vukovar - monolith cocktail

Aural fancies this week include a psychogeographic opus from The Classical; lush shoegaze and riled pastel agit rock from Vukovar; two new compilations of material picked from kosmiche and electronic legend Conrad Schnitzler’s archives; and spunk rock and new wave rattlers from White Reaper. Plus we have some dream wave electro from German duo Ayu, a quirky transmission from the potting shed of the Nimzo Indian, trashy Brooklyn pop from Snarkmuffin and Etho-jazz from the legendary Hailu Mergia in our shorts section.

The Classical - Monolith Cocktail

The Classical ‘Diptych’
(Time Sensitive Materials)  Physical LP released 31st July 2015

Whether its withering in the psychogeograpahy of Palermo’s open burial catacombs, lamenting a Grecian Suzanne Vega like hymn to the departed souls, or rising from a subterranean cell towards the first signs of glimmering light, The Classical conjure up the most daemonic tableaus. Previously the preserve of the chosen few, lauded in their Bay Area home of San Francisco and by anyone who by happenstance came across it in 2014 via its self-release on Bandcamp, their finely tuned agitated jazz/theatrical explorations into the gloom Diptych, has thankfully been reprieved and given a physical release.

A morbidly curious songbook in the style of Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch and The Drift, the album is a series of acts, the protagonist singer-songwriter Juliet E. Gordon channeling a host of ghosts, fantasists and harbingers of revenge. Abandoning a career in the acting trade, Gordon’s skills have been put to good use with some adroit vocal performances; her voice at different times taking on the characteristics and intonations of Vega, Beth Gibbons, Lene Lovich and Patti Smith, whilst the Brian Viglione like pendulous and kinetic thrashing drums of her foil Britt Ciampa (brilliantly played throughout) ebbs, caresses or crashes upon the sirens rocky stage.

Transformative post punk and no wave meets junkyard jazz, The Classical can, with finesse, produce the sounds of either sumptuous strings laden tenderness (‘Byzantine Tango’) or lull ominously to a Portishead and Walker-esque bedevilled beat (‘Escapeboards, Pt.1’). Mesmerising, hypnotic if not entrancing, the deep chills of hell’s hornets nest and the harrowing reverberations of atavistic horns, the death knell or signal from Jericho onwards, act in unison with the punctuating energy and startling beauty of this album’s more melodic and Avant-pop moments.

Highly impressive and enriched with an array of acroamatic and cryptic portraits, Diptych is a cerebral and powerful testament, positively glowing and rippling with intelligent sensibility.

Conrad Schnitzler - Kollektion 5

Conrad Schnitzler - Con-struct

Conrad Schnitzler/ Pyrolator   ‘Con-struct’
(Bureau B) LP released 17th July 2015


Conrad Schnitzler ‘Kollektion 5: compiled and assembled by Thomas Fehlmann’
(Bureau B) LP released 31st July 2015

Resurrecting many fine albums from the Kosmiche and avant-garde electronica cannon, German label Bureau B once again has paid homage to one of its leading composer and artist acolytes Conrad Schnitzler with a double bill of releases. The first a compilation of his 80s sonic excursions, re-aligned and congruously reassembled by Thomas Fehlmann for the label’s guest curated Kollektion series, the second a ‘re-construction’ of Conrad’s abundant archive by Kurt ‘Pyrolator’ Dahlke.

Soliciting the favours of compatriots, former musical colleagues and fans, Bureau B has already asked Lloyd Cole to compile his choice Hans-Joachim Roedelius tracks and Stereolab honcho Tim Gane to pick out his favourite flights of synthesizer fantasies from the famous Sky Records label back catalogue. Now having already re-released a number of his original albums and peregrinations, they’ve asked Beats label founder and former Palais Schaumburg band member Fehlmann to channel Conrad’s 8Os “Con” suffixed explorations into a flowing, almost uninterrupted, mix for the purposes of the 5th Kollektion instalment. Stringing together various pieces and cross fading at the opportunistic moment, Fehlmann does justice to the Zodiak Free Art Lab ethos, producing a complimentary interstellar soundtrack of immersive experimentation and though none of the original’s have been tampered with (leaving the tempo and form intact), they take on a new perspective.

A progenitor of the Kosmiche and Krautrock era, Conrad’s various stints, usually as a founding member and instigator, at the helm of Kluster (forming the trio with fellow Zodiak club stalwarts Roedelius and Dieter Moebius in 1969) and Tangerine Dream (an early member of the group in 1970, featured on the group’s debut LP Electronic Meditation), would reverberate throughout his solo and collaborative work, right up until his death in 2011. By the 1980s, he had a strong body of work behind him and was once again forming new bonds and ideas with Germany’s post-punk generation: integrating some of the more interesting ideas into his synthesizer based modulations and soundscapes.

Alongside the numerous ‘Contempora’ extracts, picked from Conrad’s 1981 album of the same name, Fehlmann mixes up the original running order to reshape and build new relationships between the various cosmic fragments.

