REVIEWS/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea





Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea joined the Monolith Cocktail team in January 2019. The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, and, under the guises of the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

With all live gigs and events more or less quashed for the foreseeable future, buying music (whether it’s physical or through digital platforms such as Bandcamp) has never been more important for the survival of the bands/artists/collectives that create it. We urge you all to keeping supporting; to keep listening.


Murmur Tooth   ‘A Fault In The Machine’
(Self-Release)   LP/ Available Now


Murmur Tooth is Leah Hinton, a young lady from New Zealand who is now based in Berlin, and is the vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and producer writer of this very fine album. Hinton is also blessed with a lilting almost folky voice filled with the kind of emotion you really do not associate with doom laden synth pop.

A Fault In This Machine is a dark sedate sultry affair; a dive into the night time of someone else’s life a life, where you spend the day hoping for that certain person to appear who lifts the boredom of a life that is not exactly happening.

There is a realness and dreaminess to these lyrics that draw you into Murmur Tooth’s existence. It really is a beautiful sounding and beautifully written album, one of the highlights being the lovely ‘Rain Rain’, a stunning piano ballad that for some reason has my mind wandering back to my teenage years of the 80’s when dark synth based pop ruled the roost: a song I would recommend to any other old timers like myself who can recall the majestic Wonderful Life album by Black.

Leah is a real talent, one that should be embraced and celebrated for A Fault In The Machine is a warm, soulful, dark and real sounding synth album wrapped in a blanket of subtlety, and that is something one does not hear everyday.






Vukovar   ‘Exhumation: The First Death Of Vukovar (2014 – 2019)’
LP/Available Now




Vukovar have decided to release a ltd best of cassette; a band that could and should have been a lot bigger and better known than they currently are, but they do have the habit of shooting themselves in the foot, so much so I doubt any of the band have any toes left. And here is another prime example; instead of releasing on one of the many labels they have released their seven plus albums on they have self released it instead – an action akin to The Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper as a boiled egg or Shakin’ Stevens appearing on Top Of The Pops and not thrusting his hips in a cartoonish sexual manner. But lack of business sous aside the tracks on this collection are essentially a best of, so are the most commercial and ear friendly to the general public and would make a fine introduction if not released in such a ltd hipster fashion.

The songs are all of the highest quality and show their many influences, from their debut single Wedding Present Monster era like ‘Nero’s Felines’ through to the should have been all over the radio ‘New World Order’. There early to mid 80s post punk synth sound is truly a wonderful thing, as demonstrated on ‘This Moment Severed’ and ‘Clockwork Dance’. The album is jammed full of greatness and it’s a bit of tragedy that not more people will get to hear it. Maybe they will release the next as a ltd edition self hum.






Randolph’s Leap   ‘Petrichor’
Single/Available Now




Has Power Pop I wonder replaced Irn-Bru as the drink of choice in the band land of Scotland? For what we have here is another Scottish band showing their love for Teenage Fanclub/Big Star, with this lovely nifty little piece of perfect McCartney-ish like strum along pop. This really is a lovely thing: The sun is in the sky there is nothing to do nowhere to go but you can lose yourself in this little subtle gem.






The Legless Crabs   ‘Irregular On The Cellular’
Single/Available Now




Have you ever wondered what Legless Crabs sound like? Well I will tell you: they sound like the true spirit of rock n roll; they are the aural equivalent of the apple of your eye slowly self peeling the beauty of The Shaggs covering Jesus And Mary Chain. It is a thing of great wonder and maybe my new favourite band. You heard it here first; the Legless crabs are the future of rock ‘n’ roll.






Crumpsall Riddle  ‘Looking After The Duck’
(Wormhole World)  Album/Available Now




It’s a strange old time so the ideal opportunity to lose yourself in the strange world of Crumpsall Riddle: Old synths, old keyboards, the occasional guitar and jazz bass and flat caps and folk music and ranting and singing sweetly acapella style – I could be making up the flat caps bit, but who knows. These are songs improvised over three sessions, so have a lovely made up at the moment feel, which I enjoy as it is like having a permanent record of madness, the unveiling of inspiration hitting and the fading as quickly as it arrived and then moving onto something else like speed reading somebody else’s book collection whilst listening to the Bagpuss soundtrack as whistling Jack Smith rifles through your girlfriend’s knickers drawer just out of view. Anything could happen or be happening in the strange world of Crumpsall Riddle.






Harry Cloud   ‘The Pig And The Machine’
(Whiteworm Records)  LP/Available Now




What we have here is a blaze of magic mushroom stoner bubblegum stoner psychedelia, a lo-fi inventive curse of tomorrow and yesterday when morrow meets tomorrow in a slaphappy kind of way. Imagine if your radio was wired to play the soundtrack to your most out there sordid wish, this could well be playing as it jumps from the semi classical to the music that the not quite best looking member of a 70’s edition of Top Of The Pops audience would wiggle her arse to: not sexy but getting away with it.

This album is inventive, dirty, funny, dark and moving in so many ways. Like all great rock n roll should be it is a album that at times sounds like it is arguing with itself; sometimes being far too clever for its own good, but you love it all the same. How could you not when there is song as beautiful as ‘Haunted Hayride’, or, as weirdly rocking as ‘Browser’ – the sound of the Mothers Of Invention covering The Pixies. An album that could easily get on your tits, or, an LP you could love and fall in love with – and I have not quite made up my mind yet -, and for that he gets a big thumbs up from me.






Euan Hartley And Friends   ‘Ten Years At The Bottom’
LP/Available Now




Euan Hartley is singer with the band the Pit Ponies, and this is a LP four years in the making in which he worked with various musician friends. And what I like about the album is that it seems to mean a lot to him, which trust me, is not always the way. It has a lot of heart and a lot of pain seeping through the songs. Euan has quite an impressive voice like he has been gargling from the same glass as the godlike Robert Wyatt, and the music is pure [in the best way]; DIY indie style, not the generic, ‘I have a beard and Fender Jag way and am looking forward to playing the local music festival’ kind. The songs are way to quirky and heartfelt for that especially the Casio embraced beauty ‘Beatrice’ and the wonderfully weird chopped up Flaming Lips like ‘Selfies’.

Ten Years At The Bottom is a album filled with songs of purity soul and heartache and despite being made over a long period of time with various friends and his peers the album sounds like a album and not just a collection of songs lumped together: and what a fine collection of songs it is. Also, it is available as a pay what you want to download from bandcamp, so I honestly don’t know what your waiting for, get downloading.






Meat Whiplash   ‘Don’t Slip Up’
(Optic Nerve)   Single/15th May 2020




I normally do not bother reviewing old music as I don’t write for Mojo, and there are so many new records and songs released daily that deserve attention that sadly do not get the attention they deserve, and its so easy for a label to reissue some old song than putting the time in finding and promoting a new and up and coming band; for nostalgia is all well and good but in thirty years what will there be to be nostalgic about if the new is not embraced and loved? So I will say that this is a reissue of the one and only Meat Whiplash single released on Creation Records many years ago, and very good it is too; all Mary Chain fuzz guitars and early Psychedelic Furs vocals. They of course morphed into Motorcycle Boy who I saw live a few times back in the day -see I am getting nostalgic now. Why damn you Optic Nerve records and your excellent Optic Sevens reissue series…you cunts.


Sunbourne Rd  ‘Teenage Lyrics’
LP/Available Now




Yes it’s that time again, when I start to review catchy guitar pop. Dare I call it power pop without being arrested by the power pop police for wrongly diagnosing the LP?! No I’ll risk it: it’s power pop. It has power and is pop, and for once although obviously influenced by Paul McCartney, it is more Wings Paul than Beatle Paul: which I like as such subtleties make a difference.

What we have here is a compilation of eight singles released between 2014 and 2017 by Sunbourne Rd who hail from Northern Italy. And they obviously release fine catchy guitar pop with nods to all the usual power pop icons like McCartney, Rockpile, Mott The Hoople and their ilk. Nothing truly original or different just eight finally written songs bathed in melody – which is what we want in our power pop. And just how many times have I used the words power pop in this review? Recommended for all those who like their pop with power.




Chinofeldy   ‘Stay Home’
Single/Available Now




Another band from Scotland and another catchy 60s influenced pop song: it really shows just how wonderful the Beatles were, that 50 years since they split up they are still a huge influence on bands today. I suppose you may as well learn and borrow from the best. What we have here is a benefit song for the NHS; a worthy cause we all, I am sure, agree on. So you may as well download this lovingly produced slice of 60s influenced pop and do yourself and the much-underfunded NHS a favour. You know it makes sense.





NEW MUSIC ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona





The Perusal is a great chance to catch up, taking a quick shifty at the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload the Monolith Cocktail’s inboxes each month. Chosen by Dominic Valvona, this week’s roundup includes Clovvder, Escupemetralla, John Johanna, Twisted Ankle and Vukovar.

John Johanna   ‘The Eastern Harmony and Gospel Demonstrator: Outtakes and Demos 2015​-​17’
EP/Available Now





No stranger to this blog over the last couple of years, having made our albums of the year features for two years in a row, first with 2018’s afflatus gospel rock mini-album I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes, and then in 2019 with the Book Of Enoch imbued gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash cosmology Seven Metal Mountains LP, the Norfolk anointed artist John Johanna has made a name for himself crafting a brand of infectious musical gospels and hymns, sourced from a myriad of Biblical and worldly religious tracts: The good book according to Johanna you could say.

During the interim of a new album, and just when we could do with some spiritual levity, Johanna has just put out a collection of ‘outtakes’ and ‘demos’ made during the years prior to the already mentioned debut I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes. Though straying from the North American and African American liturgy on his two more recent albums, these earlier trails and tribulations often sound like meditations on Southern American gospel and soul. For example, the rustic lo fi backbeat echo take of the Jordon vision, ‘Deep River’, has traces of the Deep South’s own reverent bluesmen but also an air of The Everly Brothers. You’d be hard pressed without prior knowledge to pick out the covers from originals, but Johanna produces hymnal takes on Thomas A. Dorsey‘s pre-war standard ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ – lending the stalwart standard a touch of Canned Heat at their most holy – and E. M. Bartlett‘s 1921 ‘Just a Little While’ – giving it a kind of early spiritual rock ’n’ roll feel.

