, amorphously floating between escapism and dystopia, Parallels never quite settles on either. And despite a number of equations that pitch technology and the machine against humans, Chung’s music has a real soul and yearning.






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

Few have changed the direction of hip-hop and modern ambient soundscapes like David P. Madson, the co-founder of both one of rap music’s most experimental outfits, cLOUDDEAD, and the seminal Anticon label. Forging a post millennium course with a number of collaborators, including Dose One, Yoni Wolf and Jel, Madson deconstructed, eviscerated and then rebuilt a more avant-garde, strung-out and expansive vision for hip-hop.

Under the Odd Nosdam title, inspired by the minimalist composers, and on this latest soundscape immersion, the degrading in quality traces and language of sound/video artist and composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops IV, he delves ever deeper into the ambient sphere.

Informed by a prolonged spell of “nonstop rain” in his native Bay Area home, the LIF album transduces the West Coast of America’s winds and rains weather patterns into an analogue controlled, filtered and manipulated field of ebbing and flowing pulsing electricity. The capital three lettered titles (codes? Abbreviations?) fade in and out; like passing through a cloudy overcast or static resonating wave, which eventually dies out. Subtly alluded to, drizzling downpours are simulated, falling on glass, on the slight Japanese sounding RAI, and detuned TV set feedback accentuated moiety KEI I and KEI II. Whilst far gentler droplets fall like notes on the enervated rasping vignette AIN.

Prompts and themes of loneliness – and when listening to the varied ambient passages, you’ll find plenty of space to ruminate in isolation -, love and fear are key to unlocking, or at least perhaps deciphering, these ten mood compositions: articulated at times through subtle plucked out notation, bellowed harmonium, dreamy ascents above the clouds and floating lingers of melody. Refining emotion from a pylon hum, showers of rain or generators, Madson’s minimalist soundscapes traverse the Kosmische and ambient genres with a contemporary feel and movement.






Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Musical Explorers: Krishna In Spring’
ARC Music,  25th August 2017

 

In praise of the field recordists, leading world music label ARC continues to champion the music and film recordings of the late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in its latest series venture, Musical Explorers.

The project was launched back in June with Bhattacharya’s 1950s and late 1960s spanning Colours Of Raga, which included an introduction and illuminating set of notes from Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the “rough guides” to world music, Simon Broughton, who once again offers context and insight on this, the second volume in the series.

A self-taught producer, recording not only the sounds of his native India but also the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Bhattacharya travelled extensively cataloguing rare performances, bringing his exotic wonders to a his adopted British home and audience via various BBC commissioned documentaries and radio programs.

As the title suggests, Krishna In Spring is a paean of instrumentals, dances and venerable verses dedicated to, perhaps, the most venerated and famous deities in Hindu mythology. Demon vanquisher, protector of the common people, the mischievous incandescent blue portrayed god represents the “spirit for life” and for his tumultuous love affair with Radha. Said to have the common touch; never happier than when cavorting and leaping and springing about with milkmaids in his role as humble cow herder, Krishna is often depicted flute in hand, amongst the earnest folk. Almost every love song in the Hindu songbook is in his honour or at least references him. The diaphanous articulated Indian bamboo flute, the Bansuri, is even used as a colloquial signature and evocation of his presence.

Taking the full extended performances, seen and heard briefly on the soundtrack, from the title’s twenty-five minute documentary come public information film (first aired in 1969), Bhattacharya captures a panoply vision of the famous Holi Festival: the “festival of colours” that ushers in the Spring, dedicated to the deeds and spirit of Krishna, or as Bhattacharya himself puts it, “…to surrender oneself to the spirit of life. That is the message of Krishna in Spring.”

Humongous sized drums; bicycle-pump tie-dye abandonment; women browbeating their menfolk with broom handles, enacting Radha’s stormy love affair with Krishna; silky clothed flag carriers and joyful communion, the Holi Festival footage, even in its scratchy washed-out by time and quaintly narrated form, encapsulates a vivid, chaotic worship. It is a festival steeped in tradition and seems out of time with modernity, but as we are told in the album’s accompanying notes, continues to be practiced in the exact same way today.

