A Reviews Roundup/Words: Dominic Valvona

Greetings to regular and new readers alike, the first such revue roundup from me in 2021 features another eclectic spread of curious and choice releases.  Albums wise I take a look at the latest Benelux-with-global-reaching-curiosity release from the polygenesis label Sdban Ultra: an Ethiopian, Anatolian, Oriental and Arabian sweeping cosmic odyssey from the Azmari collective. Adroit experimental guitarist and composer Myles Cochran delivers a slow music vision of bluegrass, Americana, soundtrack music and minimalism on his new album, Unsung. Hamburg sonic explorer stalwart Richard Von Der Schulenburg delves into Library Music, with a hint of Bamboo Music and Kosmische, on his debut suite for the label Bureau B; prolific Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds lets his consciousness unfold on the brilliant electronic EP Nihilism Is Pointless; maverick art-House and electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, under his Sad Man guise, offers another unique Techno-driven album, Music Of Dreams And Panic; and there’s a dark arts of psychedelic and country, doom rock ’n’ roll whisky drenched ruminations from Anaximander Fragment to behold.

On the singles, skits, videos and odd tracks front I’ve included this month the precursor single to the tragic-bound White Ring and their upcoming second album Show Me Heaven, and a blooming lovely single from the Israeli group Mazeppa, entitled ‘Roses’.

Singles/Videos/Tracks.

White Ring  ‘Light Hours Linger/I Need A Way’ (Rocket Girl Records) 

Arriving two years after their bewitching, if challenging (in the very best way), debut album Gate of Grief, the tragic-stricken and tormented White Ring open up their souls on the equally grieving Show Me Heaven opus. In October 2019 while writing this album, founding member Kendra Malia sadly passed away after an on-off struggle with drugs and schizophrenia. She was slated to be involved but didn’t get the opportunity to contribute before her death. Thematically then, Show Me Heaven focuses on the aftermath of that tragedy, though creative foil and White Ring co-founder Bryan Kurkimilis also explains, “This album is about the consequences of darkness.” Kurkimilis is joined in this acceptance and unravelling of loss by Adina Viarengo, who joined the band back in 2017. In the run up to that second longplayer’s release on the 19th February 2021, the Ring’s label, Rocket Girl Records has made available the first two tracks via Bandcamp. First up is the caustic and dissonant, countered by ethereal vapours and wisped veils, drawing in of the diaphanous outer body light beauty ‘Light Hours Linger’: an allurement towards the rocks, lush dreamscape that disarms the plaint and esoteric moodiness. The second, ‘I Need A Way’, is rockier, more coarse and industrial Gothic, a meeting of NIN and Bowie in sludge doom fuzzy lament. This couplet of tracks bows well for that upcoming full-length album next month. Expect a review sometime in the next few weeks.

Mazeppa  ‘Roses’
Out Now

What a really lovely melange of c86/shoegaze 80s period alternative indie pop beauty from the Haifa, Israel band Mazeppa. Featured back in 2020 with their Kabbalah style Patti Smith wafting and lingering around an intoxicating incense of Middle Eastern and Byzantium psychedlica enriched single ‘The Way In’, the quartet now turn to a heady diaphanous gauze of Altered Images via The Breeders and Athens, Georgia 80s scene. Heavenly brooding romanticism has seldom sounded better and lusher: though they always manage to add some grit into that lovely wash. Mazeppa have released the blooming ‘Roses’ in the run-up to a new album (released on the 10th February 2021), which I will review next month. Until then, soak this gem of a single up.

Albums/EPS..

Azmari  ‘Samā’ī’
(Sdban Ultra)  22nd January 2021

From the polygenesis Benelux label Sdban Ultra another eclectic odyssey of African, Arabian and Oriental cosmic-jazz and Afrobeat, with the inaugural full-scale mirage of an album from the Brussel’s hot-housed Azmari collective. Showing off their internationally-open references and inspirations, the sextet of Arthur Ancion (on drums), Basile Bourtembourg (Keyboards, Saaz and Percussion), Jojo Demeijer (Percussion), Niels D’haegeleer (Bass) Mattéo Badet (Saxophone and Kaval) and Ambroose de Schepper (Saxophone and Flute) have chosen a moniker that translate from the ancient and official Ethiopian language of Amharic as “one who praises”. That name also refers to that region’s version of a West African Griot, or European Bard; a singer-musician of song, story and recount, often accompanied by the one-stringed lute-like “Masenqo” and five or six-stringed, bowl-shaped pentatonic scale lyre, the “Krar”. Within this lineup you’ll find a wealth of instruments and scales being intergrated: from the Saaz to Persian Ney flute and Kaval. Though a penchant to the exotic sounds and wonders of the already mentioned Ethiopia and Eritrea dominate throughout their work.

Offering an expansive, entrancing expansion of their live act and debut EP Ekera (released back in 2019), and with numerous travels under their belts, Samā’ī traverses the group’s immersion in Turkish music (especially from the 1960s) and the camel-laden musical accompaniments of Mali’s Tuareg; following these nomadic bluesmen on the semi-annual trade route between the northern Taoudenni salt mines and Timbuktu.

A promising fantasy of epochs and geography (both real and imagined), the album opens with the shimmery and hazy fluty suffused incipient sun rise ‘Zegiyitwali’: a scene of quivering cymbals and mystical horns that evokes our protagonists waking up in the red desert, dusting off the sand from their blankets. It then hits the Kuti trail on the next flight of fantasy, ‘Cosmic Masadani’: an Afrobeat by way of Hailu Mergia Ethio-Jazz and the dub of Transglobal Underground. The first official reference to a real location, ‘Kamilari’, takes Sun-Ra and Orlando Julius on a playful dance through the Minoan ruins of the Cretan Island – though this Byzantine derived name also means “the one who rides a camel”, and there is a kind of clopping coconuts percussive trot to this soul-funk desert, dreamy hypnotism.

It’s take off from the Ethiopian space agency on the lunar crater endorsed Tardis thrashing cosmic Afro-Jazz ‘Kugler’, and a shrouded, clandestine soundtracked vision of Isaac Hayes in the atavistic historical thoroughfare of Anatolian Chalcedon, on the shuttled, breakbeat and sax circling, squawking ‘Kadikoy’. From the mesmeric and dusky to outbursts of psychedelic jazz and Afrobeat, Samā’ī passes through an esoteric Orient, the mystical desert lands and caravan routes of Mali and Arabia, and the Asian banks of Istanbul. Those with a yearning and hunger for the quality of the Budos Band, Antibalas, Okay Temiz and Mulatu Astatke will soak this borderless odyssey up.

