Filtering our usual alphabetically ordered three-part “choice” albums of 2020 features into a bite size package for Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail team of writers has whittled an 80 plus list of favourites down to just twenty highlights.
Serving a worthy musical apprenticeship from and imbued by the masters Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor, the polymath musician, activist, director of The Pyramids ensemble and torchbearer of spiritual and Afrofuturist jazz, Idris Ackamoor once more makes holy communion with the cradle of civilization on the Egyptology cosmology of conscious political statements, Shaman! Imploring a unified message, a connectivity, a reminder that we can all trace our ancestry back to the same place, Ackamoor follows up on We All Be Africans and the epic sweeping album of Afro-jazz 2-Step “Warrior Dances” and plaintive primal jazz catharsis An Angel Fell, with another masterpiece of the form.
From the burnished Sunbear developing bloodied opus of the Pharaoh Sanders, Brother Ah, Jazz Epistles and Sarah Webster Fabio merging breakout title track to the Afrobeat gospel bolero of ‘Eternity’, an enlightening magical travail of the state of the union is sumptuously paired with the wisdom of the ancients. Narrated and sung howls of anguish are soundtracked and serenaded by a jazz-led voyage of gospel, soul, funk and magic. What an album: an odyssey through the divisive debris of modern America. (Dominic Valvona)
Given the way Axel Holy’s mind works you just know WonderWorld is gonna turn the distorted, freaky reflections found in the hall of mirrors into reality. This ain’t no Scooby Doo haunted theme park caper: the otherwise Baileys Brown slaloms through the queues of demonic smiles for every ride that’s a trap house of horrors. Knowing he can’t leave anything to chance as to what’s real and what’s a genetically modified mirage, yet well aware that fakes and foes never go into hiding, Holy cocks back and breaks the illusion with all of his sawn-off might, possibly under the influence to heighten the experience. ‘Statement’ induces screams as it goes faster, ‘Let It Go’ does a classic switcheroo of upping the anxiety by withdrawing just a touch, and ‘On The Gram’ craftily dispels social media culture, complete with a chorus simply made for a lip synced reel, though like Brown’s ‘Still Fresh’ from last year, there’s definite loosening up towards the album’s end. Grimy, geared to leave your ears ringing and with fellow misfits Jack Danz and Datkid involved, WonderWorld, as a wise scribe once said, will leave you “Delirious like Eddie Murphy”. (Matt Oliver)
(Real World Records)
The changing (and welcoming it is too) face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offers a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out with an electrified and rebellious vision of the country’s Islamic Gnawa dance, music and poetry exaltations; the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition; and the popular folk music of Chabbi.
Led by the “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansou, who has caused quite a reaction for taking up an instrument traditionally the preserve of men in Morocco, they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama in a post Arab-Spring landscape. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism: A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor. (DV)
High Focus were found doing High Focus things throughout 2020, making it a tight call on whether to include Light Work by the Duracell-powered creativity of Fliptrix, Onoe Caponoe’s breakneck night terror Invisible War, or The Four Owls’ victorious Nocturnal Instinct. Edging past the post is the concise Coops at a skinny eight tracks and twenty five minutes long, that slightly jaded twang between Wretch 32 and Ocean Wisdom both nonchalant and spiteful at once, making him engagingly hard to read between peacekeeping and reacting – at his most relaxed you can still tell that Coops is itching to right wrongs. Holding the streets down under a nice and jazzy shade is producer Talos, who in parallel can turn up the pressure with no discernible tell, hitting the Queensbridge block as Coops knuckles up on the seething ‘Piss Poor’, with a chorus that outdoes any get rich quick-schemers. Picking off opponents with scything simplicity – when annoyed by everyone, Coops calls out all and sundry as per ‘Factory Reared’ passing through a farm for would-be emcees – Crimes is a classy album that won’t wilt in the heat of the moment. (MO)
Julian Cope is one of the last living motherfuckers in rock ‘n’ roll. He is the spirit personified. He has the adventure talent and intelligence to realise that music is not just something to hum along to on the radio whilst doing the dishes. He knows that being in a band is not a past time but a crusade; it is a life affirming art force that fires the mind, belly’s and loins of old and young alike, and Self Civil War is his latest quest, his latest crusade. A man now in his sixties would be expected maybe to put his feet up and look back on the past outpourings of a fine, much underrated back catalogue. But no, Julian goes and makes his best album since Jehovah Kill.
