Our latest jaunt through the most tantalisingly delicious, obscure and invigorating new releases has thrown up Hellenistic voyages, a 1950’s Atlas Mountain backdrop movie soundtrack, disjointed slacker hardcore, a JFK tableau set concept extravaganza, languish trip hop from a picturesque Russia and the sound of an acoustically yearning suburbs.

This edition’s roll call includes Xaos,Lake Michigan, Falling Stacks, The Grus, Grounders, Extradition Order and Acorn.

XAOS - Monolith Cocktail

Xaos   ‘Xaos’   (Independent Records)   LP  released 22nd June 2015.

Despite teetering on the brink of finanicial collapse for what seems like years now, with a new government voted in on the promise to bring an end to the EU camarilla’s incessant calls for further austerity, Greece has fought back both politically and culturally. With scant support for its artistic community, the music scene has if anything blossomed in the face of adversity. With a burgeoning psychedelic rock and electronica scene, the Adriatic oasis is striving to replace the nation’s stereotypic image abroad. Not since the joyous progressive rock and ethereal vocal talents of the country’s prime international titans, Aphrodite’s Child, has Greece fared so well musically. One such group of seasoned travellers, Xaos endorse Greece’s atavistic heritage with an evocative modern soundtrack suite, imbued with 5,000 years of Hellenistic yearnings and mythology. Presented as ‘post-Troika Hellenic Trance music’, the traditional instrumental scales and tones of a previous age richly swaddle or soar over an Apollonian landscape, merging Cage and Eno-esque ambience with processional marches and imaginary Byzantine scenes to create a magical and sometimes foreboding illusion.

Mirroring the Odyssey’s timeline, Xaos have spent a decade completing this their debut oeuvre. The brainchild of microtonal electronic composer, keyboard player and painter Ahetas and his performer, producer and writer foil Dubulah, the Xaos duo have both worked on and with a number of trance and world music acts, including Dub Colossus and Transglobal Underground. Here they absorb an extended cast of adroit vocalists and multi-instrumentalists into their mystical sound, adding the kind of plucked melodies and intonations you’d expect to hear on Orpheus’ journey into the underworld. Speaking of which, this purposeful suite takes in all that the region’s cultural history has to offer, linking a millennia of the battle between state and personal allegiances in just one song with the ‘Antigone In Syntagma Square’ Greek tragedy, which places the daughter of the infamous Oedipus and his mother Jocasta and heroine of Sophocle’s ancient play at the scene of many seismic shifts in Greece’s history, the 19th century constructed ‘constitution square’. The opening ‘Pontos Blues’ even attempts to redress the balance of usurped older Gods, the recognition of the ‘first born’ divinity of the sea Pontos, replaced by the Johnny-come-lately Poseidon in popular folklore.

Quite beautiful and subtly quivering, the ghosts of the past linger over this ‘post world music’ suite that attempts to bridge the esoteric and evocative traditions with a more contemporary attitude. The hardware has moved on, with computers and keyboards brought in to both reconstruct lost sounds and to put it all together, yet this album remains a sagacious study in the ancient, even if it does go a long way towards extinguishing the Greek farcical clichés that have constantly besmirched it.

Words: Dominic Valvona

Falling Stacks - Monolith Cocktail

Falling Stacks   ‘No Wives’  (Battle WorldWide)   LP  released 8th June 2015.

“No wives”: No kidding! I’m not bloody surprised with the racket they make! (excuse the pun).

Disjointed Fugazi larks a plenty now with the latest release from Bristol’s rambunctious, hardliner’s Falling Stacks. They sound, as they themselves would aptly put it, “like the thrashing and squawking of a buzzard with its leg in a mantrap”. Add to this already swaggering, cymbal smashing funhouse the regurgitated ravings of The Fall, Shellac and Sonic Youth, all administered with a sly knowing wink and a stream of conscious blaring lyrics about the idiosyncrasy of modern life – including a punctuated Sleaford Mods do Stooges posturing hardcore finale about a newly acquired dog.