An apostle at the crossroads, much of the material on this compilation woos, shakes, stamps to a country-blues-psychedelic accompaniment, led by a cosmic cowboy.

It’s quite refreshing in these cynical and hysterical times to champion a man of Eastern Orthodox Christian faith – the ‘God’ word and Christianity in general has become an anathema in polite society; looked on with suspicion or extreme prejudice in these apparent libertarian and virtuous times. Wishing to commune and share his beliefs on record, Johanna navigates both the happy-clappy conversion and pulpit to record atavistic sentiments and longing in a modern fusion of hypnotic sounds. The Eastern Harmony and Gospel Demonstrator : Outtakes and Demos 2015​-​17 is a great collection of a burgeoning artist on a pilgrimage of communion.


Related posts from the Archives:

I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes LP Albums Of 2018

Seven Metal Mountains LP Review



Vukovar  ‘Cement & Cerement’
Video/Track/Available Now





Today’s airing is taken from the recently, without fanfare, dropped EXHUMATION: THE FIRST DEATH OF VUKOVAR (2014 – 2019); the first of three self-congratulatory ‘best ofs’ and collections of newish musics from one of the most criminally ignored British bands of recent years, Vukovar. If you’ve been a keen follower of the Monolith Cocktail and kept abreast of the many trials and tribulations of the Chthonian apostles of industrial, Gothic and post-punk, then you will know that this ever-evolving trio (at least in foundation) have imploded and broken up on countless times during their brief existence – though that is up for debate, as in theory the Vukovar are not dead and buried yet; continuing to exist as they do in one incarnation or another. During that short span of five years they’ve released seven totem albums of quality hardcore divine comedy and paradise lost, and plenty of despondent augurs. Sitting on enough material to fill another trio of albums, they’ve hit a snag of late, splitting up but also losing one of their chief inspirations and creative foils, the late tragic Ceramic Hobs instigator Simon Morris. Morris, one of many collaborators of the ‘underground’ and mischievous scenes to work with the band, joined them on their swansong LP Cremator – a curtain call at least for the original lineup. Vukovar’s seventh album proper and so far last just happened to also be one of the bands best and most accomplished efforts to date.

And so whilst awaiting that future vision of the band and stream of future albums the group now takes stock – the first time that they have in that five-year period -, releasing a triumvirate of highlights, and lowlights over the next month or so.

From that first compilation in the triptych series (as they call it), and framed as the first broadcast of what would have been the unholy Simon Morris communion extolled NeuPopAct, the last song the fated genius recorded with members of Vukovar, the Alan Vega/Charlie Megira in Brutalism romance ‘Cement & Cerement’, seems both a tribute and sad resigned glimpse at what could have been if he hadn’t committed suicide late last year. Watch this space, as they say, for more on those albums over the coming weeks.


Related posts from the Archives:

Vukovar ‘Cremator’ Review

Vukovar ‘Puritan’ Review

Vukovar ‘Infinitum’ Premiere

Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’ Review

Dan Shea on Simon Morris A Tribute



Clovvder   ‘My Mother Was The Moon’
Available Now





Emerging once more from the ether, the Gothic duo from the Uruguayan port of Montevideo has chosen to return with a cover of the morose King Dude ‘My Mother Was The Moon’ hymn. Equal in atmospheric veiled vaporous invocations, Clovvder’s siren wafts gossamer style, weaving a new black magik interpretation of the original’s fateful lyrics. Magic realism poetry and despondent esoteric romanticism combine to evoke a most haunting requiem, from a duo that seems to create veiled invocations in the gap between never worlds. Truly atmospheric and mysterious.


Related posts from the Archives:

Clovvder ‘Traits’ Review



Twisted Ankle  ‘Landlord Laughs’
(Breakfast Records)  Single/17th April 2020





A macabre contortion of sinewy no wave and crushing post punk the leading polemic single from the future self-titled Twisted Ankle debut LP is a tumult of unkempt rage threatening to boil over. A broadside at those sneering all the way to the bank with the profits of their rentals, ‘Landlord Laughs’ twists the ongoing housing crisis into a sort of neo-feudalist nursery-rhyme: a kind of updated Ring a Ring o’ Roses if you like, which the band, only half-mockingly, envisage ‘little primary children will skip around the merry tree chanting ‘where did you put it?’ and asking ‘Mummy, what’s a house?’ in future days. Though written before the current lockdown, this reference to the children’s sing-along playground game is prescient; inspired, though many have argued its not, by the great plague, it resonates with the end times epidemic currently throttling the life out of society.

In effect, the Bristol experimentalists ‘mirror the decaying social order of quarantine Britain’. The increasingly tormented track uses samples of the noises Boris Johnson makes in between words, set to a brash and burnished

Known for their bizarre theatrical live shows, Twisted Ankle has emerged over the last few years as one of the most unique acts in the South-West. A strange mix of post-punk, dissonant jazz and macabre humour, they’ve long been a prominent fixture on the live circuit, supporting Mclusky, JOHN and Fraud’s across the last year. Yet their recorded output has been unusually slim: until now. If The Fall in an unholy union with James Chance, The Lounge Lizards and Half Japanese grabs you, than fill your boots.



Escupemetralla  ‘Remotitud (2020)’
Video/Track/Available Now





Sharing their dark visions and nightmares during lockdown the mysterious Escupemetralla (which were informed means “spitsshrapnel” in Spanish) has been dropping the most haunting, unsettling tracks alongside blog postings and related video art every week. An organism, an organization, a fiendish underground hub of the disturbing avant-garde and experimental the anonymous makers of these soundbites and broadcasts from the damned have offered up this esoterically atmospheric ‘remoteness’ score.

Still in the dark, Escupemetralla offer up this transmission statement: ‘the result of a series of retro-transmissions to be carried out in the mid-twenty first century at the “Thorne’s Cone Light Reversion Laboratory for Children”, Los Alamos, Texas (Federal States of Mexico and Puerto Rico). In a certain way, Escupemetralla are just virtual entities that will actually exist in several years’ time.’

Whatever is happening, it proves a frightening vision that chimes with the ongoing crisis of Covid-19 lockdown. Prepare to be spooked.


Related posts from the Archives:

Escupemetralla ‘Fe, Esperanza Y Caridad’ Review



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.

ICON SPECIAL
Dan Shea





The Monolith Cocktail is ecstatic and grateful to have coaxed a guest spot contribution from the impassioned and adroit musician/writer Dan Shea. Roped into his family’s lo fi cult music business, The Bordellos, from a young age, the candid but humble maverick has gone onto instigate the chthonian Vukovar and, with one part of that ever-shambling post-punk troupe, musical foil Buddy Preston, the seedy bedsit synth romantics Beauty Stab. An exceptional talent (steady…this is becoming increasingly gushing) both in composing and songwriting, the multi-instrumentalist and singer is also a dab hand at writing. His first time ever for the MC, Dan shares a grand personal ‘fangirl’ purview of major crush, the late Rowland S. Howard, on the eve of Mute Records appraisal style celebration reissue of his highly influential cult albums ‘Teenage Snuff Film’ and ‘Pop Crimes’.


Rowland S. Howard   ‘Teenage Snuff Film/Pop Crimes’
(Mute)   Remasterd Reissue Albums /27th March 2020



Teenage Snuff Film

“You’re bad for me like cigarettes, but I haven’t sucked enough of you yet”.

Curls of Morricone guitars, the ‘Be My Baby’ beat slowed to a kerb crawl as it is on every song on Teenage Snuff Film and a voice so soft it smashes stars.

Then in the middle, a spiraling surf guitar run; subtle organ chords in the background and the sort of strings I am contractually obliged to describe as sweeping. Teenage Snuff Film is an immensely important record to me, so important that I kicked a perfectly attractive possible suitor out of my flat when he described it as “boring”. Cute as he was you’ve got to draw a line somewhere and we have never spoke again.

The first time I heard Teenage Snuff Film I was sixteen and I think that’s the perfect time to hear a record like this. It all comes back to the beginning, conjuring up a world I was yet to experience. Now I have been there, watching the party end through a haze of smoke slumped insensible with my head on the shoulder of a femme fatale (of several genders), I can’t help but prefer what I had imagined.

Following ‘Breakdown (and Then)’ in which he writes his own epitaph (“Crown Prince of the Crying Jag”) there is ‘She Cried’. One thing he does a lot on this record is admit to his own cruelty and use this admission to gain your sympathy – it’s a lowdown, filthy trick and one I frequently find myself doing. ‘She Cried’ again uses a bastardised Hal Blaine beat and with his customary rusted, pealing bell guitar sound he lays waste to a perfectly pleasant 60’s girl group song. From amidst this wreckage The Horrors are conceived in unholy means.





‘I Burnt Your Clothes’ does the same thing as ‘Breakdown’ but more unpleasantly and lyrically, more violently and with the addition of frenetic horror movie organ vamping.

‘Exit Everything’ pivots around a propulsive bassline from the similarly dearly departed Brian Hooper that threatens to steal the show from Rowland S Howard: also listening to this record and in particular the sizzling hi hat patterns on this track, you can’t help but wish Mick Harvey would play drums more. There must have been some reason he took the drum stool in The Birthday Party besides Phill Calvert just being tired of everyone’s shit.

It’s at this point I have to revert to cliché and describe this album as cinematic: it’s a cliché Rowland clearly endorsed as the liners state ‘Written and Directed by Rowland S Howard’. With that in mind, I apologise for how flooded with spoilers this review / hagiography / fangirl diary is.