Self Civil War is an album that combines all his musical loves beautifully: Krautrock, Psych, Prog, folk and of course pure undiluted pop. This is an album of pure invention, inspiration and adventure. This is the sound of a whirling dervish sticking his fingers up at the industry, a man who does not have to think outside the box, as he has no box, and hopefully never will have. He is a true one-off and this album is the sound of a true one-off on top of his game. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea)
(Northern Star Records)
What we have here is the first release from the born again influential underground label Northern Star; a label that released the four CD Psychedelica series of compilations that caught the mood and excitement of the bourgeoning new psychedelic scene of the time. This series of releases influenced many a new band and caught some now very well known and established bands early in their careers. So to kick off the rebirth of the mighty fine label we have the second album from The Cult Of Free Love, and to be honest if this album had been released on the Fruits Der Mer label it would have already sold out and been acclaimed as a modern psychedelic masterpiece. Yes, this album is that good.
Orb like trance and late 80’s acid house mingle with the lost summer of love of ‘67 to weave a spell of blissed out magic. There is no one highlight on Visions as the whole album is one long stream of melody and blissed out splendor. This album I cannot recommend enough to anyone with a love of modern psychedelia or somebody wanting to know what it was like to visit the legendary Hacienda in its pomp: An album to turn this winter of discontent into the third summer of love. (BBS)
Dylan performs another one of his grand illusions in encompassing a whole generational epoch on his latest songbook. Perhaps among his best work in decades, the “Rough And Rowdy” sagacious chapter in a nigh sixty-year career manages to be both elegiac and playful in equal measures; cramming in every kind of reference point, from historical characters to pop culture and the travails of the Kennedys and their aspirations on the epic eulogy finale ‘Murder Most Foul’: A death knell bookend to the previous fifty years of a dominant America that marks perhaps the failures of a whole generation.
A humbled legend accompanied by the subtlest, thinnest of brushed drum shuffles, Hawaiian bowed and bluesy guitar, this is a relaxed Dylan, custodian of the faith, raunchy and statesman like yet juggling resignation with serenaded romance, reverence and death. ‘My Own Version Of You’ runs through a lyrical rasp of persecution, slavery and ideals turned murderous (From Troy to The Crusades to Marx), whilst the hymnal lulled and cooed soothing gospel ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ sounds like a genuine token of faith and spiritual willingness. Dylan is almost handing down the baton to the sisterhood on the beautiful saving grace attempt at a spiritual anthem on ‘Mother Of Muses’. Yet Dylan strikes up some of that down ’n’ dirty earthy electrified blues, on the homage to the power of the tragic turned-on blues progenitor Jimmy Reed and his influence.