Glimpses, as I said, of the evocative drones, syllabic ‘bols’ speak and poet exultations are played-out in their entirety on this collection’s eight sweet and beautiful audio recordings. Half of which feature the backing of R.K. Bharati laying down elegant melodies and drones on the short-necked Indian fiddle, the ‘sarangi’, Hidayat Khan taping out various coda and frenzied sophisticated patterns on the tabla, and Chiranjilal planting atmospheric brassy drones foundations.

Touched with the afflatus, there are fine examples of dusky hour pentatonic scale flightiness and serenaded flute pulchritude to Krishna throughout, including Suraj Narayan Purohit and Indermall Mathur’s Raga Bhupali, the adulating voiced incantation to the many names and trials of the beloved deity Devotional Song Of The Ballabh Sect In Praise Of Krishna performed by Amarlal, and the lengthy lyrical prose turn conversational drama, based on the late 14th century poet Chandidas’ original and the subsequent additional litany of poet contributions throughout the ages, Mathur, performed by singers from the Mitra-Thakur family.

Every bit as revelatory, especially to those unfamiliar with India’s multifaceted belief systems and extraordinary musical heritage, as the first of Bhattacharya’s collections in the Musical Explorers series, Krishna In Spring does however offer an even deeper and varied window on classical Indian music: A celebration of sounds that traverse Rajasthan, West Bengal but above all the holy.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’
tak:til,  8th September 2017

 

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances (launched earlier this year with 75 Dollar Bill’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s Simultonality albums) and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Though part of a litany of Empires, including the Habsburgs, Italian and either through their own forced amorphous cultural, ancestral ties with neighboring regions and peoples, became part of the Croat-Slovenian and Yugoslavian annexations at one time, Slovenia has despite its size and battle for independence, maintained a distinct identity. In less glowing terms but pretty accurate, the writer Simon Winder in his Habsburg travel saga Danubia, described what we know as the modern Slovenia as being, “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian county of Vas.”

One of the central themes of I Can Be A Clay Snapper, and amongst the country’s most richly abundant resources, is water; the leitmotif of which appears throughout the album’s five odysseys, evoking mountain streams, lazy lowland meandering rivers and the mysterious vanishing water of Karst through a sonic transcription.

Revisiting a number of locations held dear, including some that proved very difficult to reach, Samo Kutin, Iztok Koren and Ana Kravanja travelled to locations as diverse as the bright yellow turnip rape fields of Prekmurje to the snowy mountain top of Kal above the village of Čadry to channel their inspirations and compose from improvisations this, often, meditative peaceable experience. As if the music didn’t quite signal the intentions and psychogeography well enough already, the trio have also made a film, Memoryscapes, to document this landscape surveying experiment: each, the album and the film, influencing and informing the other.





Though all three of Širom have different varied experiences to share, with both Kutin and Kravanja citing punk rock as a starting point, both playing apart in various bands in the Slovenian capital before eventually crossing paths at an improvisational music workshop and forming the kalimba-based Najoua duo, and Koren meanwhile, feeling a peculiar shame at listening to music during his childhood, but making it up for it ever since, serving in a succession of metal and post-rock bands, they manage to accommodate each other’s particular strengths, personalities and depth. Which can’t be easy especially when you glance at the scope of instrumentation used; each band member a deft practitioner of instruments as cosmopolitan and eclectic as the balafon, banjo, mizmar, lyre, ribab and as humdrum – but when put to good use and made into a impromptu device for making a rhythm or unusual sound – as common everyday objects such as a pair of drawers and household junk.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, Adriatic and the middle East, and individual influences, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

Changing tact so to speak, following the first two and ahead of a fourth re-issue (a second volume of Jon Hassell’s pioneering Fourth World ambient evocations is to be released just a few weeks after Širom’s LP), I Can Be A Clay Snapper is the first tak:til imprint to meander into south central Europe. And what an impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail it is too; different from the previous two releases, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit; whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



Aesop Rock to Bob Lind.