‘Silver Chain’, as co-written with Genevieve McGuckin who contributed the fantastically understated and slightly mad keyboards to These Immortal Souls records, is a thing of real beauty. I struggle to do things like this justice with my words because I am very aware as a musician myself that throwing a mixture of technically accurate adjectives and superlatives at something this heartfelt is just entirely risible. What I will say is that when it all builds to a crescendo, screeching violins and hymnal organ, as Rowland sings “I tattooed your name in a ring round my heart”, that invisibly in the act of singing this he tattooed his own on mine.

Then ‘White Wedding’. It’s got to the point now that whenever I hear the original, usually on the radio at work, I find myself wondering “Why are they playing that shit cover of a song off Teenage Snuff Film?”. Somehow he discovers a deep and primal longing in this song, recasting it as if it were an ancient folk song he found under a rock or in Nick Cave’s basement.





The final three tracks of the record are, for me, where the record’s heart is: any noir director worth their salt knows that it’s the climax you’re talking about on the way home. ‘Undone’ is the kiss-off of all kiss-offs: that trademark shower of splinters rhythm guitar approach most obviously spotted on the title track from The Birthday Party’s Junkyard is back but so are Bernard Herrman strings and the fastest drums on this record. He accentuates his filthy Valentines with scything one note atonal guitar fills until the carnival organ escapes from Cave’s ‘Your Funeral, My Trial’ and propels him to greater heights of loathing. The cruelty of the earlier songs on the record is still there but undercut with an obvious vulnerability, particularly in the ‘Coy Mistress’ quoting midsection.

‘Autoluminescent’ is just achingly sad: there is a reason they named the biopic after it. Another truly beautiful vocal performance: Rowland’s voice is not discussed enough. The focus is always, obviously, on his guitar playing but when I hear Rowland’s voice I hear one of the saddest instruments in the world. The only voice as sad and as beautiful as his for me is Billy McKenzie but obviously they sound nothing alike. While Billy masked his vulnerability (or tried unconvincingly to do so) through his technical expertise, Rowland takes strength from his. The result is the slurring, croak of a grievous androgynous angel. It’s the kind of sadness you experience when you’ve cried as much as you possibly can and you’re starting to smirk at your own ridiculousness.

What makes this song as heartbreaking as it is? It’s the way his voice cracks and frays as he slips into desperate, insane self-aggrandisement: “I’m bigger than Jesus Christ….I am dangerous, I cut like the sharpest knife” then settles again. Again I can’t do it justice and you’re just going to have to listen to the thing.

If you’ve heard of and enjoy Nick Cave, Swans, The Fall, The Gun Club, etc. and you haven’t already then why? Why not? For me Rowland S Howard is every bit Nick Cave’s equal, asides from in work ethic: Rowland penned and fronted four albums across three decades where Cave does that in three years plus umpteen soundtracks. Most of them haven’t been as good as this album but that’s alright because for me personally not much is.

Cooking Vinyl‘s track list of this record originally also included a version of ‘Shut Me Down’ after this, which I’ll be discussing in the Pop Crimes section. I see no reason whatsoever why this alternate edition should be absent from this record: The new deluxe edition with less material?

‘Sleep Alone’ brings this record to a tumultuous close with another utterly filthy Brian Hooper bassline and the most deranged guitar playing on this record. “This is my journey to the edge of the night, I’ve got no companions Louis Celine’s by my side”.

It builds, and builds until it ends with just that voice again sounding incredibly damaged and vulnerable but defiant and then there’s an outro of feedback skree and noise that could easily fit onto a Whitehouse record.

Making these things more accessible to more people can never be a bad thing: maybe next Mute can reissue the These Immortal Souls back catalogue so I can own a physical copy of Never Gonna Die Again without having to resort to prostitution. Given that Mute already issued these records in the first place there would be no reason to issue deluxe editions minus several tracks.

It is however disappointing that on neither of these reissues has there been made room for the original version of ‘Shut Me Down’ which makes the lachrymosity of the version on Pop Crimes sound like K-Pop in comparison; or Rowland’s heartbreaking cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Ocean’ which for my money (not enough for a deluxe double red vinyl edition) is an improvement on the original, this obviously not faint praise.

 





Pop Crimes

“My life plays like Grand Guignol, blood and portents everywhere”

 

Years of silence followed: make no mistake, in terms of gaps between records Rowland made Scott Walker look like Edward Ka-Spel or Mark E Smith. Then he produces a great album that is again annoyingly out of print, HTRK’s Marry Me Tonight. A wonderful album but I’m not going to write about it here.

A word of warning here: obviously the tenor of this piece has made it clear I am not writing objectively and these two records are very much a part of me at this point in time, so you may ignore this and I don’t blame you. Disclaimer aside, this album will break your heart and there’s no two ways about it.

‘I Know A Girl Called Jonny’ refers to Jonine Standish from HTRK and she sings on it in a voice that sounds almost exactly like his. Another languid, androgynous croon that makes you wish he’d reprised the Lydia Lunch ‘Shotgun Wedding’ record with her. It’s all pleasant and correct: Mick Harvey is playing a variation on the Be My Baby beat, strings are scraping, guitars are slashing and it feels like a warped girl group record. ‘Shut Me Down’ follows, and in this setting also has a 60’s pop drama: a French film embrace, black turtleneck clad lovers departing at fountains in the snow and knowing they’ll never see each other again. This time the chime of a vibraphone underscores what sounds like a Billy Fury record playing at half-speed. Then something interesting happens. Your heart just breaks. I won’t reproduce any lyrics because the ones that look the best on paper aren’t the ones that sound the best but it is another fantastic vocal performance.

Then comes his cover of Talk Talk’s ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and throughout this I have tried manfully to avoid dwelling on the biographical details behind these records: a great record should stand alone without them and I firmly believe this does. However, for a dying man to re-record ‘Life’s What You Make It’ bitterly recasts it.

When I first heard this record he was still with us: I had no idea that the man was dying. I bought a copy in Liverpool’s Probe Records, spotting the name and that incredibly distinctive face looking back off the cover. Birdlike, broken boxer’s nose, otherworldly and androgynous swathed in red light. “At long last, the lazy fucker”.

Maybe the hints were there, but Rowland was singing and writing about death since he was a teenager. On Pop Crimes, which reprises the previous track’s angular, extended lope with regular lead guitar breaks and a descended bassline akin to ‘Exit Everything’ on the previous record there are several turns of phrase that catch my breath: “open heart surgery kiss” and the phrase Pop Crime itself. Several friends of mine, some collaborators, have latched onto this phrase and shamelessly half-inched it. I in particular have stolen a lot from Rowland.





‘Nothin’’ is another cover version this time of a Townes Van Zandt song. This one isn’t such a stark transformation but it’s a fantastic song well suited to his voice and turned me onto the artist’s work: which I guess is another useful function of the cover version. Inviting you into the artist’s living room rather than throwing you out of it because you were disparaging of a genius.

‘Wayward Man’ compels me to use the word swagger and I don’t like that, I absolutely hate that word. It’s the only one that fits: there’s something sexy about it. It struts about all over the place in spite of itself. There’s a particularly nasty descending guitar riff Rowland plays at several points which takes me aback almost every time.

Again it’s the record’s climax where I really have to wax lyrical. ‘Ave Maria’ is another fantastic lyric: it’s all in the delivery but when he sings the phrase “History led her to me” it carries with it the grim inevitability of what happened next. I’m finding myself welling up simply imagining the instrumental bridge towards the end, which sounds simply like the ascension of a soul. Distant vibraphone again, a gentle surge with JP Shilo‘s violin pulling us all skyward. An overhead shot of the moment of rejection as it happens then we’re back to ‘Be My Baby’ drums slowed to a drunken heartbeat crawl. The final verse takes us into the final track on the album, and the final song we heard from the great man.

The Golden Age of Bloodshed’ from which my header quote to this section was drawn is, again, shorn of biography incredibly moving but with full context it’s just…fucking hell. A walk to the gallows rhythm serves as a backdrop to some of Rowland’s best guitar playing: all the shower-of-splinters chainsaw noises, pealing bell single notes and fuzz tantrums you can fit into the song’s short runtime. There’s a mordant black comedy to these lyrics, with their Schopenhauer references, “Catholic girls with Uzis” and a “harsh new brand of aftershave that gives you a thousand yard stare”. There’s even a “take my wife” joke any Northern standup would be proud of:

“I’m suspicious of my wife, I suspect she left long ago

I recall my finger on the button of the ejector seat

But I can’t recall letting her go”

This sounds intensely alive and vital in the shadow of death. Then it all comes to a climax with a final burst of noise trailing off into nowhere: a fade-out, a ticking rhythm disappearing off into the fog of the world. The credits roll. I am not merely dragging this cinematic metaphor to its brutal end I am again paraphrasing the liner notes that list Rowland as the director.





Cherish these records: it’s a shame he’s not around to enjoy the plaudits or the financial reward with which he may not have died skint and we may have had more to enjoy by him. I am a fervent believer that we should cherish the angels that walk among us before death beatifies them, ironing out the creases and possible unpleasantness that did not allow us to properly revere their beauty while they were alive. But sometimes it’s not possible, so allow these records into your heart and home; hope, a dangerous thing, but hope that it continues to inspire and enflame.


Related posts from the Archives

(Author) Beauty Stab Interview

(Author) Vukovar ‘Cremator’ Review

(Author) Vukovar ‘Puritan’ Review

Mick Harvey ‘Four (Acts Of Love)’ Review

Mick Harvey Live Report


The Monolith Cocktail Is Now On Ko-Fi

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



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


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

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


Previous parts:

One

Two

Q…………….