Myles Cochran ‘Unsung’
(9 Ball Records)  29th January 2021

Making good on a run of empirical and refined precursor soundtracks in 2020, the placable Kentuckian guitarist, composer, songwriter and producer Myles Cochran follows up with a broadened canvas of Americana traces and bluegrass reification on his Unsung album. On the outskirts of a recognisable Western panorama Cochran applies misty attentive lingering guitar caresses, vibrations and brushes until his country roots are all but washed out, leaving only a vague gesture and sense of place and time. 

Sure, it’s bluegrass…but not quite as we know it. For all the evocations of a Mid-Western homestead and porch, or, a rustic trek across the Appalachians there’s drifts into the semi-classical, the blues, avant-garde, primitive and, even, jazz.

A well-travelled man, some of this effortless embrace of styles is in part down to an absorption of music picked up by Myles as he moved from Kentucky to New York, then, onto the UK – this album was in fact recorded between his new home studio in the UK and one in France. It also helps that he’s quite the prolific collaborator: working for example in recent years with the experimental Celtic and new-folk siren of note, and Monolith Cocktail favourite, Bróna McVittie. Myles brings in the Irish cello maestro Richard Curran and Nashville fiddler Lauren Conklin to add both congruous and stirring layers to his acoustic, electric and steel guitar romanticisms, lingers, mood suites and captured moments of both emerging and fading light, dates and emotions.

Augmented synthesized atmospheres, undulations, strings, a plonking piano and the most minimal of both frame drums and a full brushed, scuffled and shuffling drum kit extend the palette; resulting in a kind of fusion of Ry Coder and Steve Reich. At times there’s a splash, hint of Talk Talk, Droneroom and even Mark Knopfler. And sometimes the pace, rhythm picks up enough to suggest a strange, removed form of boogie-woogie blues grooving.

Myles is a multi-instrumentalist, but it’s his adroit, carefully (even if he’s greatly influenced by improvisation) place bowed, hovering, fanned quivered guitar renderings that describes and sets the mood throughout this alternative rural soundscape.  Most of all Unsung shows Myles’ talent for a lower-case form of amorphous blending; counterbalancing more cutting edge studio techniques with rustic charm and those bluegrass origins. This is an album of slow music that transports the listener to quiet places: a rewarding immersion of gentleness that unfurls its secrets and depth over time.    

Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Nihilism Is Pointless’
(Faith & Industry)  29th January 2021

If you can recall, back in the year zero of the pandemic epoch the Monolith Cocktail premièred yet another cerebral sonic vision from the prolific Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds: ‘HAL’s Lament’. The second such mood-piece from Reynolds first extended work of 2021, the ironically entitled Nihilism Is Pointless EP, this prowling counterpoint of increasingly obscured 2001: A Space Odyssey sampling and wallowed, vaporous cybernetics is a warning against the unchecked developments in A.I.: a sonic reification of existential angst; the eventual intellectual superiority of machine thinking over humans. HAL is the ultimate totem and example of that fear: A.I. acting increasingly ruthlessly through a logical conclusion of self-preservation and mission success at any cost. So many theories have been woven, but the red-eyed sentinel machine of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s imagination/vision could be said to have overstepped the boundaries: maybe deciding the next evolutionary step in humankind’s transcendence and survival was an artificially intelligent programme/machine; that useless artefact of a body no longer needed, just code. 

Joining an equally mind-expanding exercise of thematic electronically crafted tracks, the lamentable HAL fits alongside a myriad of concerning topics on this new EP. Reynolds consciousness unfolds over a quintet of developed, mindful preoccupations you could say. Finding room to breathe and think in an over-indulged online driven society of distractions and fake news being a main one of those concerns: The Pandora’s box is a hub, and it has been opened. Reynolds navigates, finding a way out through spiritualism and meditation. You can find this coping strategy, an investigation of it, on the EP’s counterbalance of semi-classical and dissonance, ‘Diving Board’: As Reynolds says, “deep breath before taking the plunge.”

As to be expected from a sophisticated palette imbued as much by classical music as it is trance, ambient music and trip-hop, you’ll find a composed set of suites on this expansive EP. The underlying sound of which, on the rest of this EP’s trio of tracks, is a convergence of August Pablo and Amorphous Androgynous dub electronica meets Daniel Lanois, Boards Of Canada and Burial. If you ever wanted to hear what the solar winded chill of ‘The Silent Majority’, marooned out in the starry uncertain expanses of a dismissive woke puritanical hostile banishing committee, sounds like, or, how the plaintive loss of someone held dear might be channelled into a sombre yet beautifully composed elegy (‘Mother’s Day’), then Reynolds latest conscious investigating EP will be a good place to start.  

Richard Von Der Schulenburg  ‘Moods And Dances 2021’
(Bureau B)  29th January 2021

The latest incarnation in a long line of sonic developments for the multifaceted musical explorer Richard Von Der Schulenburg sees the Hamburg scene stalwart venture into Library Music’s golden age: Roughly a point somewhere in the 70s judging by this album’s penchant for Kosmische and early synth productions. More or less a category wide open to include anything from cult composers to brief directed musicians producing incidental, theme music and sonic monikers for commercial enterprises, Library Music also means anything deemed outsider, and is now full of knowing homages, pastiches created by artists in the modern vogue.

Schulenburg since the mid-90s has dallied with the Top Banana Trio and the punkier Soup de Nüll, and also performed organ soirées of Floyd, AC/DC and ABBA songs at one of his many late 90s monthly club nights. He’s also featured in the line-up of Deris Sterne, founded labels and experimented with jazz under the 440Hz Trio ensemble appellation, and in recent years appeared under the abbreviated RVDS initials tag. The latest project is a debut recording of cosmic and worldly analogue and digital traverses and serene imaginings for the Hamburg-based label Bureau B.

During various carefully constructed journeys and geographical evocations, our meditative composer (re)envisions the tropical primitive exotica of Les Baxter, the lush dreamscapes of Ariel Kalma, the synthesized Kosmische sound of Klaus Schulze and Cluster, and more cult kooky space music of Pierre Detour: at least that’s what it sounds like to me. All of which are filtered through the kit that’s often referenced in the album’s titles; the most obvious being the opening ‘Mrs Yamahas Summer Tune’, an oceanic bob through some botanical bamboo music set, accompanied by the tonal washes, synthesized drums and the sort of itchy, brushing tight-delayed percussion found on any number of Yamaha keyboards. A more specific reference is made later on to that company’s ‘DX7’ model, the first successful digital keyboard, and biggest selling. Schulenburg uses that keyboard to waltz in space and curiosity on the plaint romantic Kosmische style ‘DX7’s Broken Hearts’.