Whether jittering and skittishly colliding with Pere Ubu on the schizoid-wave of a ‘Pool Party’ or channeling PiL era Lydon fronting Faith No More on the Central American slang dunk ‘Los Ticos’ the group’s ravings never lose track of a decent beat and tune. In fact musically this is a tight ship, one that is propelled by anvil-beating hysteria and low-slung trebly bass guitar menace.

Luckily for us, scuzzed up on a rich diet of New York and San Francisco “black hole” era post punk, with a liberal dose of grunge, the Falling Stacks stonk all over our sensibilities and spin us from one angulated prodding rave up to the next. And that is a compliment.

Words: Dominic Valvona

Extradition Order  ‘Kennedy’   (Jezus Factory)  LP out now

The theme of many songs over the decades since his Ivy League smiling, springer like bounding, convivial leap onto the world stage at the infamous USA Presidential campaign of 1960, and eventual win the following year, history has both critically condemned (even mocked) but for the most part adorned John F Kennedy with a hero’s status (and by some, placed him into the pantheons of Gods themselves). Hailed as the States most tragic figure by supporters and lambasted as a phoney by those critics, the fatalistic President who promised so much, is still revered and locked into the publics conscience, on both sides of the Atlantic. From the great “high hopes” of liberal America championing the lay about turn titan of international statesmanship, to the ‘fall of the house of Usher’ curse that not only finished off John but also struck his attorney general brother Robert – both assassinated in their prime – the rise and eventual murder of JFK is still a hot topic of discussion. The old clichés of the Kennedy clan representing the nearest thing to an American royal family still abound, but it is the conspiracy industry that keeps the cogs of interest well oiled. Disturbing even to grown ups like myself who can’t abide these ridiculous conclusions, the gunning down of JFK in Dallas on that forever synonymous morning of November 22nd 1963, does rattle even the staunchest lone gunman defence.

For their third album, the Warrington garage rock turn no wave blasting Extradition Order have created a loose conceptual tableau that not only plugs into the whole Kennedy phenomenon but also tells the story of the man who would be (in a fateful turn of circumstances) “king”, Kennedy’s rival for the democrat candidacy and then running mate, Lyndon B. Johnson: a man almost set to rise to power, his gilded stewardship of the senate guarantying his place on the throne, yet usurped by the lean, Boston rival. Set to an Electric 6 shares the disco arena with The Rapture post-punk dance beat, the band jerk out Lyndon’s cock-of-the-walk turn sour spite at losing out to his younger rival on the album’s ‘I Love An Eyesore (LBJ ’60)’. And yet, Johnson would not only take the reigns in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination but also go on to win the 1964 election with an outright majority; with the irony of such a cruel twist of fate, LBJ became the President after all.

After spilling a Talking Heads discordant staccato onto a Arcade Fire glockenspiel march for the opening distressed ‘Boy In Uniform’, Extradition Order stride through a polygenesis array of inspired influences. The darker ‘Founding Father’ channels Ian Curtis fronting Bauhaus, and on the skeleton-in-the-closet tale of the Kennedy’s sister ‘Rosemary’ – confined to the shadows after undergoing a heinous frontal lobotomy – they wrap their tale around a Heartbreaker’s drunken and drugged stupor. In an early 80s nocturnal New York, rubbing elbows with James White, the band take the 60s dream turn nightmare through some strange twists and turns; dragging no wave through the furrows left by the Arcade Fire and their Canadian ilk in the noughties, yet somehow sounding eccentrically British. This can in part be attributed to the fine production work of that one-man cottage industry of pastoral rock’n’roll, and trustee of forgotten English eccentric pop Ian Button (no stranger to this blog), who seems to make it all flow and gel together seamlessly.

From the President’s seal embossed on the CD to the bands mock up recreations of famous Kennedy (and his entourage) photo shoots, there can be no doubt how much time and effort has gone into this project. Neither a cynical indictment nor an elegy, Kennedy is an adroit and super tight performance –despite on the surface sounding at times languid, loose and hysterical – from a band at the height of their artistic powers.

Words: Dominic Valvona

The Grus - Monolith Cocktail

The Grus   ‘Nest’   Digital  LP out now, vinyl version released sometime in mid-June.