Quelle Chris ‘Guns’
(Mello Music Group)




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





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


R………………

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







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

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

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

Full review…


Rafiki Jazz ‘Saraba Sufiyana’
(Konimusic)





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

The troupe’s latest visionary songbook is a filmic panoramic beauty, no less worldly and stirring. The opening diaphanous spun ‘Su Jamfata’ encapsulates that perfectly; mirroring the group’s musical freedom and spiritual connection; lilting between a myriad of regions with stunning vocals that evoke both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Saraba Sufiyana translates as “mystic utopia”, a title that epitomizes the group’s curiosity and respect for other cultures as they build a brave new sonic world of possibility. One that takes in all the dramas and woes of the current international crisis and the lamenting poetry of venerable hardship – the final quartet cycle of prayer and spiritual yearning, ‘My Heart My Home’, beautifully conveys a multitude of gospel and traditional religious plaint, ending on the stirring Hebrew field song ‘Shedemati’. Devotional music at its most captivating and entrancing. (DV)

Full review…


Rapsody ‘Eve’
(Jamla)




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



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


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




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





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


Royal Trux ‘White Stuff’
(Fat Possum Records)







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

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

Full review…


S………………

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







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

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


Sampa the Great ‘The Return’
(Ninja Tune)




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





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


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








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

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


Seba Kaapstad ‘Thina’
(Mello Music Group)







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


Silver Sound Explosion ‘Pop Dithyramp’







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

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

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


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







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

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

Full review…


Snapped Ankles ‘Stunning Luxury’







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

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

Full review…


Stereo Total ‘Ah! Que! Cinema’







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

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

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

Full review…


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





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

Full review…


T………………

The Telescopes ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’







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

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

 Full review…


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







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

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

Full review…


Toxic Chicken ‘Uncomfortable Music’







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

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

Full review…


Owen Tromans ‘Between Stones’
(Sacred Geometry)







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

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

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

Full review…


Trupa Trupa ‘Of The Sun’
(Glitterbeat Records)







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

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

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

Full review…


U……………….

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




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





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


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







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

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

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

Full review…


V………………….

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





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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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





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


Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records)







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

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

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

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

 Full review…


W…………………..

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







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

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

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

Full review…


Y……………………

Your Old Droog ‘Transportation’
(Mongoloid Banks)





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




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


Yugen Blakrok ‘Anima Mysterium’
(IOT)




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





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

PLAYLIST
Compiled: Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver
Art: Gianluigi Marsibilio









From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – me, Dominic ValvonaMatt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in the most eclectic of playlists, with tracks as geographically different to each other as Belem and Palermo.

Digest and discover as you will, but we compile each playlist to run in order so it feels like the best uninterrupted radio show or most surprising of DJ sets.


Review: Dominic Valvona



Vukovar ‘Cremator’
(Other Voices Records) 25th May 2019


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

Yet in only four years since laying down the foundations of their stark morbid curiosity and industrial Gothic pop debut Emperor, Vukovar have managed to record seven albums via umpteen labels and always via a series of travails and fall-outs. Flanked at the time of recording by Dan Shea and Buddy Preston, and with the dutiful Phil Reynolds of Small Bear Records fame sticking it all together once more as producer, the seventh three-syllable signature grand theatre of despondent romanticism is a collaborative affairs of a kind, featuring as it does both the vaporous linger and narration of Holly Hero (Smell & Quim) and omnipresence of Simon Morris (The Ceramic Hobs).

Cremator arrives just as the Vukovar look certain to split: Buddy and Dan breaking away recently to form the Beauty Stab duo, their debut single already released on Metal Postcard Records. Carrying the torch for now, going forward, Rick will continue with the Vukovar mantle. Far from orchestrated, Cremator is nonetheless a swansong, a curtain call at least for the original lineup. It just happens to also be one of the band’s best and most accomplished works.

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

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

Elsewhere a Gothic esoteric atmosphere of post-punk and apparition crooned rock’n’roll invokes a communion between Alan Vega and the Silver Apples on the magisterial downer ‘Internment By Mirrors’, Coil and Joy Division on the album’s imperial vortex of sorrow, half-narrated, opener ‘Roma Invicta’, and Blixa Bargeld era Bad Seeds leap into the augur’s furnace with The Sisters Of Mercy, on the heavy toiled ‘Voices/Seers/Voices’.

It sounds darkly glorious in all its melodrama and pomposity, with as cerebral high artistic references as the infamous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s feature length documentary ‘Love Meetings’, and the ‘Decameron’ 100-story spanning novellas of the 14th century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio: In fact, what with the album’s opening use of the triumphal Latin mantra of an all-conquering Roman Empire (before it’s famous fall), there’s a lot of Italian, both atavistic and modern, on show; that and a prevailing theme of love, whether it’s spurned, lost, mourned or unspoken.

Once more unto the breach, Vukovar cast augurs or reflect, mooningly on the past; channeling various vessels from beyond the ether as they prowl the shadow world in pursuit or articulating a vision of dark arts experimental drama. As with the previous Monument LP they recorded with the gloom luminary Michael Cashmore, Vukovar find congruous soul mates in their choice of collaborators, Hero and Morris; attuning those individuals equally mysterious and supernatural leanings and illusions to the ambitious Vukovar mysticism.

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





Words: Dominic Valvona

Interview: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Beauty Stab are Dan Shea and Buddy Preston, two former members of the, highly tipped at one time, Goth rock industrial folk band Vukovar, who left to share their love of post punk, disco and 60s/70s/80s pop to the world. Their current three track EP has been one of this year’s musical highlights a stunning release bringing back the much missed and much needed glamour, heartbreak and bedsit seediness to the pop world.


Why did you leave Vukovar? 

Buddy: For the love of music and art, we needed a change of scenery. For a while, I fell out of love with producing music and was finding myself feeling so emotionally detached from it. Upon leaving Vukovar, I initially didn’t want to do music anymore and concentrated instead on other artistic ventures for a while. But music is where the heart is.

Dan: I’ve no desire to dwell on that or air dirty laundry. All that needs to be said is that I did.

 

What made you form Beauty Stab? 

B: The need to carry on pursuing making art and music with a close friend. I know that anything Dan writes is genius and I hope he thinks that my contributions do them some justice. Whilst in Vukovar, I wanted to record Dan’s rejected songs because I always saw something in them in a way I knew I could make them work.

D: The current landscape musically is devoid of sex and danger. Our society is moving backwards at a frightening rate. Even though we are at present operating on a very small scale, I really want to one day be to some confused queer kid living in the middle of nowhere what Marc Almond or David Bowie was in years past (or John Balance from Coil was to me). I am queer in both senses – I am gay but more crucially I am fucking Weird. Our homos should not be homogenised. We are not milk, although Harvey was. Queer is not just about sexuality – I’ve been lucky enough to know straight people with very queer sensibilities and cursed enough to know gay people who are cripplingly pedestrian. There are others doing this at the moment – SOPHIE would be one that’d spring to mind, she made my favourite singles of 2018 (It’s ‘Okay to Cry’ which is a beautiful song and ‘Ponyboy’ which is just sheer filth).

But no one is doing it in the field we operate in. It’s full of hopelessly glamour-less people with beards who make the right noises and have the right political opinions but they’re making sexless facsimiles of records made by people who, shock horror, listened to stuff by people who didn’t look and sound exactly like them. Or maybe they are but I’m not meeting them. If you’re out there please get in touch with me through the obligatory Beauty Stab social media because lord knows I need a friend. If you’re not already doing it, put some makeup on however badly, wear some nice patterns and poke at a synth ineptly and I would love to share a bill with you. I’m into the idea that left-wing politics doesn’t have to be austere and devoid of joy. Bronski Beat strike a chord with me far more than some dullard with an acoustic guitar telling me what I already know in a way I don’t want to hear.

I know it’s also an ABC reference but Beauty Stab is a powerful combination of words. A shard of luxury you don’t actually have to be able to afford because we’re there, you’re here, it’s now and this is the only time we have. In my current crop headed state, Buddy’s the Beauty and I’m the Stab. Bad news from a pretty mouth.

 

 

What are your influences?

B: Life experiences, tales of old, people we appreciate. Musically, whatever we’re listening to at that moment. We’re creating mixtape style playlists for various streaming media to let people know what we love right now, and maybe we can enlighten some people.

 

Dan: Quote Clothes – “girl group hymns and jackboot disco”.

Different movements really. Musically, all the people listed in England’s Hidden Reverse with Coil being the best. We like lots of Italo disco and Chicago house and Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Prince, etc. Those people were emulating. We’re also massive, massive fans of Rowland S Howard and pretty much anything he touched. Then there’s all the obvious Bowie, Iggy, Roxy, Lou Reed. Then there’s girl group records and by default anyone who has the sense to plagiarise them.

Then we’re also influenced by how shit everything is, and also the ethos that riot grrrl bands and people like Crass had even if the artwork and the ideas are invariably more interesting than the music which is a bit sonically conservative and paint by numbers.

 

 

You worked with many established artists with Vukovar, have you any plans to collaborate with any with Beauty Stab? Or are going to rely on your own talent?

B: We’ve played with some people that have really inspired us as artists; so to call those friends now is incredible. I wouldn’t want to rely on those with an already established fan base, we wouldn’t say no to the right people, of course.

D: That’s a bit of a pointed question isn’t it? We’ll see what happens. There are people I’d love to work with but whether it was as Beauty Stab or part of their project or something else entirely is another consideration. We’ve both got a very definite vision and aesthetic for what we’re doing and that may morph over time but anyone who we did work with would have to fulfil two criteria.

 

  1. If we can do it, we do it. If we can’t then we’ll bring them in.

 

  1. This ship has no passengers. I only want to work with people who have ideas of their own and can contribute to the creative process: not a glorified plug in we’re scripting or trading on the value of the name of. An example of someone I’d love to work with would be Karl Blake. I keep asking him. He’s not released a record in decades. Mick Harvey plays on about half of my record collection but that’s never going to happen. We’re obviously going to collaborate with the Mekano Set because they’re our friends.

 

 

Are you going to stay as a two-piece or have you any plans to expand the line up?