Monolith Cocktail: ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963 – 1969)’


Continuing to shy away from fatuous rating systems and ‘best of lists’, the Monolith Cocktail endeavours to offer a more eclectic spread of worthy ‘choice’ picks, with no album dominating or holding any particular numbered position – unlike most of our contemporaries lists; stuck with the ridiculous task, for example, of explaining why one album doesn’t deserve the number 32 spot and has been placed at number 33 instead.

Lined up in alphabetical order then, our favourite new and reissued albums from 2016 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to make some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2016, even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up a year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar.

Split into two parts, the first installment begins with Aesop Rock’s‘s hip-hop masterpiece The Impossible Kid and ends with the latest adroit songbook from the legendary troubadour Bob Lind. In between those two sagacious bookends are albums from David Bowie, David Broughton, Danny Brown, Cluster, Eleanor Friedberger and John Howard (plus many others).

Aesop Rock   ‘The Impossible Kid’  (Rhymesayers)

Monolith Cocktail - Aesop Rock

“The waterfall of words, snide quips and intricate stories recalled from both close to home and far away worlds, are as good as he’s ever done”.  Matt Oliver 

Seeming to get better rather than older (and don’t you dare mention the ageing process as per ‘Lotta Years’), the original ‘Bazooka Tooth’ is still ablaze out of somewhere to the left, but now giving lesser mortals more of a chance of accessing him than ever before. Entirely self-produced and applying funkiness to the bulkiness of alien-scanned beats he’s always rocked his way, AR’s extra superpower as the self-deprecating hero of syllaballistics (“the impossible kid , everything that he touch turns probably to shit”), is to humanise the fantastical and still make the everyday sound like a comic book lead, even when soul is bared for all to analyse. Rock also added more great cover art, and the visuals for ‘Rings’ and ‘Kirby’ are bound to feature in hip-hop video of the year lists.

Read original review here


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra   ‘A.H.E.O’  (Glitterbeat Records)

Monolith Cocktail - A.H.E.O.

 

‘Elevating beyond the borders it was created behind, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s root foundations shuffle and shake free of their stereotypes to move freely in an increasingly amorphous musical landscape. You’re just as likely to hear vibrations and traces of Dub, native Indian plaintive ghostly echoes, Sun Ra’s otherworldly jazz and funk as to hear the indigenous Haiti sounds and Afrobeat pulse. Tony Allen is once more at the heart of another bustling, dynamic explosion in rhythm.’  Dominic Valvona

 

Progenitor and embodiment of the Afrobeat drum sound, still in high demand four decades after his explosive partnership with Fela Kuti, the much-venerated Tony Allen once more extends his infectious percussion style beyond the African homeland. Sharing an obvious entwined history with Africa, the shared Hispaniola Island of Haiti proves both an esoterically mysterious and congruous collaborative foil to Allen’s distinct drumming patois.

Invited to perform in 2014 by the French Institute Of Haiti’s director Corinne Micaelli, Allen’s visit would end with a public broadcasted concert in the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Collaborating with Allen would be a cross-section of local percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist, dancer, ‘voodoo priest’ and director of the Haitian National Bureau Of Ethnology, Erol Josué; Josué would himself lend his sweet yearning and reflective tones to two of the tracks on this album.

The call went out and the great and good of the Haitian music scene came. Racine Mapou de Azor, the Yizra’El Band, Lakou Mizik and, featured on the Monolith Cocktail at the start of the year and one of the choice albums of 2016 with their highly-rated Manman M Se Ginen LP, RAM. Another Monolith regular and one-time Port-au-Prince resident, Mark Mulholland was drafted in as the experimental orchestra’s guitarist, and as it would turn out, eventual legacy overseer. Swelling the ranks still further were Olaf Hund, recruited on keyboards and ‘electronics’, and an old friend of Allen’s, the bassist Philippe Dary, who became the de facto musical director. With only five days of studio rehearsal time to gel and work out their performance, the sessions proved both, as Mulholland observed, ‘chaotic’ and overwhelming’. Based upon various sparks of inspiration and rhythmic workouts the eventual structured compositions took shape from organically flowing jams. At the heart of each, Allen’s signature Afrobeat drums and Dary’s liquid, and often funky sumptuous basslines.