It’s the spotting tones of a Farfisa, on the Ethio-Jazz riddle, sand dune contoured and solar-wind blowing ‘Flowers For The Farfisa Sphinx’; a Roland synth’s worth of pre-set effects and oscillations, on the serenade through paradise nocturnal wobbling and warbled ‘Rolands Night Walk’; and the German manufacturer Wersimatic and their CX1 rhythm machine, on the blue Hawaiian dreamy ‘Wersimatic Space Bar’.

Showing perhaps a different collector’s hobby, there’s also a couple of references to analogue cameras: the final model in the Yashica company’s unsuccessful camera series, the ‘Pentamatic’ (‘Caravan Of The Pentamatics’), and the Pentax (‘Dance Of The Space Pentax’); the former, musically speaking, a fantasy traverse of Arabia aboard Cluster’s mother ship, and the latter, dances on a spring board of electronic piano notes towards an Eno imagined South American landscape. Playing in a very sophisticated and extremely knowing way with his sources, inspirations, Schulenburg isn’t so much mischievous as adroit in producing a magical, filmic hologram of escapism. With hints of Library Music, but also a heavy Kosmische presence (Cluster, sky Records, Mythos), touches and shimmery saunters of Ethio-Jazz, and more contemporary peers such as Alex Puddu, Air and Jimi Tenor, this album fits perfectly in the cosmology of Germany’s foremost electronic music label Bureau B. And so rather than a passing fancy, homage or even pastiche, RVDS goes deeper to produce a brilliant sonic mirage of ideas.

Anaximander Fragment  ‘Wagon Drawn Horse’ (Shimmy Disc)

I last heard of Adam G as part of the extraordinary brutalist and discordant Water Fragment sonic project, which pitched Boston noise artist Art Waterman with the New England music scene stalwart on a torrent miasma of concentrated conflict. That album collaboration was, and still is, a challenging caustic barrage of Swans, Coil and Scot Walker imbued mood music.

Under a new, if familiar, moon Adam’s latest cursed-soul expulsion sees the noise and skronk survivor adopting the solo Anaximander Fragment guise for his latest oeuvre. Originally conceived to a Santa Monica backdrop in 2013, Wagon Drawn Horse was meant to be the middle chapter in a trilogy; filed under just one of three different pseudonyms. Unfinished at the time, but now revived, resurrected, this album now crosses over two creative timelines: refreshed, rewritten as it is for an evolving cycle of despair, anguish and political tumult. And of course, the most worrying development of all, the crisis of the last year, Covid-19, can’t help but rear its ugly head. Again, like many records being released in 2020 and the beginning of 2021, there isn’t any recognisable, obvious reference to the pandemic, the lockdowns, but the often-disturbing post-punk, gothic, industrial, noise and psychedelic atmospheres on this record certainly seem to connect and evoke it. I say psychedelic in that list of genres, but what I really mean is Panda Bear detuned and transformed by Einstürzende Neubauten, or, the Red Crayola jamming with The Telescopes; even Rocky Erikson lost in an industrial grinder.

There’s also a conjuncture of those more doom and caustic merging with a vision of alternative vibrato-guitar led country: imagine in this case, Jason Pierce and Charlie Megira sharing a packet of Mogadon. Yes, a country album, even a sleazed rock ‘n’ roll one. A removed one at that, but it’s all there. Though sometimes it feels like Suicide gyrating with The Jesus And Mary Chain, and a Scorpio Rising leathered-up protagonist jukebox jiving in the company of The Fall.

In the despondent, beaten shadow of James Earle Fraser’s End Of The Trail statue, Adam uses both unguarded and a more cryptic lyricism to denounce the effects of colonisation; lament with sinister connotations about a number of muses, “siren(s)”; and riles against apathetic lethargy. That Wagon Drawn Horse title takes on far more damaging meanings when it proves to be the instrument catalyst for the unseemly, even the genocide aspects of the frontier spirit. The final title-track opus curtain-call thrashes and gallops across a devastation of “stolen land” to make a point with grizzled, haunted passages of poetic distress and doom.

A confliction of both assurance and frightening auguries permeate this album. Through a fog of metallic grinding and steel fibre springs, Adam prays and offers a homecoming on the Silver Apples through a chiselling dissonance ‘Metamorphosis’, and pours a gasoline-strong torrid of trauma on the Iggy fronts Velvets ‘Colonised’.   

Almost hypnotised towards the void, yet always pulling away, the Anaximander Fragment demon knows when to throw in a chains-and-leather rock ‘n’ roll hip gyration, and when to ease the industrial tumult. A strong, broody album, Wagon Drawn Horse plays hard with the pioneer myth whilst also brooding and despairing of age-old themes. This somehow makes it an album that chime with current times, drawing from the uncertainty and divisive fragmentation of a pandemic world in freefall.

Sad Man ‘Music Of Dreams And Panic’
(Wormhole World) 29th January 2021

Prolific Techno and potting shed electronic boffin Andrew Spackman has continued to knock out a string of pent-up collections of ennui experiments and sonic collisions during the pandemic. And though nothing on this first burst of energy from the maverick in 2021 makes it obvious, no artist can really avoid the omnipresence, fears, anxiety and uncertainty of Covid-19’s influence and grip. Music Of Dreams And Panic however seems just as much inspired sonically by flights of the imagination and by following improvised pathways: even by just seeing what happens when you take a particular filter, tonal effect to breaking point, or, float, ride on happenstance waves and algorithms. The titles in that regard offer something of a description, inspiration and starting point.

Metal-on-metal, tubular fuel rods and space permeate this album of sophisticated star gate hinge waning and searing mystery. Those often signature colliding beats and breaks are mostly kept in check for something approaching a float, drift in the great expanse. ‘Mugstar’ for example balances moments of Warp Records output and Gescom with 90s Harthouse label Trance on a stellar hyper-driven spectacle in the cosmos: The controlled chaos is still there, with various serial progressions of a sort, throated alien sinister warnings, yet somehow gives way to moments of crystalized serenity. Elsewhere, Spackman (now more or less only running with his Sad Man alter ego) sort of joins together Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Dune on the refraction shinning, whistled high ‘Vin Werski’, and maybe referencing a Heaven 17 meta-inspiration on the static popped percussive, cathedral in the sky, Tangerine Dream turn ‘Seventeen’. Strangest of all, reference wise, is ‘Fra Fra’, which is the colonial name given to a particular number of tribes, concentrated in northern Ghana (also the subject, their funeral songs, of a 2020 Glitterbeat Records album). There’s an odd tweeting of exotic space birds and alien wildlife, but no obvious musical connection.