B: We plan on having quite an interchangeable line up depending on what type of gigs we’re attending. For now, we’re using all sorts of machines, synths and tapes to help us get the live sound we want. But in the future, we would love to play our songs with a full band.

D: I’m open to ideas.

 

 Any gigs planned? Plans for the near future?

D: Our live setup is mostly composed of broken equipment, also utilising drums and sequenced bass tracks played off a tape recorder a la OMD. As such there are no dates to announce – we are in talks with several different venues and I’m looking forward to making everyone of any gender in the audience pregnant solely through the means of my voice and dancing. If that doesn’t work Buddy is categorically the best looking man in the world so there’s always that. I can only imagine that even blind and deaf people could develop a crush on him.





The recently released Beauty Stab EP, O Eden, can be downloaded from all usual outlets or from Metal Postcard Records bandcamp.


Words: Brian Shea


Single Review: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




Beauty Stab ‘O Eden’
(Metal Postcard Records) 8th March 2019

 

So this is the debut single from the new pop duo Beauty Stab; a duo that has the talent to bring some excitement, sleaze and glamour into what the staid machine of the music industry has become. Words cannot do justice to just how good this single and two B- sides are, well actually I will call it triple A-sides as the two extras are equally as special as the triumph that is the lead off track, ‘O Eden’.

So I will start with ‘O Eden’ a song that is the closest we will get to the Walker Brothers this year or any other year. Dan Shea is probably the finest pop singer in pop today, he has the melodrama the heart and bedsit seediness that has not been heard in pop since the golden days of Soft Cell, he has the same qualities as the early 70s Bowie: The “I am a pop master you are just pretenders; sit back and see how it really should be done”.

‘O Eden’ is plainly just a beautifully written pop swoon of a ballad, if when the chorus sweeps in, if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye and a lump to your throat you should get someone to check your pulse to see if you are still in the land of the living. Majestic is the word.

The second track ‘Need You Around’, sang by another member of Beauty Stab, the pop pinup in waiting Buddy Miller, is a song again blessed with a otherworldly beauty that you just do not sadly, very often, hear in pop today; part Blur’s ‘To The End’ sang by a young Morrissey in his Smiths days, bathed in echo, it is a drop dead beaut of a song, and when a new duo has two such fine singers, haunting is the word.

The third track ‘Clothes’ shows the other side to the mighty Beauty Stab, the sleazy sordid side. This is all Bowie Scary Monsters guitars Walker Brothers Nite Flights darkness: “Your girlfriends clothes looks better on me, your skin looks better on my skin”. A song with so much cut dead gutter sex it is dangerous. Raunchy in a word.

So the words majestic, haunting, and raunchy have all been used in describing this three-track single perfectly. I would also like to add, Major record labels get your cheque books out, I think there might be a bit of a bidding war on.





Albums Selected By Dominic Valvona and Matt Oliver.





Welcome to Part Two of our alphabetically ordered best/choice/favourite albums of 2018 feature. You can find Part One here…


The decision making process: 

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

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

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

All of our favourite new and reissued albums and EPs from 2018 are of course considered to be the most interesting, vibrant and dynamic of the year’s releases. But the best? Granted, to make this list you have to have made some sort of impact, but we’d never suggest these entries were categorically the best albums of 2018: even if that might be true. Instead our list is an indicator of our amorphous tastes, rounding up another year in the life of the Monolith Cocktail, and we hope, introducing you to titles and artists/bands that may have dropped below the radar or got lost in the noise of more commercial better promoted releases.

All selections in PART TWO from me (Dominic Valvona) and Matt Oliver.

N.

Thomas Nation ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’ (Faith & Industry)


 

Fixed intently on the anguishes of identity in a post-Brexit voted England, yet bleaching his 1960s bucolic and 1970s lounge (erring towards yacht rock almost) imbued songbook with nostalgia, the lyrics themselves read as augurs yet embedded on parchment, Blue House front-man James Howard weaves a diaphanous if plaintively foreboding chronicle of the past and present.

Creating a whole new persona as Thomas Nation, his commitment to a hazy timeless sound, both rustic and ambitious, goes as far as using only his rough mono mixes; undeveloped and left in their most honest, purest form. You won’t be surprised to learn that Howard has also released his Nation moniker debut, Battle Of The Grumbles, on cassette tape.

Littered with references to this Island’s past (both at home and overseas), from the illustrated album cover scene of the 16th century ‘Battle of the Spurs’ (when the Holy Roman Empire teamed up with Henry VIII’s England) to more ambiguous stirrings and despondent yearnings that feature musical echoes from across that ages, Battle Of The Grumbles stands metaphorically at the precipice of the white cliffs of Dover awaiting Britain’s fate.

A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside. Full review…

(Dominic Valvona)


Tony Njoku ‘H.P.A.C’  (Silent Kid Records)


 

Bringing a very different perspective and life experience to the London avant-garde art and electronic music scene, the British-Nigerian producer with the earthy falsetto, Tony Njoku, articulates a most unique form of magical soul music on his stunning new album. Though undulated with an ethereal to malady suffused backing of sophisticated synthesized travails, Njoku’s vocals always seem to bobble and float above the choppy breaks and ebbing tides.

Adrift in so many ways, through his life experiences, transferring as he did at the age of fourteen to London from a life spent hiding his true personality in the toxic macho boarding schools of Lagos, the sensitive Njoku found at least one kind of solace; able to show a vulnerability and pursue the music career he really wanted having previously recorded a number of hip-hop albums (the first when he was only twelve) that proved entirely counterintuitive, but were completely in tune with Nigerian environment he grew up in. Yet in the arts community he joined in his new home of London, he found few Afrocentric voices or people he could identify with or relate to. From that isolation comes an album inspired by the ‘high art sonic’ forms of Arca and Anhoni, and by the metamorphosis nature of Bjork; Njoku’s own compositions feature a beautiful synthetic shuffle of Afrofuturism soul and more searing discordant synth waves that clash and distort on arrival but gradually sync and become part of the motion. From beauty to pain and release, and often back again, each track (and not in a bad way) seems open-ended; a constant flowing cycle of emotions, which can be healed during that moment, in that space and time, but will inevitably return: A calm followed by turbulence and hopefully the light.

Eloquently in a hymn like fashion between pained malady and the venerable, heavenly but also melancholic and turbulent, H.P.A.C is a futuristic soul album of delicate intellect. Full review…

(DV)



P.

Micall Parknsun & Mr Thing ‘Finish What We Started’  (Village Live)



“Mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration…with all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall” – RnV July 18

Featuring “beats to make your eyebrow dip” and the flow of one of the UK’s most reliably disdainful when it comes to holding your own, Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing made the very good decision to turn 2017’s one-off ‘The Raw’ into a 40 minute non-apology for playing the game properly. With hip-hop mumbling its way to the dogs, this pair have fire in the belly for the unfashionable return to beats and rhymes designed to stick around and give a damn. Measured run-ups streaked with bluesy, soulful headspace occupancy (with drums front and centre each and every time), a crux of blockbusters and pure boom bap battery, all land like a two-footed tackle, Thing researching and sculpting ‘the real’ without making it a puff piece on nostalgia or announcing they’re here to save the world. Park-E does his utmost to remain an upstanding citizen, pushed to his limits by both Thing’s heavyweight kicks and snares and general scene lethargy. The emcee’s systematic, it’s on when I say so-flow, perfectly lands the elbow once the producer has left you staggering backwards.

(Matt Oliver)

Josh T. Pearson ‘The Straight Hits’  (Mute)


 

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out onto the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ with his latest album for Mute Records.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell! Full review…

(DV)



Q.

Qujaku ‘Qujaku’ (So I Buried Records)


 

Occupying both the spiritual and cosmic planes, emerging from the gloom and holy sanctuaries of the dead, the brooding Hamamatsu-based Japanese band Qujaku wowed with their second album of operatic Gothic and psychedelic doom-mongering. Beginning as they mean to go on, the opening ‘Shoko No Hakumei’ suite, more an overture, is itself a full on Ring cycle (as conducted by Boris) that is dramatic and sprawling: running almost the entire length of a full side of a traditional vinyl album.

On a very large foreboding canvas, Qujaku build-up an impressive tumult across the album’s nine-tracks of prowling esotericism and galloping drum barrage immensity. Between crescendo-bursting three-part acts and shorter volatile slabs of heavy caustic drone rock, the group often evokes an Oriental Jesus And Mary Chain, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Spacemen 3, or Nine Inch Nails when at their most enraged. Psychedelic in the mode of The Black Angels, but also straying at their most languid and navel-gazing towards Shoegaze, Qujaku’s dark spanning cacophony of throbs and trembles bear many subtle nuances and becalmed breaks amongst the masses and maelstroms.

On an epic scale, dreaming big and intensely, Qujaku perform the most dramatic of daemonic theatre. Full review…

(DV)



R.

RAM ‘August 1791’ 


 

Considering the tumultuous bloody revolution from which an independent Haiti was born, RAM leader Richard A Morse‘s “Our existence is a political statement” mantra is unsurprising. Named after the initials of their road well travailed founder, RAM perform an entrancing spectacle of the ritualistic. Morse, originally born in Puerto Rico but brought up in Connecticut, spent the 80s rubbing shoulders with the polygenesis New York art and music scene’s Jean-Michel Basquiat and Warhol’s factory. His interest piqued by the new wave’s adoption of Afro-diaspora rhythms and world music, Morse decided to travel to his native homeland to study the Haitian sound.

The son of Haiti folk legend Emerante de Pradine, Morse was already well aware of his ancestral roots, but had yet to indulge in or absorb the rich history of the island fully. After an initial short trip, Morse found himself it seems so seduced and inspired by Haiti’s culture that he decided to stay for good. Marrying local dancer and singer Lunise, he kick started the frenzied, rambunctious troupe, channeling the ideas he picked up on in New York and merging them with the signature instrumentation and sounds of the local Vodou belief, mizik-rasin and the drifting currents of the Caribbean and Africa.