Read the full review here…



Bitori  ‘Legend  of  Funaná –  The  Forbidden  Music  Of  The  Cape  Verde  Islands’

(Analog  Africa)

Monolith Cocktail - Legend of Funaná – The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands

‘Following the summertime thrills aplenty Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed compilation, with the emphasis on the Funaná; Analog Africa continues to pay homage to the previously suppressed music genre with a reissue of, what many consider, the best Funaná album ever recorded, Bitori Nha Bibinha.’   DV

Helping to ignite a full-on Funaná revival, the quintessential and legendary anthem of Cape Verde’s once banned – considered too salacious and unruly by the Portuguese authorities who ran this archipelago of islands until the mid 1970s – infectious music style was given a reprise by Analog Africa this year. A master class from the inter-generational duo of singer Chando Graciosa and renowned gaïta maestro Victor Tavares (better known as Bitori), who’d both grown up with the blazing and often raucous Funaná, Bitori Nha Bibinha captures the passion and spirit of the people and the times it survived.

Read the full review here…


The Bordellos  ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One’
(Small Bear Records)

Monolith Cocktail

‘Despite the caustic bravado and world-weary bitterness channeled into the antagonistic song titles on this new album, The Bordellos lo fi edicts are always surprisingly melodic. Think of them as a tuneful The Fall; resigned and swiping at society but hopeful enough to challenge it despite banging their collective heads on the doors of the music industry for years.’

Gaining this coveted spot (sic) in our ‘choice albums’ feature for perseverance in the face of despair, the St. Helens trio once more man the barricades with another despondent protest. Feeling, like many of us (I know we do), out of synch with the digital epoch, they rally against the Internet’s most depressing byproducts, and the loss of real ‘motherfuckers’ from the music world – who they duly list on a song of the same name; a cry for a new leader or at least more individuals and rebels. Wearily antagonistic, righting slights and a lifetime of rejection, The Bordellos go for broke on How To Lose Friends And Influence No-One with titles such as ‘Did The Bastards At The BBC Kill John Peel?’, ‘Gary Glitter’ and ‘Piss On Spotify’. Uneasy truths to a lo fi backing of The Velvet Underground, Julian Cope and The Fall abound, yet this could be the group’s best and most complete songbook to date.

Read the full review here…



David Bowie  ‘Blackstar’   (ISO/RCA)

Blackstar cover art - Monolith Cocktail

‘…this could be the most pure, at least concerned, version of Bowie yet. Resurrected free of his characterisations, the gilded “Blackstar” is just as uneasy and scared at the anxieties, stresses and daunting prospects of the future as the rest of us. Fame, celebratory is mere smoke after all and offers little in the way of comfort and safety in the face of the impending end times. Yet despite being easily his best album since Earthling, Blackstar is still underwhelming and falls short of being a classic.’  DV

 

The swansong of an irreplaceable polymath proved to be one of the year’s most sad moments, as the man who fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane, the Young American, the thin white duke, the absolute beginner, whichever version you fell in love with, departed for the ether. We lost a great many unique and inimitable artists in 2016 but though ever death is tragic none left quite the pit of despair that David Bowie‘s did. Don’t even try to crown a successor; he was a force unto himself, the “Blackstar”, the supernova of pop. Reams have been written – a great many by myself – yet no one will ever truly reflect his importance and legacy.

Though released just before his death the augur that is ★ was a curtain call. Just as oblivious to Bowie’s fatal cancer as everyone else, I did remark at the time that this album seemed to be a poignant goodbye, an elegy even. Returning to a first love, jazz, Bowie who proved an eager saxophonist in the burgeoning years of his career worked with a N.Y. West Village jazz troupe to produce one of his best albums in decades. Old faces, including a decomposing Major Tom, themes and sounds returned, with traces of Diamond Dogs, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise and Outside. Despite the often cryptic and veiled words, this was an anxious, weary and reflective Bowie; looking back before a rebirth. A pity time ran out for him.