Still pumping out a transmogrified vision of Techno, Acid, Trip-Hop and Breakbeat, Spackman also crams in some (removed) House Music and Kosmische (a lot of that about lately) too. It seems the despondent guise of Sad Man is producing an ever-expanding range of sonic experimentation. This album in particular seems far less fidgety, though the music is always curiously developing. From garden shed assemblages and synthesized, computerised escapist mind of an art-dance music outsider arrives another unique Techno-driven statement.

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.

Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular monthly roundup of eclectic pan-global recommendations and reviews.

This month’s edition includes the iconic Mekons debut release for Glitterbeat – a desert psychodrama of an album, the band’s first in eight years; the stunning sweetly despondent and woozy melodious new album from Blue House, ‘Gobstopper’; the poetic sound designer troubadour and composer Ben Osborn’s debut album for and in conjunction with Alex Stolze’s Nonostar imprint, Letters From The Border; a flight of analogue synth fantasy (literally) from the Cambridge composer Willie Gibson, with his aviation imbued homage to Saint-Ex; the second songbook of Anatolian and Kurdish imbued tradition from the soaring Turkish siren Olcay Bayir, Rüya; and a boxset oeuvre of the obscure but legendary late 70s and 80s Hanover cult band The 39 Clocks.

There’s also two recent unearthed curios of both psychedelic and improvisational counter-culture “head music” from the Spanish Guerssen label hub – the first, rediscovered nuggets from the English prog and pop-sike fuzzed Mandrake Paddle Steamer, the second, a blues odyssey of free-form jazz and Fillmore style West Coast acid from the Hasting’s Street Opera.

And finally, I also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Vinita Joshi’s most eclectic independent label, with a perusal of the special Rocket Girl compilation; a collection of mostly unreleased tracks from both artists that have featured on the label and admirers alike, which includes tracks from Dan Treacy, Silver Apples, Bardo Pond and Andrew Weatherall.



Mekons ‘Deserted’
(Glitterbeat Records) 29th March 2019

Removed by geographical distance and a general disinterest from the headline grabbing London punk explosion the infamous Leed’s outfit the Mekons enjoyed a wry, cynical at times, disassociation from their earnest over-preened compatriots in the capital. This distance allowed them to build up a unique reputation; the rambunctious gang of musical misfits more engaged with reality than myth, questioning the motives and authenticity of others with such barricade rattlers as ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Never Been In A Riot’.

Always on the fringes, drawn throughout their five-decade (and still going) haphazard career to the rough and ready origins of not only punk but also, and with this their latest album, country music, the Mekons have suffered as many setbacks as triumphs. One example of a Lazarus like rise in popularity being through the infamous Revenge Of The Mekons movie, which gained them new audiences and a new generation of followers in the US on its release.

Gravitating towards Joshua Tree in California, with all the various lore and history that iconic location holds, the Mekons rabble find all the space and landscape they need on their first album in eight years, Deserted. Recording just outside the shrine to counter-culture country – resting place homage of that visionary troubadour Gram Parsons -, at the studio of Mekons bassist and foundering member Dave Trumfio, the group explore the metaphysical and psychogeography of their desert muse: An open-ended stark landscape that’s, since the dawn of time, inspired a wealth of literature, music, film and travelogue.

Though entrenched in the “big country” desert panoramas of the USA, the Mekons scope falls wider, taking in the cultural isolation and self-imposed exile of a mournful Rimbaud – turning his back on poetry to leave his fated France to trade coffee – in the remote Ethiopian city of Harar on the slightly swaggering young poet channeled, wandering ‘Harar 1883’, and, at least, by referencing T.E. Lawrence’s Arab freedom fighter persona in ‘Lawrence Of California’, the deserts of Arabia. The wonder, awe and sense of isolation as a speck in the great expanse goes further than the sandscape and into space itself: Grains of sand as stars and galaxies; the Mekons mixing the desert wilderness with respect for the infinitesimal.

Gangly traversing this landscape without a roadmap, they have been pushed, successively, into new terrain sonic wise. Entirely self-imposed, the band showed up to recording sessions without any finished songs; just a few ideas exchanged over email. A continuation of the Mekons un-ended visions, Deserted certainly offers adventure, yet not so experimental as to lose the band’s signature rebellious streak and sound. Spikey, striding towards a mirage, sharing the camel-driven caravan with the Bad Seeds, Damned, Slits, Wovenhand, Radio Clash, Damon Albarn and PiL, they limber in a dub-y post-punk fashion or rattle through a hexed no-wave arid plain when in desert imbued mode, and channel ‘child-of-the-Jago’ old English romanticized poesy and Ronnie Lane gypsy serenaded folk rock when gazing upwards at the night skies.

Two of the album’s most distinctive tracks, ‘How Many Stars?’ and ‘Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?’ pose inquisitive and surreal open-ended titles, but also leave the sandy trail to go off-road into the past and plain weird. The former of these, which features the atmospheric atavistic Celtic swoons and haunting malady of Susie Honeyman’s violin, reimagines a sweetly, if fatefully forlorn, Georgian lament (“Father dig my grave, upon my hand a velvet glove to show I died for love.”), the latter, riffs on a drug-induced (no doubt) Iggy Pop anecdote from the hazy, heady junked-up days of Berlin – the sinewy maverick apparently coming across a peculiar vending machine that sold bags of sand. This madcap, or metaphorical dream, inspired tale launches the band on a suitably Kurt Weil – as bastardised by Iggy and Bowie – like strut that takes in Aladdin Sane at the drive-in, a disturbed Mott The Hoople glam doo-wop chorus and a subtle hint of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

To be fair, there is a hell of a lot going on sonically and texturally; the instrumental accompaniment featuring such exotic sounds as the saz and cumbus, but also violin and accordion alongside the standard wanes, tremolo and bendy heated vapour trail guitar and shared vocal duties.

Forty-one years in and showing no signs of fatigue, prompted to probe new sonic horizons, the Mekons inaugural album for Glitterbeat Records (easily one of the best, most diverse labels of the last five years) is possibly the Leeds troupe’s most expansive, deep and tactile albums yet: A distillation of all the group’s best assets. Without doubt one of 2019’s most impressive albums, Deserted reaffirms a legacy and status but offers a way going forward for a band baptized in the inferno of punk.







Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry) 29th March 2019



On a roll of late, the sweetly despondent songwriter-singer-musician James Howard continues to survey This Sceptred Isle with wistful melodious aplomb. Howard, under the guise of the Thomas Nation alter ego, delivered a minor historical-spanning album that metaphorically attempted to make sense of Brexit, and in turn nationhood, community and sense of belonging. That cassette tape chronicle, Battle Of The Grumbles – which rightfully made the Monolith Cocktail’s ‘choice albums of 2018’ features – never raised above a peaceable whisper and sigh, but through articulate melody and subtly worked its magic well enough.

The fruits of two-years labour, Howard’s latest appearance as principle writer, is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism.

Revealing its beauty and ambitious scope slowly, Gobstopper often soars with aria like ethereal warbles and dreamy filmic soundtrack panoramas: The soliloquy sepia tinged memory lane heartache of ‘Stay With Me’ marries Morricone with Lee Hazlewood and Richard Hawley, whilst the swooned ‘Delecta’ reimagines an English dancehall Lou Reed rewriting the introduction from the TV show, Jamie And The Magic Torch. Countless passing musical references linger, including the coach tour surrealism of The Magical Mystery Tour, the more serene elements of David Axelrod, Aiden Moffat and Serge Gainsbourg (if he worked on a minimum hours contract in Margate); a full ploughman’s lunch of cozy, if pining, 60s and 70s quality songwriting.

A snapshot of a lifetime, both misspent and blue, Blue House suck on the bitter aftertaste of the original peoples vote, whilst reflecting on the idyllic misrepresentations of nostalgia, yet also drawing forlorn comments on fleeting indignations and trends: Howard references a string of quintessential English preoccupations, from Abu Hamza to Coronation Street (which I never miss an episode of personally), reminding us of the inevitable nature of these obsessions that distract us, “When this is over, something else will come along.”

I may find plenty to discuss, even disagree with, but Gobstopper is without doubt a magnificent, beautifully crafted album; already a choice highlight of 2019.







Ben Osborn ‘Letters From The Border’
(Nonostar Records) 19th April 2019



For a number of reasons the poet-troubadour composer and sound-design architect Ben Osborn could be said to have found an ideal platform for his music, joining the German-based Nonostar label. Sharing both an East European Jewish heritage with its founder, the artist/producer/violinist maestro Alex Stolze, Osborn’s often majestic, sometimes mournful, quality minimal electronic undulated neoclassical compositions and lyrical pining also seem heaven-made for this label; at times crossing over and seeming almost indistinguishable (in a good way) from Stolze’s very own signature solo work. This is hardly surprising as Stolze also produced this debut effort, crafting this subtle gentle songbook at his remote studio on the German-Polish border, in the summer of 2018.

An idyllic sounding retreat that can’t fail to lend the recordings a suffused naturalistic feel, this border positioned studio allowed elements of the surrounding environment to bleed into the production. Aleatory to a point, helping to form a certain ambience, the wandering winds, distant birdsong and chatter, and creaking, stretching movements seem, alongside all the musical breaths, notes and melodies to be purposefully placed: almost perfectly so.

The award-winning sound designer and deft soundtrack composer of acclaimed “libretti” feeds a rich provenance into his debut, Letters From The Border. Drawing parallels with the lamentable diaspora of his ancestors heart-breaking displacement during WWII with the current flight of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, Osborn yearnfully finds a common ground. The heartache of isolation and alienation are beautifully swooned and felt throughout this tactile diaphanous album; the movement of people across, increasingly, hostile borders often hauntingly conveyed in the most emotive if nuanced of maladies; points made in a disarming series of venerable but poetically descriptive lyrics.

Reaching into the mystical profound etymology of that Jewish heritage, Osborn chooses to open his ethereal-charmed plucked album with a minor romantic instrumental overture, based around the atavistic Hebrew word for “joy”, ‘Chedvah’. As Osborn himself explains the reasoning behind this choice, the sad waning and earnest introduction represents “…the joy of connecting to something bigger than yourself.” Musicality wise this piece follows a numerical sequence based on the Hebrew letters of the same word: originally taught to Osborn as a breathing meditation by the artist Daniel Laufer.

Later on, coming full circle, he references the equally profound if lamenting, third section of the Hebrew Bible passage, ‘Psalm 22’, on the album’s dreamily nigh sky finale. This oft-quoted, if debated and trawled for meaning, passage features the famous “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” line; the words of a people in exile at the time; the distress, plight and search for some kind of meaning and purpose to their sufferings inspiring Osborn’s far less despairing but aching swansong.

The plight of refugees, a subject close to both Osborn and Stolze’s hearts, as they occupy the tip-toe piano and choral mood accompanied border soundscape of the Leonard Cohen meets T Bone Burnett like title track, or, wistfully cross a clitter-clatter train track motioned avian symbolic ‘Bridge Of Starlings’.

Osborn also shares, if under a veil of hazy descriptive metaphor, even more personable material amongst the border themes. The woozy, delightfully longing clarinet featured nostalgic malady, with tints of that imbued East European ancestry, ‘My Sister The Swimmer’, is elegiac like; Osborn tenderly cooing sepia toned pool side recollections and memories. No less personable, if meant to “examine” a “universal experience of grief and bereavement”, the dainty piano with quivered violin and gleaned wispy harp accompanied ‘A Guide To Gothenburg’ uses the city’s backdrop to find solace.

Beautifully conveyed at every turn, Ben Osborn uses an assiduous steady hand to evoke connection; a connection to nature; a connection to the plight of modern-day displacement; a connection to our shared roots. Letters From The Border is a delicate, yearning reveal of an album; an album that finds a fine balance between the classical and contemporary to soundtrack an accomplished suite of lyrical venerability and learning: Poetically sublime.







Various ‘Rocket Girl 20’
(Rocket Girl) 1st March 2019



Perhaps one of the most cherished of independent UK labels, Vinita Joshi’s Rocket Girl imprint has over the last twenty years attained an impressive legacy and loyalty from its artists. A mark of that loyalty and respect can be found by way of the contributors lining up to celebrate the label’s twentieth anniversary: some of who, never even released a record on it.

Vinita has come a long way, on a haphazard travail trajectory at times. The Indian lass from Rugby – called an ‘anomaly’ in a white male-dominated music industry by this compilation’s chosen linear note biographer, the Faber author (and super-fan) Richard Milward – gained one of many footholds in the business by managing the influential void-of-despair probing Telescopes. As a precursor to Rocket Girl itself, Vinita set-up, in conjunction with Nick Allport, the London-based Ché label, in 1991; borne from the ashes of the Chere label, intended as a vehicle for the music of Disco Inferno but expanding the remit to include the Tindersticks and the Detroit duo Füxa, who would later, join Rocket Girl, and feature on this anniversary special – a Congo Hammer remix of their acid-blurp Orb-meets-Cabaret-Voltaire dreamy goer ‘Sun Is Shining’ is featured on this most eclectic of spreads.