This year’s odyssey, guided by the spirits and with dedications to the marternel and those that have helped (including the pivotal film director Jonathan Demme, who prominently featured one of their tracks in his or award-winning Philadelphia movie in 1994) shaped the band over the years, springs from Haiti’s enslaved population’s struggle for independence from its European masters. August 1791, the year and month of revolution (inspired by their colonial masters own revolution), frames this tropical fusion of tragedy and sauntering joy. Returning to the legends that sparked this fight, such as the ill-fated former slave turned leader of revolt, Toussaint Louverture (driving out the Spanish and British but captured and imprisoned under Napoleon’s regime; languishing in a cell at Fort de Joux until he died in 1803), and first Emperor of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (assassinated by disgruntled members of the burgeoning administration), RAM evoke the spark that set in motion the first free republic of African heritage people in the Western hemisphere. Their seventh album not only pays tribute but features a musical accompaniment from that era; with a sound more or less, when stripped to its essence, that would be familiar to the Creole and African communities of the late 18th century.

Uniting in a busy percussive fusion the Americas with the roots of Africa, RAM bustle and hustle traditions to produce a paean to the Island they call home.

(DV) 



Soho Rezanejad ‘Six Archetypes’


 

Impressive in all its striking celestial and throbbing distressed staccato shimmer the experimental Danish artist Soho Rezanejad’s ethereal but equally futurist dystopian ambitious new LP, Six Archetypes, is a bold exploration of identity politics.

Interplaying six of the major character symbols (The Guardian, The Orphan, The Seeker, The Russian, The Idealist, The Prostitute) from the Tarot with Carl Jung’s Psychological writings on the collective and structured reality, Rezanejad weaves the complex contemporary themes of gender liquidity and self-discovery into an amorphous mix of electronica, darkwave and Gothic pop suites.

Though not always audible, Rezanejad’s untethered vocals – vaporous and often ghostly undulating in an aria style – whisper, coo, lull, pant, wrench and shout throughout the shard majestic and multilayered intricate backing of synthesized, programmed, modeled sounds. It’s a striking voice too. At times, such as the beautiful but serious stellar flight of the navigator, Bjork meets Chino Amobi, rotary opener Pilot The Guardian, she sounds like Nico. And at other times, such as the lush Bowie/Sylvian synchronicity, Soon, her vocals sound like a mixture of Jesus Zola and Lykke Li.

Returning to the soil, so to speak, Rezanejad saves her most heartfelt yearn until the end; lovingly but starkly impassioned, singing in her ancestral tongue of Farsi – Rezanejad is the daughter of first generation Iranian immigrants – the National Council Of Resistance Of Iran’s alternative national song in protest against the state’s heavy-handed ideology.

An ambitious debut opus of dark beauty and ominous despair, Six Archetypes is a highly impressive cosmology of gender, roots and futurism politics and narratives. Full review…

(DV)



S.

Sad Man ‘ROM-COM’


 

Haphazardly prolific, Andrew Spackman, under his most recent of alter egos, the Sad Man, has released an album/collection of giddy, erratic, in a state of conceptual agitation electronica every few months since the beginning of 2017.

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

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

(DV)


Otis Sandsjö ‘Y-OTIS’ (We Jazz Records)  


 

Imbued as much by the complex language of North American and European modernist jazz as those who use it to riff on in the hip-hop and electronic music genres, the adroit Gothenburg saxophonist and composer Otis Sandsjö transmogrifies his own jazz performances so they transcend, or at least amorphously (like liquid) expand into polygenesis soundscapes.

Y-OTIS reimagines a musical union between Flying Lotus and Donny McCaslin, or better still, Madlib reconstructing the work of 3TM; the flow, if you can call it that, sounding like a remix deconstruction in progress as the rapid and dragging fills and staggered rolls of his group’s drummer Tilo Webber are stretched out, inverted and reversed into a staccato to dynamic bursting set of breakbeats and loops. Mirroring all the various cut-and-paste techniques of the turntablist maestros, Sandsjö and his dexterous troupe of keyboardist Elias Stemeseder, bassist Petter Eidh and Webber sound like a group being remixed in real time, live: And it sounds brilliant, as you’re never quite sure where each of these compositions is going to end up.

Sandsjö’s debut album, released via the Helsinki festival and label platform We Jazz Records, is a multilayered serialism suite of ideas and experimental visions. All of which, despite that complexity and blending of sophisticated avant-garde jazz, hip-hop, R&B, trip-hop and dance music, keep an ear out for the melody. If the ACT label, or ECM, ever converges with Leaf and Anticon, Y-OTIS might well be the result. Full review…

(DV)



Scran Cartel ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’  (Scran Cartel)



“A great, belt-loosening spread grilling you with much more than just a bunch of culinary one-liners” – RnV Aug 18

Brit grafters MNSR Frites (Granville Sessions) and Benny Diction (Corners) read you the specials for twelve fascinating tracks, packing foot-related rhetoric from the moment the dinner bell sounds. It’s quite an accomplishment to master such a particular angle without it being a gimmick, and easy to forget that ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’ is not specifically a concept album, just an expression of culinary love. These two really know their cookbooks and have a shopping list that you can’t check out quick enough, from cordon bleu menu toppers to bread and butter basics and young at heart sweetshop favourites, the Estuary English plating your three squares a day with the same near-apathy as they do exotic, forbidden fruit. The jazzy, funky beats are garnish to the duo cookery schooling everyone, indulging in one sub-grime moment on the E-numbered ‘Dundee’, and a cultural knowhow showing that greed isn’t always good, adds weight to their sprattish statement of “we write and record rap songs about food”. A chef fingers’ kiss for this one.

(MO)


Skyzoo ‘In Celebration of Us’  (First Generation Rich)



“Some of the smoothest psychology and concrete consciousness you’ll hear this year. One to be toasted over and over” – RnV Feb 18

Giving ‘In Celebration of Us’ the grown man rap label is a bit of a giveaway given Skyzoo’s opening skit of confiding in a pal about giving up the streets for the sake of his newborn. The Brooklynite and new father speaks a lot of sense, a flow that will express disappointment rather than anger and keep the titular celebrations modest, and attracts a captive audience when aiming at your head twofold, comprehensively ensuring the wateriness of neo-soul doesn’t just ebb away, or the dustiness of Detroit-style beats fugs your judgement. Picture a sometimes reluctant lecturer, as everyman as the tales you’ll familiarise yourself with, but giving you the full education once the mic in his hand. Not clinging to verse, hook, verse structure, Skyzoo doesn’t ramble, rather makes certain that he’s examined everything from top to bottom, very much schooled in knowing that if something’s worth doing, do it properly. Enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy – there are some undeniably slick, R&B moves crossing over as well – and rather more pensive when presented with the cold light of day.

(MO)


The Last Skeptik ‘Under the Patio’  (Thanks for Trying)



“An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness: dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach” – RnV July 18

Intense from The Last Skeptik, extremely well connected and arguably more well rounded since after a spell of paying extra-curricular dues. Surrounding himself with a boiling pot of hungry emcees gets a maximum return from teeth gritted, rapid fire, pound the road, witty unpredictables, all of whom casually playing down their iron mic grip. Synth-wired, at times spindly beats either host the back-to-mine session or storm the stage, perfect for its roll call – Bonkaz, Kojey Radical, Doc Brown, Scrufizzer but four headliners to pick from – to move through and dominate while playing the back, with motive or just willing daylight away. While originally noted for soundtracking summer humidity, ‘Under the Patio’ is decidedly not an album for office hours. Dabbling in shades of the exotic and skilfully soulful throughout for an album of rough edges, it’s the careful contrasts – the haunting ‘Hide & Seek’ featuring Matt Wills, the inexplicable but permissible ‘Calm Down’ inviting The Manor round for a knees up (there’s the versatility for you) – and Skeptik’s own version of ‘Deep Cover’ on posse cut ‘Oxymoron’ – that triumph in their cohesion to give TLS a massive W.

(MO)


Stella Sommer ’13 Kinds Of Happiness’ (Affairs Of The Heart)


 

In the vogue of an age-old central European malady, the dour romanticism that permeates the stunning solo debut album from the German singer/songwriter Stella Sommer is wrapped in a most beautiful gauze of melodious uplift and elegiac heartache.

Artistically, as the results prove, making the best decision of her career, Sommer steps out for a sojourn from her role in the German band Die Heiterkeit. Far from an extension of that group (though band mates Hanitra Wagner and Phillip Wolf both join her on this album), there are of course concomitant traces of it. Sommer however makes louder but also accentuates these traces and lingering relationships; her lived-in, far-beyond-her-years vocal more sonorous and commanding than before.

Possibly as perfect as an album can get, 13 Kinds Of Happiness is an ambitious, slowly unveiling album of diaphanous morose. Pastoral folk songs and hymn-like love trysts are transduced by a Gothic and Lutheran choral liturgy rich backing that reimagines Nico fronting Joy Division, or Marianne Faithfull writhing over a Scary Monsters And Super Creeps era Bowie soundtrack (especially on the galloping Northern European renaissance period evoking thunderous drumming ‘Dark Princess, Dark Prince’; just one of the album’s many highlights). I don’t use that Nico reference lightly: Sommer channeling the fatalistic heroine’s best qualities atmospherically speaking.

A curious Teutonic travail of venerable lovelorn despair and modesty, Sommer’s debut LP will take time to work its magic. But work its magic it will. A tremendous talent lyrically and vocally, serious and astute yet melodically enriching and lilted, her sagacious deep tones are starkly dramatic, but above all, rewarding. Here’s to a solo indulgence that I hope long continues. Full review…

(DV)


Station 17 ‘Blick’  (Bureau B)


 

With near enough thirty years of experience behind them and a changeable lineup of both musicians with and without various disabilities, the Station 17 collective once more shift their focus and sound; moving away from the all-out pop of the last album Alles Für Alle for a more improvised travail through the Krautrock, Kosmische and experimental electronica cannon.