‘11’’s sophisticated cascaded space dust wanderings and modulating spheres recall his time with Tangerine Dream, especially when it then fades into ‘09’’s satellite roaming overhead, alien bubbling cauldron of primordial soup.

Later on ‘04’’s shooting stars visions and the chain-reaction pollen explosion ‘10’, act as a returning leitmotif, connecting the space voyages over the lunar terrain together. Segments from Conrad’s Con 3, Conrad & Sohn (both sides of that record, produced with his film-maker son Gregor, featured here in an alternative sequence), Congratulacion and Consequenz albums, all figure in this otherworldly journey, piquing the interest with the Kraftwerk school of vocalized industrial Dusseldorf soul, and rain splashed ‘Tanz Im Regam’ (some proto Sky Records material from the Con 3 suite); the steely art school, scaffold pole percussive ‘Komm Mit Nach Berlin’; and rum-spliced tribal techno exoticness of ‘Copacabana’. Catalogued by dates, the oddities found on the 1987 LP, Congratulacion, vary between the twinkly celestial droplets of the magical ’21.8.86’, and the Wendy Carlos switched-on Baroque of ’19.8.86’; both tracks I’ve never before searched out and even heard, but both mischievously maverick. Fehlmann does a superb job in juxtaposition, keeping the Conrad signature of exploratory surroundings but refreshing it for a contemporary reappraisal.

In a similar vain, Kurt ‘Pyrolator’ Dahlke amps up Conrad’s synthesizer collection of daily experiments; collated from his vast sound archive, originally put aside for use in his live performances; forming a library of jump-off points, ideas, and sonic soundscapes. After reissuing two of Conrad’s albums in 2010, the Berlin label m=minimal’s founder Jens Strüver was granted access to these library tracks. Instead of a straight compilation, he came up with a series of ‘con-structions’, in which the material was not so much remixed as built from new. Different electronic musicians have been invited to remodel Conrad’s oeuvre, with the contemporary German techno and sophisticated electronic group Kreidler’s Andreas Reihse responsible for the second instalment, and now the solo artist, and one-time member of Der Plan and D.A.F., Kurt Dahlke goes to work on the third chapter.

With a darker and more caustic approach, Dahlke builds Conrad’s live fragments into ‘intelligent’ and cerebral techno soundtracks. But what first meets the aural receptors is a noodling moiety of tech sounds from the Tannhauser Gate, and the slipping towards a subterranean vacuum of ‘389-8’ and ‘288-1’; the dual presence of unworldly cybernetics and particles sounding both celestial and ominous at the same time. The pace picks up by the third transmission, with the spindly Baroque loops of ‘289-5’, and continues to get going with the kinetic lumbering ‘287-14’: an alien world that rotates between timings, from half time to rapid twitching.

By the Mars sandstorms of ‘296-16’, Dahlke has added the acid, and with ‘287-13’ he’s made the dance floor with a tribal, tubular shaped blast from the Tresor, circa 1999: arguably Conrad was one of the most important links in the chain from the early days of pioneering synthesizer music to the dance music created decades later in both his hometown and in the German capitol. Dahlke has certainly injected some bounce and moody

White Reaper - Monolith Cocktail

White Reaper   ‘White Reaper Does It Again’
(Polyvinyl Records) LP released on 17th July 2015

Just a group of young spunks out having fun, goofing on a fiery Molotov cocktail of spiky power pop, melodic punk and college radio, the White Reaper release their debut in a chaos of fuzz, thrills and punctuated rock and roll riffs. Hyped up on what sounds like a diet of The Ramones, Ty Segall, Johnny Thunders, Generation X and, even, the vaporised synth suffused anthems of The Cars, our Louisville, Kentucky outfit inject adrenaline into a dying art.

From the opening count in of ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ to the snot rock bombast of ‘BXT’, the album fizzes with glee and verve; riffing on their influences, throwing in bellicose solos and squeals with a knowing wink, they are what The Vaccines could have been if they weren’t so shambolically uptight. A reformation of garage rock and AM rock, dragged through the 80s and 90s and into the present, White Reaper Does it Again is a gas.

Vukovar ‘Emperor’
(Small Bear Records)

Punching well above its weight, the serendipitous label of vaporous lo fi and languid shoegaze Small Bear Records has slipped onto the market its most ambitious marvel yet. From their Isle of Man recording HQ, the Vukovar builds a funeral pyre for the ‘new world order’.

Helping them man the barricades, Rick Clarke and Dan Shea (also of The Bordellos and Neurotic Wreck) formerly of the “disintegrated” The Longdrone Flowers, are joined by an extended cast of Small Bear artists; with the dreamily aspiring Postcode’s Mikie Daugherty, Jonny Peacock and Marie Reynolds, and Circus worlD’s Mark Sayle all making guest appearances: a super group performance if you will.

Rallying round the decree of “idealists, voyeurs and totalitarians”, and referencing a list of one word actions/stances (“Ultra-Realism”, “Depravity”, “Monotony”) to describe their sound, the band’s lyrics certainly seem fuelled with protestation and anger. Yet for the most part, they sound despondently magnificent in the most melodic, beautiful shoegaze fashion. Their brand of lush 80s driven alternative rock and more caustic, punchy industrial noise is far too melodic and majestic to be truly brutal.

Taking their name from the infamous Croatian city, the site of an heinous blight on modern European history (always conveniently airbrushed from bellicose EU propaganda; the sort that preaches its union has put paid to and secured the continent from conflict and war amongst its neighbours), when 300 poor souls, mostly Muslims, were rounded up and barbarically executed by Serb paramilitaries and the Yugoslav Peoples Army (the worst committed atrocity of its kind since WWII), Vukovar appeal to the listener who wants to scratch beneath the surface of the banal mainstream. They offer an invitation into the darker recesses of history and social politics unseen in much of the dross that calls itself alternative – even their bandcamp page features an exhaustive manifesto style edict (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) of intent. And so they offer a an out-of-body majestical shoegazing waltz through Reinhard Heydrich’s honey trap brothel and centre of Nazi espionage, the ‘Regular Patrons of Salon Kitty’; drift into Spiritualized and New Order territory on the softly pranged hymn to a former Japanese princess, ‘Part 1: Miss Kuroda’s Lament’; and channel a despondently romantic but resigned Ian Curtis as they utter with despondent beauty that “we’re cowards” on the beautifully sullen and dreamy ‘Nero’s Felines’.

With a maelstrom of clanging, fuzz and Inspiral Carpets jamming with a motor city turned-on Julian Cope vibe, the group yells, shakes and rattles on their more noisy outings, ‘Lose My Breath’ and ‘Concrete’. Not always their best material it must be said, they add some tension to the more relaxed melodic and – dare I say – pop songs, which sound far more convincing: ‘Koen Cohen K’ and ‘The New World Order’ are just brilliant; imagine what Joy Division might have sounded like if Ian Curtis had lived on and found solace in the lush veils of shoegaze, or if he fronted Chapterhouse.

Fiddling romantically whilst Olympus burns, the Vukovar’s stand against the illuminati forces of evil couldn’t have sounded any more beautifully bleak, yet somehow liltingly inspiring.



Sharkmuffin   ‘First Date’
(State Capital/ Little Dickman Records)

Far too sophisticated and melodic as to be written off as dumb shit trash garage rock, the Ramones style wit and adroit melodies of the Brooklyn trio Sharkmuffin are raucously energetic certainly, even rough around the edges, but they never as moronic and unappealing as those noisy kids who just play around with the punk shtick. Thrashing out a Lena Dunham style riposte to the contemporary dating scene fascination, the group wraps up the subject in a ceremonial 1 min and 14 seconds homemade video.

Already courted by the likes of NPR and Flavorwire in the States, and named as one of the “20 All-Female Bands You Need To Know’ by Billboard, the band are now attracting attention across the Atlantic. The ‘First Date’ video will be followed next month by their new album Chartreuse and a tour.

Ayu   ‘Try (Bothering Me)’

Drifting into view across our radar earlier this month, Ayu’s lushly administered rays of hazy synth and icy cool electronic soul imbued brilliance aroused our attention. The Berlin/Hamburg duo of minimalists of Eliana and Eve call their brand of diaphanous entrancing dance music ‘in between the waves pop’. The brooding duo’s most recent glowing hotbed of heartache, ‘Try (Bothering Me)’, is a sultry and passionate simmering pop ripple: by which we mean it’s a great track.

Nimzo Indian  ‘Speakon’

More serendipitous mayhem from maverick musician/composer/artist and Duchamp chess movement admirer, the Nimzo Indian, who takes us on a strange voyage into the Indian sub continent on his latest transmission, ‘Speakon’. Finding the most original and sometimes silly noises from both conventional and home-built musical instruments and constructions, Andrew Spackman (formerly of Zoom Quartet) adds the lingering and enchanting sounds of an exotic tabla heavy soundscape to all kinds of electronic weirdness on one of his more charming releases.

Hailu Mergia  ‘Hailu/ Yegle Nesh’
(Philophon) 7” and digital versions available now

Lovely, enchanting and entranced vibes from east Africa now as the first new tracks to emerge in 30 years from the legendary Ethiopian jazz doyen Hailu Mergia; who emerges with two fine new etho-jazz and sub Arabian impersonations, released both on 7” vinyl and digitally. Recorded in Berlin at Philophon records’ studio under the label boss and prodigious rhythm master Max Weissenfeldt (known for his collaborations and work with Dr. John, Dan Auerbach, Whitefield Brothers and the Poets of Rhythm), the two tracks of jaunty, charming atavistic meets reggae style gaited grooves take you on a dusky carpet ride over a magical desert landscape. We’re glad to have him back.

Words:  Dominic Valvona


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