Despite personal tragedies and various setbacks, Vinita’s label has been both successful and prolific since its inception in 1998, the inaugural ‘rgirl1’ release a 7” single featuring the wonderful psychedelic cosmic electronic progenitors, Silver Apples. Long since a solo affair, the original late 60s founded duo sadly losing Danny Taylor in 2005, under the custodianship of Simeon Oliver Coxe III the Silver Apples brand continues to covet acclaim and attention as an experimental force of giddy nature. Now, as then, a whirly wiz-bang remix of the surreal culinary, chicken-dish mad, ‘Susie’, opens the compilation.

Both established icons and emerging ones appear regularly in the label’s back catalogue; this anniversary package that spans a series of special flexi-discs (a throwback to one of the first formats Vinita was involved with) collectable 7” singles, prints, a fully illustrated hardback book and 16-track compilation (a fuller digital version, which I reviewed, includes the flexi-disc tracks to make it 20), features just a mere smattering of them. The most poignant of which, the Television Personalities wry ramble through their maverick troubled leaders reputable back pages, ‘All Coming Back’, represents one of Vinita’s most enduring if turbulent musical relationships. The TV’s erratic treasured icon Dan Treacy has received plenty of prestige as an influence on everyone from Pavement to Pete Doherty, and released a string of comeback records, including 2006’s acclaimed My Dark Places LP. Volatile and prone to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Treacy has suffered badly for his art; addicted to drugs, battling mental health, adding up at one point on remand, the enigma has been off the radar since suffering from a brain injury in 2011, his legacy and blessing for the featured song on this compilation, taken from a small batch of unreleased tracks he recorded before these latest woes, coming from Treacy’s sister.

Another leading light of their particular sound, and again, major influence on those to follow, Robin Guthrie, co-founder of the ethereal vaporous Cocteau Twins, makes an appearance with the suitably echo-y heaven spindled track, ‘Flicker’. Joining him from north of the English border, fellow Scottish band, doyens of post-rock filmic panoramas, Mogwai, lend their fishing port earnest opus ‘Fight For Work’, as one of the flexi-disc specials.

A diverse roster is represented by artists as different and distinct as those earlier acrylates of (though they hate the term) the witch house phenomena, White Ring, and philosophical name-dropping no wave disco troubadour Kirk Lake. White Ring on their part offer a daemonic pulsing industrial skulk with broken-up salacious siren vocals on the brilliant darkwave ‘Heavy’, Lake, goes-for-broke parading countless symbolist thinkers (Lucan, Foucault, Barthes and the song’s own “Adorna”) as he limbers to a DFA meets Blurt NYC sidewalk shuffling ‘Go Ask Adorna’.

It’s telling that the Rocket Girl back catalogue and class of those who gravitate towards it is so immense with quality and diverse in breadth that I’ve not even mentioned the stoner anthemic Philly act Bardo Pond, or the Hazelwood dream pairing with Richard Hawley hymnal troubadour John DeRosa, or, even, the polygenesis producer/remixer extraordinaire Andrew Weatherall. And I could go on.

With discerning taste and strength-of-character to take chances, Vinita has built up a formidable if unassuming and assured label; one that has the depth and scope to keep on going in the face of ever uncertainty. The Rocket Girl anniversary package is a perfect encapsulation of that independent spirit. Go enjoy and celebrate one of the true individuals of the industry while you can. And let’s hopefully raise a glass to another twenty years of equally quality risk-taking.







Mandrake Paddle Steamer ‘Pandemonium Shadow Show’
(Sommor) 17th January 2019

Hasting’s Street Opera ‘Slippery When Wet’
(Out-Sider) 17th January 2019



Via the “head music” and rediscovered musical nuggets channel of Guerssen two extreme rarities from the 1960s for fuzz freaks and progressive psych rock fans to drool over. The first, Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, released by the Sommor imprint, collates a smattering of the Middle Earth Tolkien imbued Walthamstow band’s archived recordings (none of which were ever released), whilst the second, Hasting’s Street Opera’s Slippery When Wet, released by the most brilliant Out-Sider label, makes a previously private pressing (less than a hundred copies ever produced, and only ever handed out to friends and family) available to the great unwashed public for the very first time.

 

Formed by an art-school rabble of pals from an East End postcode, the Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s providence is most notable for the fleeting 45” they recorded at Abbey Road in 1967 for Parlophone. Though this fabled label, run by straights admittedly, launched The Beatles, the band was aiming for a deal with the more switched-on and hip Harvest label. Neither in the end took them on, and so what is a “lost classic”, the fuzz pop-sike ‘Strange Walking Man’ single remains their only shot. Still, in a short blossoming, they managed to support Floyd, The Nice and Vanilla Fudge (all three of which rubbed off on them sound wise), do a turn at the infamous salacious spit-and-sawdust Star Club, and set up their own club night (in honor of The Lord Of The Rings naturally) called Asgard.

The Pandemonium Shadow Show features nine varying tracks of bewitching esoteric psych, bordering on the progressive, from the key years of 1968 and 1970: The year they disbanded for good; even after dropping the river boat “paddle steamer” from their name to become just Mandrake. 1968 does seem to garner the lion’s share, with six of the nine tracks recorded in that musical pivotal year, as psych got real and heavy; the step-change being not just culturally but politically too; folk even more weaponised as the totems of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement across the Atlantic sank into the consciousness of the Boomer generation that kicked off the whole Hippie revolution. Still inspired on this side of the pond by the antagonistic post-mod rave-ups of John’s Children and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Floyd, the MPS condensed these inspirations and the metaphorical language of Gothic Poe into the title-track that opens this album. Painting a vivid Halloween phantasm that stars a “moon shadowed witch” siren waltzing on a “fairground of fate”, the band go all out on a spooky acid trip. With the use of the funhouse organ and that quintessential Mellotron – part Procol Harum hymnal tripping, part mind-melting carousel – they evoke The Doors, sometimes, Family, and when the bell tolls and shit gets real, Deep Purple. On the ominous unhinged funny farm ‘The World Whistles By’ – a place where the melancholic and all-too serious themes of mental illness and isolation are highlighted – I’m sure I can hear the early genes of Genesis and even The Alex Harvey Band.