Read the full review here…


David Thomas Broughton  ‘Crippling Lack Vol. 1 – 3’  (Song, By Toad Records)

Monolith Cocktail - David Thomas Broughton

‘An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.’ DV

A magnificent and masterful undertaking by Broughton, the Crippling Lack trio of recordings is demarcated into three parts, the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretching to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some, epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.

It is nothing short of a magnum opus; cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is outstanding even by Broughton’s standards.

Read the full review here…


Danny Brown  ‘Atrocity Exhibition’  (Warp)

Monolith Cocktail - Danny Brown

“Juggling the mic like a grenade missing a pin…one of 2016’s most individual threats.”  MO

‘Atrocity Exhibition’ throws up so many positive talking points. #1 – the transatlantic odd couple of Danny Brown and Paul White, a relationship rooted in 2011’s ‘Rapping With Paul White’ album, fears nothing and no-one. #2 – Brown continues to show he has one of the maniacal mic grips in the game that you can’t ignore, here with added malleability. #3 – White’s reputation has really hit its stride on an upward curve; though other producers contribute (Black Milk, Alchemist and Evian Christ are not to be sniffed at), it’s essentially the Englishman’s show on the boards. #4 – a show stopping hook from Kendrick Lamar on ‘Really Doe’ doesn’t hurt one bit. #5 – despite Brown’s mile-a-minute persona shearing safety bars off rollercoasters, and White and co by default becoming the straight man sidekick, you really have no idea what’s around the next corner, from soaring superhero soundtracks to proper hip-hop dope to something suspiciously shuffling through the undergrowth. “This is not regular rap”, Brown offers. Amen.

Read the original review here


Cappo  ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’  (YNR)

Monolith Cocktail - Cappo

“When autumn becomes winter, here’s your listening.” MO

You should always bet on the flow of Nottingham’s finest that has evolved into a complex work of art. On past albums and years gone by Cappo would’ve destroyed opposition with crosshairs locked and ammo loaded; here his own brand of introspection, still packing uniquely orbital rhyme schemes but now more than ever full of coded messages and open ended verses awaiting interpretation, kills the noise and heighten the mysteries surrounding the emcee’s inner thoughts and circles. It packs two absolutely heaters of singles as well – ‘OOB’ and ‘Ether’ are both unassuming phantoms of the opera, but white hot in a pretty slimline session – another contributing factor to the building of the suspenseful and mournful, chilling on a razor’s edge. YNR took the weight off their plates in 2016, but this was easily the jewel in their calendar year crown.

Read original review here


CHUCK  ‘My Band Is A Computer’  (Old Money Records)

Monolith Cocktail (Dominic Valvona) - CHUCK review

CHUCK’s kooky collage-rock and lo fi wonky electronic pop, which congruously flows between The Magnetic Fields, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Apples In Stereo and even The Pixies, absorbs its influences to create a gorgeous, quietly optimistic, kind of melancholy and pathos.’ DV

From the inimitable label of hopeless optimism and resigned despair another lo fi songbook of obscure modern idiosyncratic pathos. Released via Audio Antihero’s new imprint Old Money Records this marvelous kooky collection from Massachusetts’s songwriter and multi- instrumentalist CHUCK is a congruous bedfellow of the label’s previous releases from Benjamin Shaw, Frog and Cloud.

Bringing an upstate, more pastoral, lilt to the New York metropolis where he now resides, CHUCK’s quasi-Tropicana Casio preset bed of quirky wounded observations are both funny and profoundly sad; lo fi but ambitious. An outsider in some sense; an observer of the foibles and peculiarities of the Brooklyn boroughs, the maverick artist paints a reflective, wry and often ironic picture of our modern times.

Far too good to be hidden away his collection of songs, penned over the last decade, have thankfully been given the platform to reach a wider audience.