Hailing from the relatively serene and picturesque north western town of Tver in Russia – always a noted if not well known part of the country’s fabric since Medieval times -, The Grus duo of Simon Gendor and cooing siren Alexandra Zhuravleva spend their days producing some of the most organically rich trip hop and dreamy electronic pop. Using a mix of analogue synths, handmade instruments, mics and old-fashioned discarded guitars from the “Soviet” era they create their very own wilderness and folkloric tapestry.

The Grus’ latest wind-up pastoral suite Nest is imbued musically and thematically with three different Russia’s: the ancient, the Communist era and its aftermath; those old remnants of the cold war period disappearing under a faux-capitalist dictatorial leadership are reflected on the album, which alludes and moves to the organic sound of nature staking its claim over technology. Obviously receiving radio signals from a Broadcast, Stereolab and Zero 7 dominated airwaves, the constantly churning trip hop opener ‘To Be A Child’ borrows much from Massive Attack and that often forgotten Britpop era synth pop outfit, The Sneaker Pimps. Zhuravleva holds more than a candle to Liz Fraser, her coquettish vocals almost evaporating before your ears but then sleekly soaring off on a held note into the ether.

A lumbering motion is kept up throughout, with industrial sounds, a yearning saxophone that acts like the collective sighs and alludes to the underbelly of a city, and the environment all playing their part. There’s even an excursion into the cosmos, with the Soyuz orbiting requiem to ‘Jupiter’; a track that sounds like it was plucked unblemished from the burgeoning trip hop era of the 90s. In fact the whole album sounds sweepingly majestically out of step with the times, and could be mistaken for an obscure record, dug up from that very decade. There’s also a couple of touchingly saccharine numbers, delivered on the piano, that as personally elegiac and respectful to the people and souls they are written for, could be skipped.

Apart from that, this mysterious green-fingered electronica opus is a pretty languid and sound production, which unfurls its delights at a placable pace.

Words: Dominic Valvona  

Lake Michigan   ‘Pylons, Telephones Wires, Trees In The Clearing’   (Ruined Smile Records)   7” release out now.

With the incense burning away and a bottle of red wine for sustenance, York’s lo fi exponent of attentive, raw acoustic guitar lingers Christopher Marks, brings us his latest collection of resigned poems from a self-imposed attic exile. Stripped to their bare essentials Mark’s quartet of succinct song titles sound like a slacker Leonard Cohen sharing a morose filled cup of sorrow with an acoustic Velvet Underground. And despite the opening gambit being entitled ‘Party’, the mood is more escape to a secluded oasis than celebration – more sweeping up the remnants and burning embers of a ball you weren’t invited to then parading down the Mardi Gras atop of a bejeweled carnival float. It is a somber if heartfelt toast to escapism; echoed later on with the reverberating plucked tones of ‘Snow’, Marks languidly wishing he was somewhere else as the “suburbs are screwing me”. As the wine and incense start to waft an intoxicating air of wistfulness, the timbre remains smoky and low but by the third song ‘Sober’ our troubadour has found a higher falsetto.

It won’t suit everyone’s tastes, and as the artist himself admits he’s “just putting it out there”. The alluded great American lake setting moniker doesn’t prepare you for the performance; the burr may sound mid-western but the sentiment is the all too familiar English preserve of fleeing the suburbs.

Words: Dominic Valvona

The Acorn   ‘Vieux Loup’   (Paper Bag Records)   LP  released 1st June 2015

Last but by no means least, we finish with the latest beautifully articulated and minimal soft folk electronica LP suite from the oaken-moniker Canadian artist Acorn. Attentively absorbing the cerebral ripples of Arthur Russell whilst hitchhiking across a warm and fondly sound tracked version of his native homeland, Acorn mixes tightly delayed acoustics with subtle synthesized melodies. From the shuffling but sedate lament of the ‘Rapids’, through the pop lush soar of ‘Palm Springs’ and the calming soul of ‘Cumin’; Vieux Loup is an album at ease with itself. The Acorn can certainly produce the revelatory, even when delivered in a hushed burr, and proves that it’s sometime better to downplay things rather than make all that unnecessary noise. A reassured and fragile tale, with many nostalgic influences, equally contemporary and fresh, this 8-track collection will take time to unfurl all its hidden charms.

Words: Dominic Valvona