By 1970 they were knee-deep in the primordial, building from a mists-of-time like trudge towards a tavern-staggering-patron opus that consumes The Master’s Apprentice and Vanilla Fudge in a rolling crescendo of epic prog-psych rock lament on the sea-shanty fantasy ‘Stella Mermaid’. And on the waning shimmery wavy, with a polka-like merry-go-round gallop, ‘Simple Song’, they almost merge Focus with The Nice.

All the right ingredients, even ahead of their time as far as the progressive elements are concerned, the MPS story could be painted as a sorrowful tale of a band that were denied a shot – Parlophone putting the kibosh on that inaugural 45” launch after a general lack of interest. Yet, as good as they sound, certainly ambitious, they weren’t quite there and lacked the magic and personality (though luck does come into it too) of their peers who did. Still, the Pandemonium is a real discovery that’s worth investigation and a punt.







Willie Gibson ‘Saint-Ex’
(Gare du Nord) 1st March 2019



An electric glide in blue, maverick synth composer Willie Gibson sets off for an aerial traverse of the philosophical articulated horizons of the legendary pioneering aviator and author Antoine de Saint Expéry. Using the fateful aristocratic pilot’s poetic 1939 published memoir Wind Sand And Stars as a launch pad, Gibson channels the spirit and lament of romanticized adventure through his Eurorack of various iconic modular synths and plugins.

A famed French laureate, the author of The Little Prince novella found his own inspiration in the clouds; first as a commercial mail pilot, later as war drew near, joining the (as yet defeated) French Air Force. When Hitler’s Germany forced an armistice with France, Saint-Ex found himself demobilized. Moving soon after to North America for a total of 27 months, he bided his time writing and importantly trying to convince the USA to enter the war. It was during this imposed sojourn that the enigmatic polymath wrote three of his most important works, including the lyrical, elemental book that now informs this album. Far from grounded, he would travel to join the Free French resistance air force in North Africa. Spurring untold flights of fantasy, Saint-Ex went missing in 1944, disappearing after a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean: Neither his body or plane were ever found.

The stuff of adventure then, Saint-Ex’s fate and various exploits as chronicled by those memoirs make for an interesting concept; the passion for flying that underlines it all shared by Gibson, who has himself obtained a “private pilot’s license”. Finding “similarities between operating light aircraft and patching and crafting sounds” with his modular synth apparatus, Gibson composes a linear suite of various knowing library music and 1970s synthesizer imbued peregrinations. His first mini-opus of original music – the previous album, Seasons Change, being a Wendy Carlos like neo-classical riff on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – plays with the formula, inviting the Gare du Nord label polymath, founder and producer, Ian Button to drive along two of the suites’ five tracks on drums, and Deerful’s Emma Winston to woo the odd accentuate vocal line.

Following an arc, from takeoff to Bermuda Triangle mystery disappearance, Gibson’s fantastic voyage ascends loftily from Saint-Ex’s book cover to arch and loom across a South American, European and North African panorama to a Kosmische style accompaniment that evokes Tangerine Dream, Rick van der Linden and Moroder. Once-up, up and away the serene ‘Dawn Flight’ offers ‘time for reflection”; stirring idyllic memories of the artist’s childhood in Saint-Maurice with a Baroque-synth and Theremin quivery soundtrack that conjures up not only images of the past but some otherworldly, even alien, ones too. The next two desert strafing tracks allude to both Saint-Ex’s dangerous and awe-inspiring mail-drops; ‘Cap Juby’ a staging post on the hazardous Saharan route, where Saint-Ex and his co-pilot navigator crashed in 1935, the pair lucky to survive were rescued by a Bedouin, and ‘Black Pebbles On A White Plateau’, which features a paean to a desolate white stone mesa (tabletop) landing spot – the shiny black pebbles that covered this plateau having a philosophical profound effect on the aviator. The first of these uses a crystalized sandscape of ominous sounds to describe the jeopardy, whilst the second stirs-up the immensity of nature with cathedral and tubular grandeur, and ethereal wafted cooing.

A theatre of lament, ‘July 44’ marks Saint-Ex’s final ascendance into the history books. Gibson uses a stained glass Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze sonic palette to convey a certain tragedy on this venerable soaring mission.

An odyssey of aerial balletic synths and more moody cascading arpeggiator elemental drama, Gibson’s homage to Saint-Ex is another curious oddity of retro-futurism and serious modular-synth based composing from the Cambridge-based maverick; a nostalgic trip that despite the addition of Button and Winston seems plucked from the pioneering analogue electronica age of the early 1970s. Interesting though, and a potential cult release in its right, Saint-Ex is worth the indulgence.







Olcay Bayir ‘Rüya’
(ARC) 29th March 2019



Marrying an Anatolian heritage with the polygenesis sound of the London metropolis, the multi-disciplined singer Olcay Bayir has injected a new energy and enthusiasm into the traditions and cultures of her homeland.

The daughter of a famed ‘ashik’, a musical bard of the Anatolian region, the purveyors of oral culture in the Alevi sect of the Muslim religion that follows the more mystical teachings of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, who ruled over the fourth caliph between 656-661 AD, and his twelve Inman successors – Bayir’s most formative years were imbued with the atavistic music of worship and social ceremony. Born in the ancient southern Turkey city of Gaziantep – among the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world; so old in fact that even the ancient Hittites were around to destroy it – her musical odyssey, from the very start, was steeped in history and reverence: That same city stands as both a “geographical and cultural counterpart” to the fated Syrian city of Aleppo, which lies just across the border.

The southern regions are where Anatolian Turkish and Kurdish cultures meet; forming the inspiration for Bayir’s own music alongside a belief that it’s “culture more than religion or nationality that provides identity.” It is an often frayed relationship; those that follow the Alevi tradition, whether Turkish or Kurdish, for obvious reasons, coming to blows with their Northern compatriots; the Kurdish question of autonomy and in recent years implosive civil war and ISIS insurgency in Syria enabling an ever more autocratic Turkish leader to ramp-up divisions.

Moving around the region every few years with her jobbing ashik father, Bayir was introduced to a cross-pollination of communities before the family’s eventual move to the London melting pot. A cultural shock, to put it mildly, for the sixteen year old who didn’t yet speak any English – though to be fair, Bayir is multilingual, her debut LP sang in five different languages. But through music the vulnerable burgeoning siren slowly opened-up; as the press release puts it, “music was the manner by which Olcay could best interact with the new world around her.”

Absorbing even more of the electric hubbub of her new city, Bayir, who began composing at the age of six, trained as a classical soprano. Those aria soars and vocal control are unmistakable when you hear those rich performances, adding a certain gravitas and expanding the range still further. Refashioned to reflect this providence, the folk songs of Bayir’s homeland were given an endearing, swanned lift on the 2014 debut album Neva (‘harmony”). An introduction to a highly skilled adroit vocal talent, this album showcase brought attention to the Anatolian songbook. Steeped more in that tradition, Neve provided the groundwork for Bayir’s new dream entitled album Rüya.