From Elm Street to the Aquarian Age, and across the Rubicon, Dylan seems as weary as he is unapologetic and nostalgic; dragging that (nearly) 80 year old timbre and soul through the mire to once more offer a grizzled but not yet finished Boomer commentary on our sorry arses. (DV)
(Mello Music Group)
The affable New Yorker Homeboy Sandman seems to have trained his rhymes to fit beats even more perfectly – topical, personal, never dumbed down, never over-scientific, always well read, within well spaced bars you feel you can rap along to. However, that he starts with the revealing review of the human condition on ‘Trauma’ shows that it’s not all plain sailing, verifying the album’s educational aspect for both listeners and himself as the ‘Monster’ in the room becomes a symbol for self-assessment. By no means a bad look right now, investigations continue, detailing how to handle yourself on ‘Stress’ and ‘Don’t Look Down’, and bubbling up into ‘Biters’, lashing out at all thieves and opportunists. His always entertaining domestic travails continue, keeping his head above water on the sweetly awkward ‘Alone Again’, while the biggest compliment you can pay ‘Waiting On My Girl’ is that the good natured clockwatching and eye-rolling is ripe for an answer record. Quelle Chris on production is both kindred spirit and wayward foil with an ear for ramshackle tangents and the off-road, but is always in sync for what is arguably Sandman’s best album to date. (Matt Oliver)
Beautifully strange is the only way to describe this marvelous album of pure poetic bliss. What grabs me from the off are the wonderful lyrics (an art form much ignored in the music biz today). Lyrical streams of them flowing weaving beautiful, frightening heart-breaking images throughout, bringing the early works of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey in a mellow mood to mind and musically reminding me of Nick Cave’s band of merry men, the Bad Seeds, rockabilly folk, the Velvet’s guitar pop and the sounds of late Seventies no-wave, all merging to form a canvas for the poet Jane LeCroy to paint beautifully vivid pictures with her wonderful prose and wonderful voice. (BBS)
A conscious freeform entanglement of barely contained anger, stresses and contortions from an ensemble formed off the back of a Musicians Against Police Brutality gig five years ago, the second long-player from the Brooklyn ensemble of the hour is just as confusing and lamentable as the times they are trying to reflect: So that’s a success then.
Like a strangulated blues whelp and tumult of avant-garde jazz and Sarah Webster Fabio style narrated poetic protestations, Who Sent You? comes on like a seething Coltrane jamming with Sam Rivers, Bobby Jackson, Miles Davis Septet era and Binker And Moses. It’s an ambitious opus that rises from a rolling ancestral travail in the Deep South to galloping ritualistic polemics on the Pope. Untethered, tracks like ‘No Más’ offer a sublime rolling gauzy horns waft of what sounds like a beatified tapestry of actions and contemplations.
Join Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes now on this political fierce and wailed, strained, springy and suffused horns remonstration.
“If you burn this album to CD-R and play it in a red Subaru estate, you will evolve” – business as usual then from Nottingham’s jewel in the crown Juga-Naut, definitely not guilty of putting all his Faberge eggs in one basket with this, his fourth album in three years and also preceding 2020’s dogged Twelve Bricks LP, built in partnership with Micall Parknsun. Still dealing in high rolling that you won’t/can’t begrudge, Bem keeps up with bounce of the boy-done-good (“I’m avant-garde, with a touch of the backyard”), especially when Jugz ups the dry ice and lets his hair down on the Chromeo-cut crystals of ‘Woodgrain’ and ‘Satin Sculptures’, the album’s prevalent zing peaking without parody. His own version of Drake’s ‘Started from the Bottom’ on ‘Jackson Pollock’ then maximises the lord of the manor cockiness that has rarely been as appealing and instructional (and ready to step on suckers). Appearances from Liam Bailey, Children of Zeus’ Tyler Daley and Stu Bangas on the boards for ‘Worthy’ and ‘One Tonne’, add gloss to 35 minutes of professional prosperity. (MO)
So titled because of one of two childhood car accidents that the Cali emcee details, both divulged with only a slight shrug regarding the gravity of the situation, The Koreatown Oddity never has to hold the mic too tight or step in too deep, but packs a delivery making for an engaging warts-and-all chronicle of his sunny Los Angeles upbringing and surroundings (“it’s funny how a place I was raised is my nickname”). A funk and soul stew, switched up and down like a sudden grab for the FM dial and the difference between a Sunday drive and joyride, cooks to the tune of TKO’s easygoing, stoner charm/natural dope (his list of demands on the track ‘Koreatown Oddity’ show he’s not gone big-time just yet) who’s also a bit of wildcard in sorting his grown man business from his big kid persuasions/character building, and with his ear closer to the ground than first impressions suggest. ‘A Bitch Once Told Me’ and the pass-the-mic ‘Attention Challenge’ are crude but crafty call-and-response winners, and though it’s unclear whether he’d revel in or dismiss the cult status this album proffers, Nique’s Nosebleed is a total knockout. (MO)
Hard as (nine inch) nails, Lucidvox’s stoic choral enwrapped vocalist Alina stands at the epicenter of a barraging storm of Amon Düül II mystical Gothics, Archers Of Loaf elliptical hardcore, Siouxsie Sioux and her Banshees fanned guitar squalled post-punk, and the growled bass reverberations of Death From Above 1979 on the Muscovite quartet’s first album for the Glitterbeat Records label. Hell hath no fury like a scorned experimental rock band intent on a sonic knife fight. Slash and burn indeed, powered-up and unapologetic, Lucidvox mix it up with Krautrock, math rock, prog and punk yet vocally exude a counterbalance of Russian occultist pining and melodious traditional mystic folk choral cooing and spiraling siren horror.