Free of predetermined structures, lyrics and ideas they enjoyed an improvised freedom; inviting a host of German musical royalty to take part in what is a collaborative recording experience – something they’ve done in the past, having worked with icons such as Michael Rothar and the late Holger Czukay. And so each of the album’s tracks feature the signatures sounds and quirks of its guests: The writhing prehistoric Krautrock-jazzy Le Coeur Léger, Le Sentiment D’un Travail Bien Fait for example features the guiding avant-garde, ‘musique concrète’ presence of drum and bass partnership of Jean-Hervé Péron (the French title track I dare say his idea) and Zappi Diermaier; key founders of the reverent agent provocateurs Faust, who in recent decades have broken away to form their own iteration of the group under the faUSt banner. And, though only as part of its most modern regeneration, Tangerine Dream’s Ulrich Schnauss appears to gaze through a progressive Kosmische tinged explored ‘astronomical telescope’ on the album’s heaven’s gate opening finale.

From another generation, Dirk Dresselhaus, aka Schneider TM, appears both as an engineer, capturing these sessions and crafting them into a coherent album, and as a collaborator on the kooky bossa nova preset Die Uhr Spricht. Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! infamy appears alongside Station 17 singer Siyavash Gharibi on the poppier, Der Plan-esque Dinge, and another Andreas, Andreas Dorau, joins the same upbeat, marimba like candour on what we’re told is an “enduring appraisal of post-capitalist perversion”, Schaust Du, whilst Datashock travel through the primordial soup into another dimension on the Acid Mothers-hitch-a-ride-aboard-the-Cosmic Jokers-spaceship Zauberpudding.

Turning the dial on an imaginary radio station, attuned to all the highlights from Germany’s most experimental if rhythmic decades, Blick confidently absorbs the influences and inspirations of its multitude of guests to produce social commentary and reflect on the here and now. Full review…

(DV)



T.

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (Hive Mind Records)


 

The amorphous traversing post-rock and jazz travelogue from Brazilian guitarist/composer Rodrigo Tavares is filled with a sense of contemplation and meditation, and a yearn for the spiritual. The spiritual is represented in Congo’s genesis; the catalyst for Tavares soundtrack inspired, in part at least, by a visit to the controversial ‘spiritual healer’ John of God – a medium, psychic surgeon of dubious repute -, who lives in the remote central Brazilian town of Abadiânia. The meditative, in this case, runs throughout the suggestive instrumental passages and vignettes that ponderously drift, cascade and ebb across a real and imagined borderless global soundtrack.

Suffused throughout this album you’ll find lingering traces of the ACT jazz label, minimalism, Tortoise post-rock, Brazilian legends Joâo Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi and Tom Jobim, and removed by quite a few degrees, a hint of the free-form untethered to any easy classification, evolving guitar experimentation of the Sun City Girls – as it happens a show in a remote former gay bar in Brazil by the same band was one of the stopovers on Tavares ‘transformative road trip’; the fruits of which and experience laying down the creative foundations for Congo.

Truly transglobal, Tavares helps take Brazilian music – like his fellow compatriot Sentidor – into often trance-y, unburdened and unlabored directions. With few rough edges, this congruous soundtrack makes for a ruminating, thoughtful smooth journey. Full review…

(DV)


Samba Touré ‘Wande’  (Glitterbeat Records)


 

In a country abundant with guitar virtuosos, the highly genial Samba Touré still stands out as one of Mali’s most celebrated and accomplished; transducing the travails, heartache but also joy of his homeland through his signature articulate nimble-fingered style of playing.

His third album for Glitterbeat Records – the first, Albala, was the label’s inaugural release in 2013 – Wande is billed as a warmer homely songbook: previous releases were produced during the Islamist insurgency that swept aside and hijacked the Northeastern Tuareg communities’ battle for autonomy in the north eastern regions of Mali. Far from a complete break, the sadness endures on Wande; though Touré sadness is a most beautiful, cantering and lingering one. Especially when paying tribute to his friend and collaborator, sokou fiddle maestro Zoumana Tereta, on the spoken word with wavering drifty, almost dub-like echo-y effects tracks of the same name, which features the late musician’s spindly evocations from beyond the ether.

Recorded in under two weeks, allowing weekends for band members to scratch a living playing at weddings, sessions for the album were relaxed, performances captured on their first take with few overdubs. The lo fi production feel of the rocking blues ‘Yerfara/We Are Tired’ could be a lost inspiration for 80s period Rolling Stones with its almost transmogrified Start Me Up like Richards riff. ‘Goy Boyro/The Good Work (Well Done)’ even begins with a Taj Mahal, BB King reminiscent introduction hook, before dipping over the horizon. But whatever you do, don’t call this is a desert blues album, or even an African one; Touré correctly insistent that this is contemporary ‘universal’ rock music.

Not quite such a leap of faith or different to previous albums, an unpolished and laidback methodology has produced a slightly more sagacious, free-floating quality and another essential Touré masterpiece. Full review…

(DV)


Ty ‘A Work of Heart’  (Jazz Re:Freshed)



“Almost feels like a magic carpet ride over the capital’s skyline; come and spread your arms if you really need a hug” – RnV Mar 18

Soft focus viewed with the wisest of eyes cutting through life’s smokescreen: the eminent UK statesman preserves the essence of never getting too high or too low. Ty has long had that trustworthy delivery of a life coach who can pep you up – inspirational with quiet authority – and tell you to man up without raising his voice, any hints at vulnerability given the very British keep calm and carry on treatment (“when you smile with me publicly I’m wearing a mask, gritting my teeth, a wolf in a bundle of sheep”). The liltingly clean production is what might turn a few ears belonging to those thinking hip-hop’s not for them – right from the off it’s of a Ty-tracked, toasted cinnamon bun snugness, a concrete jungle paved with a yellow brick road heading towards promised lands, but with the plain sailing carrying some turbulence. ‘A Work of Heart’ sounds as good as when Jack Frost comes knocking, as much as when the summer’s hose pipes were forbidden fruit. And like the first blooms of spring. AND the first leaves of autumn falling too.

(MO)



U.

U.S. Girls  ‘In A Poem Unlimited’  (4AD)


 

Featuring most of the Toronto cast of collaborators that propelled the first U.S. Girls release for 4AD records, Half Free, forward, but stretched and lushly flexed into space boogie and other equally eclectic grooves by the city’s multi-limbed collective The Cosmic Range, Meg Remy’s latest cerebral pop revision tones down some of the vibrancy for acerbic, sax-wailing pouted-lips resignation and introversion.

Moving across the border from the USA with her husband and musical collaborator Maximilian Turnbull, aka guitar-slinging maverick Slim Twig, long before Trump reached The White House, Remy has broadened her postmodernist transmogrification of bleeding hearts 60s girl group meets tape-loops signature to accommodate femme fatale disco and funk since making a new home for herself in Canada.

The momentum of this album fluctuates throughout, and compared to Half Free, takes a lot to bed in and flow – and I’m still not sold on the two skits -, starting as it does with the aching ponderous slow burner Velvet 4 Sale – perhaps Remy’s most dark fantasy yet, imaging (just imagining mind) a role reversal of power, as she implores a girl friend to buy a gun for protection, impressing that the only way to change men is for women to use violence. An unsettling twist played out to a dragging soul fuzz backing track, the song’s central tenant imagines a world where women take up arms against men, though Remy ‘deplores violence’ of course. It’s followed by an equally sensually nuzzling sax and yearned vocal performance, and take on the Plastic Ono Band, Rage Of Plastic, before picking up with the album’s most bouncy weaponized boogie, M.A.H. – a chic Ronnie Spector fronting Blondie style diatribe broadside aimed at the democrats venerated saviour Obama, who Remy condemns for the charismatic charm seduction that pulled-the-wool over many supporters eyes, hiding the fact that he presided over a covert number of unsavory drone strikes.

Hardly disarming then, In A Poem Unlimited deplores the present hierarchy with a seething checked rage, set to a challenging but melodious soundtrack of yearning no wave, scintillating chic disco, Plastic Ono Band soul, vaporous 80s pop and even jazz. The patriarch comes in for some scathing poetic justice; played out to some of the year’s best tunes and performances. Full review…

(DV)



V.

Vukovar ‘Infinitum’ (Le Recours Forêts Production)

Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’


 

Among the most prolific of bands, Vukovar have released two of their most stunning albums in just the last quarter of 2018 alone. Keeping to the signature three-syllable grandly entitled Gothic statements of malcontent, melodrama, aggrandizement and melconholy, both Infintum and Monument romantically encircle the void better and with more sagacious quality than previous records. Though only in existence for barely three years, and perhaps already splitting up, Vukovar are improving on every release. Both are included because…well, I can’t make my mind up about which of these recent opuses of despair and hermetic exploration I prefer.  Hell….they’re both great. And here’s why:

The fifth LP in the malcontent’s cannon, Infinitum, pulls at the mortal coil of human misery in a murky quagmire. An endless backing track of reverberating delayed snare strikes, a rolling timpani bounding bass drum, esoteric stately sounding waltzes, unwieldy bestial guitar, resigned new romantic synth and escaped melodies muddily, and often amorphously, swim and oscillate around a combination of longing, if worn down and depressed, swooning vocals and Rimbaud-meets-Crowley-meets-Kant-on-the-edge-of-an-abyss poetic despairing narration, on what is a bleak if at times gloriously dark beauty of an album.

Bound-up in their own self-imposed limitations, these anarchistic dreamers go one further than the Hebrew code of law commandments by adhering to 13 of their own; each one a rule or restriction in the recording process that couldn’t be broken, at any cost. So strict were these conditions that even if the band were close to finishing the album, any infringement no matter how minor, would result in the entire sessions being abandoned. Mercifully they made it through to the end; releasing a troubled, bleak lo fi ritualistic romance of an grand opus.

