LP cover of hillock hills

Our regular round up of deserving aural treats includes concertina sand dances;  nostalgic love affair folk pop; gagoule suffocated bedsit sulky indie;  Nordic glacial pop; cosmic slosh;  grated metal filing electronica;  and plenty of other genres and style we haven’t yet summed up efficiently.

 

This week’s roll call:  Benjamin Shaw,  Hallock Hill,  Kitten Pyramid,  Merrymouth,  Hanne Kolsto,  Peirani & Parisien,  Liars,  Towns,  Wild Smiles,  The Comet Is Coming!,  Lady North,  Jon Hassell.

 

Benjamin Shaw  ‘Goodbye Gagoule World’  (Audio Antihero)  Available Now

Taking a proverbial cudgel to the head until the resigned suffering pours onto the lyric sheet, the Les Miserable of lo-fi, Benjamin Shaw crows almost apathetically about the foibles of modern love in the digi world. His latest, intrinsically English quirky sounding LP, Goodbye Gagoule World, has a weary, worn quality, the singer not quite out on the ledge yet but tentatively shuffling towards it.

Always promising, Shaw’s mix of cheap Casio percussion, odd tuned-in and out transmissions of language lessons and American business etiquette, and enervated melodies hints at something grander. ‘No one’ the opening account, features a hint of eastern perfumed gardens and softly woven backward guitars to evoke something exotically dreamy, before Shaw lands back on terra firma with a succinct bump. There’s also an excursion into Americana with the villainous X-Men borrowed title, ‘Magneto Was Right’. The song’s steel pedal woes and sighing resignation still sound mistakenly and quaintly English; more Kinks Muswell Hillbillies than Mike Nesmith or Gram Parsons.

 

Blending and bleeding over into each other, the seven-track collection loosely flows without a break – unless you count the muffled trip hop instrumental, ‘A Day At The Park’. You could argue that the album is bookended, with the closing meandered title track lament, which sounds like a moiety of the introduction with its snatched lingers of the TV and equally unrequited washed-out love prose.

Coveting a whole lot of attention from the blogosphere this time around, and rightly so, Shaw’s idiosyncratic growing pains have untethered themselves from their ‘lo-fi’ moorings to reach a wider audience. Possibly because there’s a lot of lonely, wounded heart, mopey individuals out there craving after someone who’s in the same boat.

Hallock Hill  ‘Kosloff Mansion’  (Hundred Acre Recordings)  Available Now


Mournfully evoking a haunted air of mystery, erring towards an ominous presence, the sensitive souls behind Hallock Hill suggest rather than paint by numbers a series of musically sketched scenes: You could be holding a candle in trepidation, gazing out over the moors from your Victorian Ghost story remote mansion or thoughtfully observing life’s minute details from your modern day garret; whilst the rain beats a tentative pitter patter upon your window pane.

Recorded in a week by New Yorker Tom Lecky, the project expanded when the composer asked, the equally experimental soundscape composer Tim Noble (one half of the Monolith Cocktail most favored ‘outdoors hauntologist’ The Lowland One Hundred) to opine on his attentive suite. Rather than offer comments, Noble got stuck in and helped with production and arrangements.

More or less led or vaguely directed by the abstract but most often melodically played sequence and series of piano notes, each chapter in this instrumental narrative is tenable no matter how surreptitious and veiled its shape.

The song titles are just as vague, offering romanticized or forlorn stanzas such as ‘Farewell, Pale Corpse Of My Sins’ and ‘ Death Was A Bird’, the overall atmosphere is suggestive, prompting an evocative sense of trepidation and oncoming sadness that never arrives.

The landscape conveyed and elemental interactions that act as points of reference are constantly under grey skies, with an ever present rain either pitter pattering or pouring down on the windowpane, tarpaulin and myriad of surfaces. Just as eloquently minimalistic in its beauty as it is haunting, the albums continuous stormy soundtrack can be appreciated from the safety of your own home.

Kitten Pyramid  ‘Uh-Oh!’  28th April 2014

Treated with a certain sympathetic inevitability and even seen as the rites of passage for the artist, musician or author, mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are not so tolerated in the less ordinary sufferer grappling with a 9 – 5 job in the office. Excused if you’re Syd Barret, not so excusable if you happen to be outside the creative sphere. But even then, it’s only a matter of time before psychotic episodes start to tire and wane support from the public. This relationship and lack of empathy with the ordinary Joe’s suffering lies at the heart of the multi-limbed rambunctious Kitten Pyramid collective’s agenda. Conceived by the group’s chief instigator, Scott Milligan, the original concept was to produce a film and soundtrack, prompted by his uncle’s struggle. There was also the rather curious and charitable idea to tour a number of psychiatric units around the UK, interacting with the patients whilst attempting to shed a more balanced understanding of the infliction that at one time or another, in various degrees, has or will affect many of us. From St. Georges in Stafford – where Scott’s uncle was a patient – to the infamous, one time Victorian grotesque opportunistic gloating spectacle, Bedlem, the band will bring their brand of loose psych to the needy.