Read the full review here…


Clipping  ‘Splendor & Misery’  (Sub Pop)

Monolith Cocktail - Clipping

“Provocative electronics and sermons from the LA leftfielders will clamp you to the edge of your seat.”  MO

For the record, ‘Splendor & Misery’ is a 20/80 split in favour of the latter. Comprehensively proving that the end of the days is still compelling material when done as well as this, particularly in this year of all years, Clipping were another to give themselves a veneer of accessibility with their zero gravity screams. Futility set adrift to a perfectly captured fear found frozen behind the visor, had rhymes dealing with the pending shitstorm with West Coast fearlessness usually reserved for low-rider rollin’. Interspersed with choral episodes praying for the album’s lead, the intelligent stage management demands your full attention; that’s to say, it’s a struggle to dip in and out or pick a favourite track by itself – do so and you’ll risk detracting from the whole performance pushing hip-hop’s outersphere. What odysseys are made of and reputations are built on.

Read the original review here


Cluster  ‘1971 – 1981’  (Bureau B)

Monolith Cocktail - Cluster 1971 - 1981

‘Patriarchs of the German music scene, Cluster, are quite rightly celebrated for their contribution to the last forty-odd years of experimental electronic and ambient music with this latest grandiose gesture of adulation. Though attempts have been sporadic, past collections have gathered together, more or less, all the standard Cluster recordings, leaving out live and more obscure albums, until now. German label Bureau B, concentrating on the group’s output from 1971 to 1981, chronologically compile a full discography from that decade, which for the first time ever includes the previously unreleased Konzerte 1972/1977 album.’ DV

All attentively remastered, rather impressively I might add, by Willem Makkee, the nine-album box set offers the die-hards another excuse to own the back catalogue, with the added bonus of requiring that former live LP that got away, Konzerte, and for those not familiar or with a passing fancy, the best complete picture and evolution yet of the much revered group. 1971- 1981 will serve as a worthy testament and reawakening of the Cluster back catalogue and legacy: now sounding better than ever, the remastering for once very much welcomed.

Read the full review here…



Ian William Craig  ‘Centres’  

Monolith Cocktail - Ian William Craig

Passing us by on release Ian William Craig‘s unassuming but nevertheless epic sweeping ambient opus Centres arrived without much fanfare on its release. However, these cerebral peregrinations, songs of hope, soulful expansive hymns and sonic journeys into space were given rave reviews by those who did pay attention. And so initially missing coverage on the Monolith Cocktail, we’ve made up for it since by featuring tracks from the album in our ‘quarterly playlists’ and now, in our ‘choice albums of 2016’ feature. It is one of the year’s most beautiful, inspiring and often just meditative concatenate suites; offering glimmers of awe.  DV


Dillon & Paton Locke  ‘Food Chain’ (Full Plate)

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse Hip Hop selection

“Gourmet underground platters rooted in the South but giving you seven courses of funk and back.”  MO

It might only be found as small print on some menus, but who are we to ignore prime indie cuts encouraging you to “pour a bucket of gravy over yourself and just feel that”. When they’re not rewriting the rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dillon & Paton Locke are always gnawing on something, rhyming as they chew it. Funky, crate-rifling beats are laced with an overzealous streak, cogently able to stop the album dead from 60 to 0 and then re-energise it the other way, and a press-record-and-just-go appetite never misses a trick on the mic, with a hint of political soap-boxing and getting down to some grown man, take a look around biz. Their guest chef specials aren’t too salty either – R&V favourites Homeboy Sandman and J-Live, Dres from Black Sheep and people’s president Lobsterdamus, help flavour a certified belly-buster for 2016.

Read the original review here



Ed Scissor & Lamplighter   ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’ (High Focus)

Monolith Cocktail - Ed Scissors & Lamplighter

“An intriguingly created world of wisdom, paranoia, numbness and finding peace in its own mind”.  MO

High Focus have had the mother of all years, the consistency of everything they’ve dropped dominating the last 12 months of homegrown hip-hop. Ocean Wisdom (‘Chaos 93’) boasted youthfully infinite ammunition. Dabbla (‘Year of the Monkey’) got up to a whole load of japery reaching across the bar. Fliptrix (‘Patterns of Escapism’) executed label ideals to the fullest. Yet in the spirit of thinking differently, Ed Scissor and Lamplighter, the absolute antithesis of those mentioned, take the honours by a short head. Blair Witch hip-hop with its nose to the wall, barely keeping its head above water while barely raising an eyebrow, pulls off the Houdini-like stunt of subverting hip-hop norms while sticking close to them like a second skin. A slow and deliberate bittersweet bloom of triumph, creating the ultimate flip script of offering easy solace and comfort when all looks lost.