Cut from the same cloth, but collaborating with an undoubted influence, the group’s sixth LP, Monument, traverses the void with Current 93 stalwart and producer/composer Michael Cashmore (appearing under the guises of his Nature And Organization nom de plume). A congruous in what is a melancholy harrowing romantic partnership with the morbidly curious Vukovar, Cashmore leads with a vaporous, industrial and often godly (whichever God/Gods they be) brutalist swathe of sagacious moodiness. Arguably inheritors of Current 93 and, even more so, Coil’s gnostic-theological mysticism and brooding venerable communions, Cashmore seems the obvious foil. Current’s The Innermost Light and Coil’s (and John Balance’s swan song as it were) The Ape Of Naples both permeate this conceptual opus.

From haunting melodrama to harrowing decay, unrequited love to radiant escape, the loss of innocence and youth to sagacious death rattles, Vukovar prove ideal torchbearers of the cerebral Gothic sound and melancholic romanticism. A meeting of cross-generational minds with both partners on this esoteric immersive experience fulfilling their commitments, Monument shows a real progression for Vukovar, and proves a perfect vehicle for Cashmore’s uncompromising but afflatus ideas to flourish in new settings, whilst confirming his reputation and status.

Whatever happens next, this ambitious work will prove a most fruitful and lasting highlight in the Vukovar cannon; one that’s growing rapidly, six albums in with a seventh already recorded; another ‘momentous’ statement that affirms the band’s reputation as one of the UK’s most important new bands. Full reviews…

(DV)



Y.

‘Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs Of World War II’  (Six Degrees)  


 

In light of the recent Tree Of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, the increasingly uncomfortable language and hostility from the far Left, and the rising tide of European wide anti-semitism, this most tragic songbook of WWII Soviet Union laments from the Jewish community that joined Stalinist Russia’s defence against the Nazis, is a timely reminder of persecution from the graveyard of history. 400,000 men and women signed up to fight Hitler’s forces in one of the most bloody and apocalyptic campaigns in military history. If gratitude was ever warranted, the fate that awaited many of the survivors was anything but; mistrust and resentment instead led to swathes of the Soviet Union’s Jews being imprisoned, tortured and murdered by Stalin’s regime, their sacrifice for the mother nation all but airbrushed out of existence – almost.

Thought lost in the annals of time; suppressed, if not destroyed, the tragic but poetic WWII testaments, made lyrical prose, of just a small cross-section of Russia’s Jews is given the richly evocative and adroit production showcase it deserves by a collective of professors, producers and musicians. Originally unified in an anthology by an ethnomusicologist from the Kiev Cabinet For Jewish Culture, Moisei Beregovsky, alongside colleague Rovim Lerner, hundreds of Yiddish songs written by Red Army soldiers, victims and survivors of the Nazi’s massacres were gathered in the hope of being eventually published and performed. Unfortunately at the very height of the Communist Party’s purges in the decades that followed the end of WWII, both these well-intentioned preservationists were arrested. Subsequently the project was never finished, the work sealed up and hidden away. But as it would later transpire, not destroyed.

Transcribing these laments and firsthand accounts of endurance (many of which included testament evidence to various Nazi atrocities) would take patience, skill but above all respect. The results of this this most tragic desideratum are underscored by the musical director and violinist Sergei Erdenko‘s conducted stirring accompaniment ensemble of classically trained instrumentalists and singers; all of whom were brought together by the producer, and overseer (one amongst a whole group of people that have perserved, shared and made this project possible over the decades) Dan Rosenberg.

Songs of heroism, stoic belief, and even more violently encouraging prompts to machine gun as many Nazis as possible, are brought back to life. But despite the materials obvious harrowing and tragic heart-wrenching nature, the music throughout is a dizzying, waltzing mix of Yiddish, Roma, Klezmer, folk and even jazzy cabaret that’s often upbeat. The band does a sterling job in giving voice to those suppressed individuals and the songs that were believed lost forever, destroyed by a regime that would treat its loyal Jewish community, many of which made the ultimate sacrifice and wholeheartedly believed in the socialist doctrine, little better than the Nazis they so valiantly overcame. Yiddish Glory is not just a reminder however, or even just a revelation, but a beautifully produced and evocative performance. Full review…

(DV)


Thom Yorke ‘Suspiria (Music For The Luca Guadagnino Film)  (XL Recordings)


 

I’ve no idea of the inimitable Thom Yorke‘s methodology and process – whether he composed directly to a cut of Luca Guadagnino‘s remake, or, went away on the premise that…well, it’s Suspiria, and this iconic Gallo trip knows exactly what sort of a soundtrack it thirsts for, so I’ll just make it up in me head -, but whatever it is, his evocative harrowing soundtrack technique works; providing an eerie balance of spine-chilling tension and beautiful dreamy waltzes.

Elevating further the progressive and ritualistic treatment of the original 1977 Suspiria movie soundtrack by Italy’s revered Goblin, Yorke’s mirror-y hypnotised lingered vignettes and bestial guttural scares are treated with earnest seriousness.

If a film could be even more stylised than its original forbearers, this post-millennial disturbed take by Gundagino is an artistically knowing, conceptually aloof indulgence for the senses that receives the most stunning, richly esoteric of soundtracks. Compelling, alluring and plaintive; using many of the arty macabre’s signature tricks, atmospheric mood stirrers and prompts – from heightened Gothic choral aches to Carpenter meets Oldfield piano note and tubular chiming nerve tinklers – Yorke sets out his soundtrack somewhere between the perimeters of Kubrick, magic realism, psychological drama, Dario Argento, Francois de Roubaix and his very own solo work.

The proof is in the candle-lit shadowy mood induced eating of course, and sitting as I was in the daylight of the early afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel unnerved enough to check behind the curtains for murderous witchery dance troupe teachers, who’s intent was to embed a sacrificial knife into my skull. Yes I was spooked.

A frightful but often ethereal magical score, Yorke matches his Radiohead foil, Jonny Greenwood in the field of soundtracks: an artform all in itself. I’ve no doubt it will become a cult album; equal to the sacred Goblin score, if not, dare I suggest, an improvement.

(DV) 



Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Vukovar/Michael Cashmore ‘Monument’ 16th November 2018

Another month, another three-syllable entitled grandly Gothic statement from Vukovar; on this occasion traversing the void with Current 93 stalwart and producer/composer Michael Cashmore, who appears under the guises of his Nature And Organization nom de plume.

A congruous in what is a melancholy harrowing romance partnership with the morbidly curious Vukovar, Cashmore leads with a vaporous, industrial and often godly (whichever God/Gods they be) brutalist swathe of sagacious moodiness and narration; adding to the already despairing lament that is Vukovar’s signature.

Deadly committed to the point of alienating everyone they work with, Vukovar’s fraught collaborations may end in acrimony, but the results musically are always first rate and dramatic; this latest breaking-of-bread partnership proving to be among their best work so far. It’s impossible to tell where Cashmore ends and Vukovar begin, and vice versa, and who’s album this actually is. Arguably inheritors of Current 93 and, even more so, Coil’s gnostic-theological mysticism and brooding venerable communions, Cashmore seems the obvious foil. Current’s The Innermost Light and Coil’s (and John Balance’s swan song as it were) The Ape Of Naples both permeate this conceptual opus.

As ever, reflecting the band’s reading material, monument is fueled by Hermetic occultists, despondent followers of Thelma, Dante’s visions of purgatory and redemption, and, to a point, architectural analogy. Inhabiting the concrete musically and materially, twisting post-punk, Kosmische, industrial and early British synth-pop, Vukovar and their partner in this gloomy trudge through the wastelands produce an apocalyptic hymn of gauze-y supernatural resignation and dreamy visages.

Straddling two slabs of vinyl, Monument’s indulgences are given ample room to haunt the listener. Shorter narrations and passages fade into more fully realized songs. Shorter pieces like the ‘This Brutal World’ feature a reading of a most despondent, mopey even, extract from Alice In Wonderland (the sad Walrus’ ‘sweeping away’ metaphor sounding even more plaintive read out in this setting) and fairytale surrealist, erring towards the unsettling, twinkled xylophone, followed by more expanded visions of yearning dark arts. When the band and their host do emerge from the ether, the Gothic experimentation features a more melodious, dare I even suggest catchy, quality; even in its most stark sleepless eulogy form, with a chorus like, “In a dream she’s always dying/One day she may awake”, taken from the Bauhaus swirling cathedral indie ‘Little Gods’, there is a certain surge of broody dynamism and anthem.

Vocally for the most part, both the voices of Vukovar and Cashmore’s dulcet, lower tones are layered over each other; some sung, though mostly spoken, uttered, howled and cried-out. On the middle section of the ‘Visions In Silence’ cycle (following the edict entitled nod to Rosicrucian championing physic and occult icon, Robert Fludd, ‘Utrique Cosmi Et Sic In Infinitum’) the “exist as I exist” mantra and ruinous decaying lyrical morose could be by Alan Moore, and the off-kilter jerking march of the no-wave ‘The Duty Of Mothers’ sounds like an unholy alliance between John Betjeman and Aleister Crowley.

From haunting melodrama to harrowing decay, unrequited love to radiant escape, the loss of innocence and youth to sagacious death rattles, Vukovar prove ideal torchbearers of the cerebral Gothic sound and melancholic romanticism. A meeting of cross-generational minds with both partners on this esoteric immersive experience fulfilling their commitments, Monument shows a real progression for Vukovar, and proves a perfect vehicle for Cashmore’s uncompromising but afflatus ideas to flourish in new settings, whilst confirming his reputation and status. Whatever happens next, this ambitious work will prove a most fruitful and lasting highlight in the Vukovar cannon; one that’s growing rapidly, six albums in with a seventh already recorded; another ‘momentous’ statement that affirms the band’s reputation as one of the UK’s most important new bands.

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