Trying more than ever get close to their live sound and energy, Lucidvox whip up an impressive bombast of both ritualistic and staggered stuttering monolithic thrashed drumming, the holy ghosts of Russian Orthodoxy and full-on velocity Brainticket space rock. Rebellious dangerous but somehow dreamy and entrancing, Lucidvox prove a spellbinding brutalism of a rock band. (DV)
Despite the shrinking economy seeing The Next Wave downsizing from the first instalment’s 41 tracks to a miserly 33, the Quakers project, still inexplicably part of the portfolio belonging to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, returns with another treasure trove of cut-n-shunt hip-hop, punishing the pause button and laced with a fuse length of two minutes or less. Back with a few more conspicuous names amongst plentiful underground linguists – Sampa the Great, Nolan the Ninja, Jeru the Damaja, Jeremiah Jae – as well as second comings from Guilty Simpson, whose dour delivery is a glove-like fit, and Jonwayne (“don’t be sad, you ‘bout to hear some more bars soon” validating the network of cameos), the project remains a feat of concentrated, against-the-clock beatmaking from Barrow and cohorts Supa K and 7STU7. In the midst of upcycled soundtracks, high noon shootouts, grainy crate finds, boom-bap blitzkriegs and oddities distancing themselves from mere scraps, offcuts and loops, the chosen emcees are well aware of the make-or-break stakes they’re entering (especially when The Black Opera exercise their political right on ‘Gun Control’). Less magical mystery tour, more quantum leap, the Quakers’ cult status is comprehensively upheld. (MO)
Best believe DC’s “Roc is cooking something lovely in the cauldron”, and also know that she’s “openly emotional, cos closed mouths don’t ever get fed”. Pounding the road to enlightenment and getting up close without her gaze ever deviating, The Sharecropper’s Daughter always has an air of the pissed off, but with the verve to do something about it rather than stewing on it, Sa-Roc reasoning it’s better to join the cause rather than have believers fawning over her energy. Long-time go-to producer Sol Messiah makes himself heard with elements well placed between background and forefront, though unmistakable traces of Alicia Keys’ ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ are given short shrift on ‘Something Real’ as Roc gets fully into her stride before deciding on a surprisingly bubblegum chorus – not an isolated instance of smooth hooks and squeaky vocal pitches becalming tightly coiled rhymes. You can imagine Messiah cops a fair amount of unintentional, in-the-zone stinkeye when Roc gets on it, though her outlook is one that knows the true meaning of pressure – albums are easy, growing up as life unfolds (‘Forever’) with turbulence always within earshot is difficult, with Black Thought an ideal link to ‘The Black Renaissance’. “If you tryna knock me down, your demolition’s failed”- an enriching listen. (MO)
(Stolen Body Records)
Any LP that kicks off with a wonderful blast of The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ riffery (‘Charades’) is fine with me. Sparkling sixties jangle-tangle with melodies not heard since the last band decided that The Beatles are not such a bad thing, and if you are going to be influenced by anyone why not the greatest band ever.