Still alluding, even referencing, the spiritual yearn and pining mountain steppe folk of that tradition, the afflatus Rüya showcases for the, first time, Bayir’s own original compositions. Taking sagacious romantic wisdom from both the Alevi and Sufi poets, she weaves the journey metaphor of the renowned bard Âşik Veysel Satiroğlu into the album’s serene opener ‘Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim’ (“long narrowed road”), riffs on the tradition’s analogy for the folly of trying to separate those both destined and integral to each other, such as the honey and bee, on the album’s slinky swooned closer ‘Ari Oldum’ (“I become a bee”), and covers the “graceful” brooding Kurdish love song ‘Ferzê’.

Using a similar enriched lyricism to envisage a better world, whilst yearning wistfully about lost and found love, Bayir’s original lines seem almost indistinguishable from those written in lore.

Lifting those traditions with a sophisticated production and backing, Giuliano Modarelli and Al MacSween of the transglobal music collective Kefaya accentuate the timeless qualities of Bayir’s melodies with a nuanced swirl of jazz, bouncy backbeats, amorphous sounds from Arabia and North Africa, and on the 17th century homage to the asik minstrel Karacaoĝlan, ‘Elif’, a whiff of Ennio Morricone.

Livening up the Anatolian songbook once more, Olcay Bayir and her collaborators make those traditions relevant; stirring the melting pot with dynamic vibrancy, and pushing those enchanting, soaring but also earthly vocals even further.







The 39 Clocks ‘Next Dimension Transfer’
(Tapete Records) 22nd March 2019



Going it alone as the sunglass adorned leather clad beatniks, Hanover’s 1980s cult lo fi (with ambition) miscreants The 39 Clocks were always a bit of an anomaly. Alienating even their fans with a general attitude of indifference and antagonizing audiences with shambling performances more Dadaist provocation than musical (replacing guitars with cleaning appliances for one), even the duo’s identities were masked (well, barely), with chemical equation code, JG-39 and CH-39, replacing the human vessels of Jürgen Gleve and Christian Henjes.

Neither hardcore proponents of punk nor comfortable in the company of Germany’s emerging New Wave, the Clocks were an idiosyncratic bridge between the Lutheran Gothic drone of The Velvet Underground and primal garage band petulance of Nuggets; the results of which proved highly influential to the next generation breaking through: Their self-coined signature “psychobeat” can be heard driving The Jesus And Mary Chain and most of their ilk.

Delivered in the driest of tones with an almost comical heavy deadpan German accent, but with English lyrics, the Clocks, on paper anyway, read as a put-up job from the mischievous mind of Martin Kippenberger. Yet they were certainly committed, and had providence; the Clocks arriving via after two previous incarnations, the Killing Rats and The Automats; the groundwork done during the punk epoch. They even had a cheerleader, in the guise of that most archetypal German-named boffin of rock trivia and taste, Diedrich Diederichsen, who considers them to be the best German band of the entire 1980s.

They only released a handful of albums and singles proper during their tenure career, but left, as this oeuvre-spanning box set proves, quite the legacy. Over-egged in places and perhaps indulged, nonetheless Next Dimension Transfer collects sixty revealing recordings from the duo’s (though they could of course expand to accommodate extra band members when the occasion raised) official and unofficial back catalogue for the very first time.

Sanctioned by the band themselves and featuring a bundle of previously unreleased tracks, both studio and live, this behemoth eases in those that are unfamiliar with this group; the first 2 CDs in this 5xCD overview featuring the Clocks first two albums, 1981’s Pain It Black and the 1982 Subnarotic. The first of these introduces the Clocks’ punk hangover turned spindly jangly futurism rock; tracks such as the grueling cold-war chiller ’78 Soldiers Dead’ inhabit, phantom style, The Normal, Cabaret Voltaire and garage terrains, whilst ‘Psycho Beat’ lays on the flange and phasers, accelerating towards a sulk-in with both the Velvets and Hawkwind. Saxophone, neither jazz nor no wave, is added to a general broody deadpan Gothic stringy malaise; a highlight being a prowling Lou Reed on Mogadon live version of ‘Twist And Shout’ (‘Twisted & Shouts’) that reimagines a bastardised Star Club Beatles transported decades into the future, playing at family fun day event at the local social club.





Subnarotic is no less abrasive and strung-out, beating its junk to a psychodrama of Suicide, Nico, the Voidoids (again, check ‘Shake The Hippie’ from that last album) and Can. ‘Rainy Night Insanities’ though, with its whining nerve-endings violin, sounds like unholy communion between Terry Conrad and John Cale, and ‘A Touch Of Rot’ merges Johnny Thunders, Television and Eno.

Previously (probably for our benefit) unreleased, five scuzzed-up vortex indulgent live performances from the Clocks’ heyday make-up the entire third CD of this set. Met with mostly silence, the odd hand clap applause from either an indifferent or stunned audience, extended versions of ‘Shake The Hippie’, ‘DNS’ and ‘Past Tense Hope And Instant Fears On 42nd Street’ are caked-in reverb, fuzz and distortion – ‘Three Floors Down’ has an erratic avant-garde ring of the Beefheart about it. Shambolic in places, on the verge of collapse, wandering out-of-time, these lo fi deconstructions are heavy and experimental. As a warning, there’s plenty of screeching feedback to pierce the eardrums, so look out. As atmospheres go it is a dank, creepy and Gothic one, the quality of recordings raw.

Let’s be honest, this shelved “live” LP and the material missives that make-up CD4 and CD5 will be what fans and hardliners are craving. With the duo’s involvement, overseeing this collation of their material, there’s plenty of oddities and “what ifs” from the vaults to drool over. Tracks like the California punk, ala The Dils, ‘New Crime Appeal’ and Siouxsie Sioux flanged dreamwave ‘39 Progress Of A Psychotic’ are interesting, and the lion’s share of that 1987 collection 13 More Protest Songs is fantastic: all transmogrified acoustic and electric guitar Byrds and harmonica Bob Dylan, mixed with the Velvets.

If you haven’t heard of The 39 Clocks than wow, what a revelation this box set is going to be for you. They will undoubtedly soon become your favourite 1980s visionaries. For diehards there is something to get excited about in the unreleased 1981 live album and two collections, updated, which make up this homage.



Words: Dominic Valvona


%d bloggers like this: