NEW MUSIC REVUE
Tickling our aural delights this month Freestyle Records celebratory reissue of African percussion giant Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers’ influential African Party album; a retrospective from Asian Underground doyen’s the Joi Sound System; sublime psychedelic acoustic rock from Italian troubadours Dead Bouquet; the Casio keyboard lo fi Brian Wilson, A Journey of Giraffes; The Provincials summer solstice EP; mischievous Berlin electronic in Soweto vibes from Psycho & Plastic and waltzing banjo lo fi from Frog. Plus in our ‘shorts’ finale, we have new videos and tracks from Strange U, U.S. Girls, Kitty Finer, Temple Invisible, Vukovar and Bryon Lee & The Dragonaires.
Joi ‘Joi Sound System’ (Real World Records)
LP released 29th June 2015
Instigators of a celebratory fusion that threw together the heritage of their Indian mother and Bangladesh father, the brothers Shamsher merged atavistic traditions with hip hop, reggae, dancehall, two step and a brimful of Asha beats, at the fag end of the Britpop era. Blossoming from the famous London Asian Underground scene that grew out of Mercury Music prize winner Talvin Singh’s weekly club nights at the Blue Note, the Joi Sound System rubbed shoulders with Cornershop, Fund-da-mental, Nitin Sawhney and Asian Dub Foundation before breaking out into the mainstream and signing a congruous deal with Peter Gabriel’s Real World imprint. Recording a trio of albums, all of which are represented on this collection, Haroon and Farook Shamsher emitted their unique brand of polygenesis dance music from there bastion of Bangladesh culture Brick Lane HQ to the world.
The Shamsher musical legacy was chiefly inherited from their professional flute playing father Soni, who’s jam sessions at the family home with a number of mystical Baul minstrels were recorded for posterity by the two siblings, and sold locally on the street. From these humble beginnings the lads started spinning records at the local youth club, as part of the Joi Bangla Sound System. Expanding from DJing to writing and recording their own music, Joi were joined by BBC world music award nominee vocalist Susheela Raman, guitarist Vik Sharma and percussionist Bongo Paul as they added flute, tablas and sitar to their dance music beats. This incarnation would go on to play the biggest showcase festivals of the day, WOMAD, the Big Chill and Glastonbury, and support Spiritualized and The Eurythmics on tour. Unfortunately tragedy would strike just as Joi were about to really blow in 1999 following the release of their Real World debut One and One Is One, Haroon died suddenly from a heart attack after initially contracting a blood clot. Cut down in his prime, the second LP, We Are Three, released as a posthumous tribute in 2000, featured a number of recordings Haroon had made when he travelled to his father’s village in Bangladesh; his omnipresent vibes indelible throughout. In 2007, Farook returned with the “shamelessly upbeat” Arabian/Asian fused album Without Zero, which featured a number of world music artisans (Mumbai-based artist Niladri Kumar, Algerian-born oud player and multi-instrumentalist Yazid and longtime collaborators, John Coxon and Ashley Wales of jazz/electronic duo Spring Heel Jack).
The best of these three albums now form a retrospective homage to a true transglobal phenomenon. Spanning two discs, the first chapter kicks off with their 1997 thumping break beat techno anthem ‘A Desert Storm’ – imagine The Prodigy frying under an Iraqi sun. From here on in we follow a loose passage of enlightened discoveries, spun into a woozy spiral of Bengali spiced instrumentation, Massive Attack churned drumbeats and a soothing soulful vocal on ‘Oh My People’, and romanced and twirled by sophisticated DJ Shadows-esque breaks and chimes, reverberated sitar twangs and tablas on the ‘Journey’. Other highlights include the swaying rally chants sampled loops on the political alluded ‘We Need Your Vote’, and the Jon Hassell fourth world music echoes travailing over a tight interplay of ascending Indian film score strings and techy beats on ‘Deep Asian Vibes’.
The second part of the Joi story opens with another career defining tune, the beautifully serene trance anthem ‘Fingers’ – which also featured recently as one of the key (and ‘choice’) tracks that marked the recent Real World’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Defining a whole genre of marrying electronica and dance music to traditional sounds from the Asian continent, Fingers is a highly influential record and is a synonymous encapsulation of the Real World label spirit. Other influential sparks can be heard with the Joi’s famous tabla reverberated shakes, so beloved of Missey Elliot’s freak on and so many other artists, or with the lushly applied Indian vocals that linger over a slow rotating bed of beats, found prevalent throughout the collection.
Taking the sounds of Asian subcontinent into new directions, Joi find a garage groove and R&B vocal fits the eastern acoustics on ‘What You Are’, and tailor a two step backbeat and vocals to the vibrating majesty of the sitar on ‘Come Back To Me’. Dub, ambient music and hip hop also play their part, the Joi more or less adapting any genre to their homeland traditions, and in the process forging something new.
A celebration not only of Asian music but a timely reminder of the UK’s multicultural successes, the Shamsher brothers retrospective could not have arrived at a better time; a reminder of the underground exchanges that helped shape London’s dance music scene.
Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers ‘African Party’ (Freestyle Records)
LP released 22nd June 2015.
The history of London’s celebrated polygenesis musical history would have been far drearier if Nigeria’s legendary band leader and drums master Ginger Johnson hadn’t decided to pitch up and make the capitol his adopted home in the 1950s. Progenitor of Afrobeat, a mentor to the forms most revered voice, Fela Kuti, Johnson’s raucous and often highly sophisticated mix of hi life, jazz, calypso and whatever else seemed harmoniously appealing at the time set not only Africa but the UK alight. His London home would become a kind of mecca, a center point for activity and gossip, whilst providing the ideal jam session spot for his fellow compatriots. Respected if not adored by those who gravitated towards his generous spirit, he was addressed fondly as ‘Father’.
Popping up throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s as the defacto – whether out of admiration and reverence for his position in the African music world or because of ignorance and racial stereotyping – exotic musical accompaniment of choice, Johnson and His African Messengers could be found performing soundtracks for 007’s jaunt into Blacksploitation cinema (Live And Let Die), or be seen appearing in the Ursula Andress starring cult Hammer Horror classic, She. He also added the essential “hi-energy” Voodoo spirit to the Rolling Stones’ dark arts conjuring masterpiece ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, when they played their infamous Hyde Park shindig in 1969. Always in demand, Ginger’s session work alone was enviable, as he backed Georgie fame, Osibisa, Madeleine Bell and Quincy Jones, and collaborated with a diverse range of acts that included Genesis, Thunderclap Newman, Argent and space cadets Hawkwind.
Yet he was also something of a socialist activist, giving back and sharing his wealth of experiences and knowledge with the local community. Instrumental in the early stages of The Notting Hill Carnival, he also opened the Club Iroko hang out in Haverstock Hill, North London, which played host to the great and good, with titans of their disciplines, Sun Ra, Osibisa, Funkadelic and Cymande (three of who’s members served their apprenticeships in Ginger’s band), all either playing or frequenting the joint.
Celebrating an icon, Freestyle Records have chosen to reignite interest in Ginger’s pivotal, and arguably most accessible ‘party piece’ showcase, the 1967 African Party album. With a full gamut of styles, moods and rhythms under his sauntering, and often vibrantly swinging control, Ginger and his talking drums hurtle through a jazz withering saxophone version of the Burundi ‘Watusi’; rise a snake handling Voodoo spirit in the pulp paperback, 007 environment, Soho club with the ‘Wicthdoctor’; and hot-foot across a mirage shimmering Tangiers with a polygenesis mix of both calypso Caribbean and feverish African influences on ‘Lord Morocco’. Choosing to close the album with a beautifully embodiment of his Hi Life roots, Ginger cuts loose with a chorus of carefree brass and infectious soul-shuffling drums: the archetype precursor to the, usually, faster and more funky Afrobeat style that followed. With the grand traditions of the motherland, and the terrain including its many inhabitants, from elephants to the insects, all entwined with contemporary jazz, rhythm and blues and floating flutes, the Messengers congruously enrich the atavistic tribal patters, jabs and rapid rolls of Ginger’s centerpiece percussion to create a window in on an underground fuelled 1960s jamboree.