Reflecting that psychosis and vivid range of often confusing ideas, the five-piece (though we’re told it may extend to twenty) collaborative core have enlisted Nick Brine on production. Imbued with the lo-fi, pastoral sun dappled psych and raw shoe-string rock’n’roll boogie sounds that Brine has helped shape for the Super Furry Animals (who the Kittens most resemble music wise), Beta Band, Oasis and Seasick Steve, they’ve merged a myriad of influences into their debut LP, Uh-Oh! Resembling a post-Brit Pop Octopus, the Kitten’s explode with the Tequila fuelled caravan park opener, ‘Chester’, and plaintively stripe away the noise for Elton John and Badfinger inspired ballads, ‘Gliding’ and ‘Fire’. Inner turmoil Pink Floyd, circa Wish You Were Here, mariachi bands, phased flange and rock operatic guitar twiddling all merge to create a sweetened kaleidoscope palette of ideas, yet in some of the less colourful, dare say maudlin moments, they can lose that adventurous streak, falling into bland anthemic indie – as they unfortunately do on a number of tracks including the Alanis Morissette backed by Sigur Ros lite, ‘Traffic’.

 

That tour should just about be under way, culminating with the launch of their album on the 26th at the Hope & Anchor in Islington. There’s also the second single ‘English Rose’ (featured here) doing the rounds, a suitably pastoral folky prog number which features Dave Ball (acting the role of the Grim Reaper in the video) of the halcyon Baroque-psych greats, Procol Harum.  Intriguing and at least offering to address, investigate and draw much-needed attention to the problems of mental health in an increasingly insular driven society, the Kitten Pyramids put panoptic psych opera attempts to mirror the highs and lows of that infliction.

Merrymouth  ‘Wenlock Hill’  (Navigator Records)  5th May 2014

Not exactly the usual meat and potatoes fare you’ve been accustomed to seeing on the Monolith Cocktail; no hidden layers of exoteric meaning; no sudden break outs of epic progressive riffing or Krautrock, psych and jazz experiments to grapple with. No, just good old honest nostalgic morning-dew coated blue-eyed soul and 60s pop from ex-Ocean Colour Scenesters Simon Fowler and Dan Sealy, who in recent years have bandied around the pastoral romanticized Merrymouth moniker. Roping in some other like-minded musicians and collaborators, they’ve calmly moved on without actually moving on, producing melodious paeans and reflective stirrings that take their cue from the halcyon days of yore.

From the folkloric prose of AE Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad, their latest songbook and title track borrows, what is most probably, a mythical dreamed-up hilltop for its inspiration. They’re billed, well in the PR shtick, as a folk orientated band. True, yet they evoke the sort of meandered country Ronnie Lane version of that quant genre when stuck in the 60s, yet turning it on when they wish to strip and reconfigure covers by The Stranglers (enervating their 1979 single ‘Duchess’) and The Stone Roses (re-resurrecting ‘I Am The Resurrection’ with a bitter sweet balladry).

They embody a mix of bands and styles, from the Marmalade barrel organ, Carl Wayne vocal sounding, whimsical sea shanty ‘Salt Breeze’, to the two-geared George Harrison meets Badfinger on the Blue Jay Way ‘That Man’ – which also sounds like some missing title from The Creation’s back catalogue. Reminding me of a hundred such songs but resembling none of them, the opening golden era pop highlight title track is pure Hollies and Edison Lighthouse symphonic brilliance, and despite sounding uncannily familiar shows Fowler at his vocal and songwriting peak.

In our opinion, a damn sight more interesting and filled with more quality than any of the OCS releases, Fowler has eased into the more mature vehicle of Merrymouth and produced a great amiable listening experience.

Hanne Kolsto  ‘Stillness And Panic’  (Jansen Plate Production)  7th May 2014

 

Epically moving to the beat of palatial electronic pop from the fjord landscape of Norway, Hanne Kolsto symphonic bursts of ice cool laments and invigorated upbeat paeans will at least attempt to melt that hardened exterior of yours.

Nominated for the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy for her last LP (2012’s Flashback), Kolsto has yet to make an effective impact outside her native shores, but this latest power-ballad cacophony should. Chiming with sonorous reverberating bass, drums and glacial ‘in vogue’ synth, the Nordic siren imbued by the surroundings of her childhood home in Sykkkylven (where the LP was recorded) ropes in her father’s local brass band to add an organic touch to the aloof electronica.

Blending quite seamlessly from the thunderous and attentive pop noir cascades of ‘Vertical Split’ to the acoustic guitar bouncy, sparkled harpsichord-esque ‘Someone Else’, the songbook of passionate forlorn and c’est la vie disposition sounds like a lilted Jesus Zola sharing the stage with Here Is Your Temple. Frosty dreamy pop with a certain edge, this album unfurls its layers gradually, even though there are of course a few tracks that immediately leap out as singles. She is soon to be your newest – well not quite so new – suave and sophisticated Scandinavian chanteuse.

Peirani & Parisien  ‘Belle Époque’  (ACT)  Available Now

Already lauded with ‘rising star’ titles and the grandiose ‘Prix Django Reinhardt’ awards, the French paragons of jazz, accordionist Vincent Peirani and soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, have joined forces to produce a homage to Paris and the Belle Époque – an epoch that began with the country’s defeat by the Prussians in 1871 and died out with the onset of World War I; an age distorted and shaped by the Dreyfus affair, toppling of Napoléon III, the growth of Nationalism, yet countered with a blossoming in the arts, from Impressionism to the Fauves.

Lending a latter day avant-garde modernism to the traditions of France’s golden but much tumultuous age, the duo who first met whilst comparing notes in drummer Daniel Humair’s quartet, traverse a musically mapped out journey of their country’s subterranean, infirmary and colonial North African locations – though they always give it a lick of Gallic charm, they do step away from the Parisian capital to cover Duke Ellington’s ‘Dancers In The Dark’ and Henry Lodge’s ‘Temptation Rag’.

Unaccompanied by any other instrument, the striking and at times seductive interplay between the soprano sax and accordion manages to sound both instantly familiar and adventurously strange. We are party to every stroke, concertina squeeze and creak, as the soiree moves deftly between the haunted primal soup of ‘St. James Infirmary’ and the sand dance of ‘Song Of Medina (Casbah) – a Tangier flavoured rendition of Paris resident and ‘uncontested soprano sax master’ Sidney Brecht, who the duo originally planned to play homage to with a whole album of his numbers.

Serenading past a litany of evocative figures as they stroll down the wide boulevards and Jardin des Tuileries of the capital, the rich tones and lingering adroit roaming notes are both enchantingly reliable yet mysterious too, blending that free spirit of experimentation and tradition perfectly. It will come as no surprise to regular readers of the Monolith Cocktail that this is another ACT label signing, part of the so far incredible ‘duo art’ series, and that it’s also another of those benchmark jazz integrates-with-classicism suites.

Tickling Our Fancy singles and oddities:

Liars mute

Doing it for the Monolith Cocktail, we share some of the more interesting, infectious and exotic tunes that have recently fallen into our hands over the past week.

 

Liars  ‘Pro Anti Anti’  (Mute)  The second single taken from Mess, released on 9th June 2014.

Towns  ‘Marbles’  (Howling owl Records)  Taken from the upcoming LP Get By, released 2nd June 2014

Wild Smiles  ‘Fool For You’  (Sunday Best Recordings)  Available Now

The Comet Is Coming  ‘Neon Baby’ 

Just check out this PR blurb, can’t sum it up any better:

“The Comet is Coming is the soundtrack to an imagined apocalypse. In the aftermath of widespread sonic destruction what sounds remain? Who will lead the survivors to new sound worlds? Who will chart the new frontier?

In a warehouse somewhere in london 2013 a meeting would take place between three musical cosmonauts. They would pool their energies to build a vessel powerful enough to transport any party into outer space. Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, Melt Yourself Down), Danalogue and Betamax (Soccer96). Together they chart a path based on the encoded language of Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and the BBC Radiophonic Workshops from which the band’s name emerged. The Comet Is Coming launched at a riotous show at London Jazz Festival 2013 at XOYO.

It is after the end of the world, the stage is a spacecraft, The mic is an accelerator. brace yourself for The Comet is Coming.”

Now listen and concur…

Lady North  ‘Bum Jiggy’  Lead single from upcoming debut LP Stellar, released 28th April 2014

Jon Hassell  ‘Metal Fatigue’  (Warp/ All Saints)
Taken from the ‘Jon Hassell Remixes’ 12″ EP released 19/20 May 2014 and also included on the expanded 3 disc reissue of Jon’s ‘City: Works Of Fiction’ album released 2/3 June 2014.

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