Read the original review here


Elzhi  ‘Lead Poison’ (Glow365)

Monolith Cocktail - Elzhi

 

“Ear-catching narratives covering the everyday grind…not far off being a complete LP”.  MO

Coming out the other side of mental health issues has Elzhi using ‘Lead Poison’ as catharsis, resulting in some of the year’s most vividly delivered rhymes and storytelling in the process. Done so in near enough bite sized chapters, proves that if the story’s interesting enough, it’s long enough. Never buckling under pressure, even when the likes of ‘Cloud’ feel like everything is conspiring against him (not to mention the potential of his health showing overall weakness), heart is worn on sleeve and self-examinations are set to a forceful soul soundtrack pushing its protagonist. With softer neo-soul going back to Elzhi’s Slum Village heritage, there’s also room for a little light heartedness, with ‘She Sucks’ doing forbidden love by garlic and wooden stakes, and ‘MisRight’ bending the thesaurus. An album that goes from strength to strength, listen on listen.

Read the full review here


Eleanor Friedberger ‘New Views’ (Frenchkiss Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Eleanor Friedberger New View

Another album we missed on its release, Eleanor Friedberger‘s third solo spot New View is another impressive songbook of idiosyncratic pop. Streamlining the signature intelligent reference-heavy prose of her sibling act The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor continues the clever turns of phrase but in a more attentive, breezier and lightened but less cluttered manner. With elan she sets out on a dry-witted but emotionally philosophical picnic through the East Village with Patti Smith and Harry Nilsson in tow.


Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences  ‘Outsider Pop’  (Blang Records)

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences - Monolith Cocktail

‘Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.’  DV

The disgruntled savant of disco funk pop and antifolk Paul Hawkins completely in the dark, oblivious to the dreadful proclamation of David Bowie’s impending death paid an augur homage to his white-suited and booted pop incarnation of the 1980s by transmogrifying ‘China Girl’ into an Outsider Pop anthem. Produced by that nutflake nostalgist, and one of the busiest men in the industry right now Ian Button (of the mighty Papernut Cambridge, Gare du Nord label and umpteen other projects), Hawkins’ third album also finds foibles of inspiration from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. The no wave, white funk, pop melodies act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.

Read the full review here…


John Howard  ‘Across The Door Sill’  (Occultation Recordings)

Monolith Cocktail - John Howard

 

‘Not so adrift and experimental as to have cut all ties to his signature profound sincerity and sad romanticism, John Howard’s Across The Door Sill dares to go further with an even more immersive experience. Expanding his poetic lyricism and piano performances, stark and stripped-back, his vocals multiplied to fill the space and build the atmosphere; Howard has room and time to create some stirring music. It is a most sagacious reflection from the artist, still finding the inspiration to develop and take risks. In doing so he’s reached what could be one of the creative pinnacles of his career.’  DV

Imbued with the 13th century poet Rumis ‘Quatrains’ poem, which encourages us to broaden our horizons and to not just accept what we’ve done in the past, the adroit songwriter and pianist John Howard experiments with a stripped back sound of multilayered vocals and the melodious gravitas on his latest songbook Across The Door Sill. Attentive and epic the album’s sagacious stream of consciousness is a deeply reflective observance on where we are now. In no hurry to get to a hook or chorus, his source material, a collection of unhindered, unhurried and floating poems, was developed overtime, set to music in an organic fashion. Hence why three of the five songs on this LP are nine-minutes long. On a successful run of collaborations and solo projects Howard is enjoying his most productive period yet in a career that’s spanned five decades.