The Provincials ‘Ascending Summer’
EP released on 21st June 2015
Like some aquatic siren, a mermaid perhaps or one of Arthurian folklore’s lady’s of the lake, beckoning the listener to the waters edge The Provincial’s diaphanous vocalist Polly Perry summons the listener towards the fluctuating folk tones of the latest EP, Ascending Summer. Released in time for the summer solstice, the Winchester group’s sun-dappled auras shimmer on a suitably celebratory soundtrack. Not quite in Whicker Man territory, these delicately cooed melodies prefer the less esoteric traditions of eating scampi & chips, and visiting the far more welcoming and less isolated, and not at all pagan bastion stronghold of the – and I should know as I was born there – Isle of Wight. The title track does it’s best to magically conjure up a dreamy, “far from the madding crowd” getaway; alluding to the famous chain-link ferry that takes you from east to west Cowes and signposting local beauty spots along the coastline as if creating new folk mythologies.
Elegantly and softly ascending folk and jazz progressions on the EP’s most outstanding track, ‘Landing On Water’, Polly’s breezy vocals and her musical partners’ brassy reverberating pedal steel guitar strings drift almost aimlessly but in the most beautifully poised and pleasurable manner.
In two parts, Flights Of Helios remix the band’s ‘When The Light Changes’ with typical subterranean, esoteric flair. Part One rotates the breathy cooed vocals in a veiled vortex, and plummets into a dank, wall dripping, cavern, before part two picks up the pace and pushes the hypnotic loops into a ritualistic break out of techno beats. The Provincials far too nice to take part in any daemonic ceremony or go off on an avant-garde lilt do however lend themselves well to this treatment.
A Journey Of Giraffes ‘It’s Is Nice To Be Nice
LP available via Bandcamp
On a pilgrimage of self-discovery through the actions and music of The Beach Boys, Baltimore maverick musician of esoteric surf music and whimsy, John Lane has done his best to emulate California’s favorite sons via a number of alter ego monikers. From channeling the lovesick adolescent soppiness of Pet Sounds on his She Sells Seashells LP as Expo – one of the very first albums to be reviewed on the Monolith Cocktail – to celebrating the Beach Boys’ Ashram years of transcendental meditation by praising the virtues of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba as A Journey Of Giraffes on the Songs For Baba LP, Lane evokes his spiritual guides via a form of lo fi nostalgia. He is a Casio keyboard Brian Wilson, transducing those influences into dreamy broadcasts.
With his curious band name and album titles – his 2014 “quasi-documentary” LP, National Park Brochures, chiming perhaps with the wondrous menagerie of the 1960s, and alluding to the increased wealth of exotic pleasures, previously the reserve of only the super rich, now readily available to the many in the form of leisure and travel – Lane has still continued to underline each and every composition with a sense of forlorn and lilting Tropicana harmonious introspection. It’s Is Nice To Be Nice is another halcyon tribute, adopting and suggesting similar song titles, whilst delivering pathos through an obscured, funneled mouthpiece. Those “vega-table”, “take good care of your feet” mantras so beloved of The Beach Boys are once again used here, but as it was for the Wilsons, those clean-living health kicks and environmental messages were never adopted for long, as they slipped into the use of heavy drugs and medication to see them through the various forms of pressures and mental anxieties that crippled them. Hence the rather languid, sweet at times, but always sad and noir like echoes on Lanes own ‘Vvvitamins’ and ‘Cashews (Halves & Pieces)’.
It isn’t all California sunshine rays and surf noir, the LP also occasionally wafts into The High Llamas territory or dabbles with cocktail lounge jazz (‘The Usual Door’), and on the cosmic vibrating ‘Mama Satellite’, Lane remixes himself by merging elements of The Flaming Lips with a trance like electronic backing of floating synths to produce the album’s most inventive detour.
Encapsulating his musical heroes on a humble budget, Lane’s bemusing and at times heartfelt paeans can lift themselves beyond redolence and wash up onto charmingly alternative coastlines.
Frog ‘Judy Garland’ (Audio Antihero)
Video for a track taken from the recent LP, Kind Of Blah
Poetically embodied by our resident Franco-Turkish novelist-in-waiting, Ayfer Simms, last week, New York combo Frog were furnished with a profound and erudite review. Taken from their recent LP, Kind Of Blah (critically applauded by all the right-thinking critics including us), and released on the most aptly entitled label if ever there was one (and we’d like to think, Monolith Cocktail friends) Audio Antihero, ‘Judy Garland’ is a magical esoteric hoedown, if darkly effected by an unhealthy dose of barbiturates, waltz to the troubled starlet. Imagine a sort of cross between Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah and a banjo plucking Modest Mouse and you’ll be half way towards making sense of this most sparkly piece of malady and hope.
Psycho & Plastic ‘Day/Glow’(GiveUsYourGOLD)
Single released on 26th June 2015
Back with their fourth double A-side single, ‘Day/Glow’, our favourite electro oddities from the German capitol once again mix house, techno, Hip Hop and electro pop into a kaleidoscopic sponge of playfulness.
Psycho & Plastic can always be relied upon to integrate something new into the mix, and on the colourfully sophisticated, mechanised ants scuttling in the circuit boards, techno track Day, they drop Kraftwerk down in Soweto. As avid followers of the Monolith Cocktail themselves, we’d like to think their latest use of African guitar chops and licks on might have been in some way inspired by visiting the site. It’s a subtle melody and riff, but it is there, and it takes the group into new territories.
With slightly more thump in its bump, the second track Glow continues the subtle hints of Africa, but has a far more pan-European travelogue feel. Vocoder effects and quirky techno kooky sounds warp this track beyond tubular R&S steeliness and seriousness, taking us on a peaceable voyage across the dance floor of some cosmic Balearics. If you can’t wait for it all to kick in and prefer to travel a more direct path, there is a radio edit version that conduces the original into a more bite-sized affair.
Dead Bouquet ‘As Far As I Know’ (Seahorse Recordings)
LP out now.
Imbued with the alternative sound of the cerebral Grant Lee Buffalo, the mid-western drawled Athens, Georgia via L.A. band’s bass player Paul Kimble lending not only his instrumental talents but also producer skills to the Italian trio’s debut, the Dead Bouquet leave behind the antiquated capitol of their forefathers for the American troubadour highway.
Though they hail from Rome, and apart from the flowery if typically Dante-esque lamented poetics, the Italians sound like a cross between commercial 80s British Goth, The Waterboys, Smashing Pumpkins and early U2. At the centre of their acoustic rock maelstrom, vocalist and songwriter Carlo Mazzoli’s 12-string guitar leads with impassioned sweeps and gesticulating rhythmic grace, flanked by his two compatriots as they transcribe eloquent, and at times angry, prose.
The word psychedelic has been mentioned and bandied about, but it seems totally fatuous and at odds with the bands sound. Though offering a sophisticated and at times off-kilter interesting slant on acoustic rock, the band don’t exactly venture over the calico wall or sip from the electric kool aid. No, they merely inquire into the opening hours of the perfumed gardens, and retain a more progressive if anything, vibe throughout, bordering on early 70s Pink Floyd (‘Way Back Then’).
Strong in melodies and traversing reflected pained anthems (‘Nobody’s Sky’) or evoking a Celtic seafaring tale (‘Barking At My Gate’), the Dead Bouquet journey a well-travelled road with aplomb, angst and determination; daring indeed, as they evoke their many influences on the way, and by the sounds of it, find more millage from the magnificent songwriting of Grant Lee Phillips.
In short selection:
In short: Videos and tracks currently on our radar. We have U.S. Girl’s Meg Remy drawing on a vivid musical requiem of Catholicism and withering electro pop as she tassels with the themes of the female gaze; Kitty Finer welding together a jaunty dub amalgamation of early Madness and the Raincoats in the workshop; Strange U’s far from rose-tinted nostalgic trip back through 1970s Africa; a kaleidoscopic rasping and organic electro vista cooed beauty from Romanian trip-hop industrialist Temple Invisible; the most lush and melodic call-to-arms against the pervading forces of evil from the Small Bear Records super group Vukovar; and a taster form the recent Uptown Top Ranking double LP of ska and boss sounds legend Byron Lee and his Dragonaires.
U.S. Girls ‘Woman’s Work’ (4AD)
Kitty Finer ‘Girls In The Garage’
Strange U ‘Strange Universe In Africa’
Temple Invisible ‘Everything From Above’
Vukovar ‘New World Order’ (Small Bear Records)
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’ – Features on the Uptown Top Ranking compilation, released on the North Parade/VP Records labels.
Words: Dominic Valvona