Silhouettes as I have already mentioned in a few reviews of other new releases already this year, isn’t the most original of albums but it is a damn fine listen, filled as it is with great catchy guitar pop tunes. And Shadow Show is better than most at plundering the wonderful musical sounds the decade of the 60s produced. (BBS)
(Born Bad Records)
Disarming a serious message of female liberation and opportunity with the most joyous, passionate and brightly fluttering of song, the Star Feminine Band sound like (Le) Musical Youth meets Wells Fargo and the Dur Dur Band on their debut album for the Paris label Born Bad. With a remarkable backstory, coming together in the most unusual of circumstances and uniquely pushing the rights of sisterhood in their Benin homeland, this cast of young kids and teenagers (though those ages hide the fact they’ve had to grow up fast in a society that undervalues female empowerment and freedom) send out the positive vibes through an embrace of Ghanaian Highlife, Congolese Rumba, Soweto lilting choral soul, Nigerian Afrobeat, the local Vodun and even Calypso. With ages as young as ten, and the oldest only seventeen, there’s a long bright future ahead for this group, who create music that is nothing short of infectious sunshine joy. (DV)
Supposedly back with the most powerful statement since the group’s 2013 Chatma album, the message of Tamikrest’s fifth studio album is once again one of hope and reflection: a message that is literally reflected in the translation of the album’s Tamotaït title. Not that you’d know it from the poetically earthy longing vocals, but songs like the opening mirage-y gritty blues boogie ‘Awnafin’ are powered by a message of ‘defiance’, whilst the group’s percussionist and singer Aghaly Ag Mohamedine declares a message of a “revolution in the (Kel) Tamasheq culture”, when discussing the sirocco Future Days (at its most heavenly and liquid) buoyed narrated ‘As Sastnan Hidjan’. For something so revolutionary in rhetoric, and born out of such a tragic upheaval, the latest album is mostly an articulately electrified soulful affair that lingers and resonates between the sand dunes and the cosmic. Despite some rough and fuzzed guitar and a rocking beat, Tamikrest articulate a sighed, almost hushed form of gospel blues; especially spiritually diaphanous and enriched when a chorus of sweeter male and female vocalists weigh in, as they do on the down-and-sandy slide guitar and drum tabbing yearning ‘Amidinin Tad Adouniya’, and with the gossamer Balearics camel-motion ‘Amzagh’.
Roots music taken on a voyage of discovery to a myriad of compass points, Tamotaït once more transforms the lingered traces of desert blues and rock’ n ’roll to produce a richly woven tapestry of fired-up protestation and hope. (DV)
(Metal Postcard Records)
A shallow bathe in the lost beauty of misery and of love lost and found, the power of gentle melodies and the light touch of the lyrical twist really cannot be underestimated, and the master of all those things is Lou Terry whose If I’m Me Who Are The Other One album is brimming with songs full of those qualities.
Recorded over the lockdown, like so much of the new music I’m listening to, it is graced – well with the grace and understanding and sublime loss that normally can be found in the outpourings of 80s Go Betweens and the obscure 70s home recordings of John Lennon. When Lou Terry’s voice cracks it is thing of true beauty as it does on ‘Sickly Peach’. You wonder how on earth he is not better-known; it has the same effect as spying a long-lost lover across the street and her shyly smiling the smile that breaks the passing of the years and in an instant you are eighteen and beholden, you are completely lost and once again under the power of her magical spell. And the beauty of this album achieves all this. It almost wants you to feel broken and betrayed lost and bewildered. If I’m Me Who Are The Other Three is the album to soundtrack the oncoming melancholy of autumn nights: a thing of great beauty. (BBS)
As anybody who reads the reviews I’ve written for the Monolith Cocktail, or even heard my records knows, I am a sucker for slightly Syd Barrett/Television Personalities influenced psych. And so of course I’m going to enjoy this album. It has all the qualities one wants from their pop music; beguiling melodies, keyboards that swoon, and curtsy guitars that go from jangle to jangle: ‘Rooster’ even has a ‘Be My Baby’ drumbeat. It has all the boxes ticked; the lyrics of a quirky netherworld poetic, and the vocalist has a pleasing voice that has the right amount of cracking and whine in its timbre, the kind of voice one believes has had its heart broken at least twice in its life but has the good sense and fine enough black humour to get over it.
On the whole this is a mighty fine pop album and is really nicely produced. In fact, the kind of production that could tempt me from my bedroom and my beloved old tape four-track, and everyone knows that is indeed high praise. (BBS)