Read the full review here…


Illogic  ‘A Man Who Thinks With His Own Mind’  (Weightless)

Monolith Cocktail - Illogic

“Streams of quotable IQ create a fever dream. Snooze, you lose.”  MO

Ohio rhyme scientist Illogic provided his own version of a hip-hop out of body experience, a canon of verbosity when bedding down for the night and setting free streams of consciousness while looking through a telescope. This in itself created its own contradiction of being an album expressly trained to set you afloat (The Sound Cultivator’s star-shaped soul powered by plasma rays > strictly no cloud rap), which still kept you wide awake with naturally intricate rhymes, both book and street smart, about life, the universe and everything else. Anyone who starts an album with the observation that “the tofu was not as firm as I’m used to” deserves nothing but praise and respect. The modern equivalent of becoming engrossed in a good book that tells your imagination to run.

Read the original review here


J-Zone   ‘Fish n Grits’  (Old Maid Entertainment)

Monolith Cocktail - J-Zone

“Dripping in home truths from his funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on has never been more entertaining”.  MO

Better placed than most to justify a love-hate relationship with hip-hop, J-Zone proclaimed “there’s only two types of music – good and bad. Make good music, or shut the fuck up.” Paired with helium alter-ego/juvenile imaginary friend Chief Chinchilla as hilarious equal opportunity offender, and showing the strain of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ remains strong, ‘Fish n Grits’ goes in with scathingly relatable accuracy about the state of the game, misty-eyed nostalgia replaced by a nose-bloodying team of goons busting a whole load of myths. Additionally, whereas Zone’s production used to pop off all over the place in a skilfully spring-loaded criss-cross, he’s honed his own funk skills into a true mastery to compliment his industry disses. Hallelujah that he can’t leave the game alone.

Read the full review here


Fela Ransome-Kuti And His Koola Lobitos  ‘Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul 1963-1969’  (Knitting Factory Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Fela Kuti

‘Hot stepping and sure footing through Savoy label like jazz and Stax/Volt revue soul, Fela and his first ever professional band Koola Lobitos were the missing link on the eventual road to the Afrobeat phenomenon. An evolving Fela, only a few shuffles short of cultivating his signature, already shows a raw energy on this compilation’s studio and live recordings.’  DV

 

In the midst of another celebration and anniversary appraisal the Afrobeat pioneer and political protagonist Fela Kuti has seen the back catalogue legacy re-released and repackaged countless times. There’s been a stage production of his life, and a documentary film in the last couple of years alone. But one of the most revealing and raw tributes is this burgeoning showman showcase; a labour of love that collates together a number of previously scattered, thought lost, rare early recordings – both in the studio and on stage – from the stax/funk/soul years. A “labour of love”, stemming from Toshiya Endo’s African Music Home Page website, launched in the late 90s, the Fela Kuti and His Koola Lobitos material were collected from around the world, from the collections of various fans. By day a professor of Chemistry at Ngoya University, Endo’s passion and hobby of cataloguing West African music attracted the author of the Fela: The Life & Times Of An African Musical Icon bio Michael E. Veal. Lucky for us the dynamic duo produced this lavish and arduous compilation of explosive early Fela beauties; one of the best and revelatory introductions to the great polymaths work yet.

Read the full review here…


Bob Lind  ‘Magellan Was Wrong’  (Ace Records)

Monolith Cocktail - Bob Lind

Another masterclass from the sagacious Bob Lind, his latest album is a majestical and often jazzy lilting lesson in songwriting. With decades of elan and adroit performance behind him Lind isn’t ready just yet to rest on past melodic triumphs and spoils, showing himself ready to adopt and try out new ideas on Magellan Was Wrong – a reference to the Portuguese explorer who first circumnavigated the world, proving it was of course a globe and not flat, though Lind’s song of the same name and homage metaphor questions that wisdom in the face of despondency and disappointment. The characteristic voice and style is of course signature Lind, the songs and themes timeless. With a host of producers, including progressive jazz pianist and composer Greg Foat, on board this strongly nautical feel and reference strong songbook, both the entertainer and troubadour are lent a new lease of life.


%d bloggers like this: