TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 13, 30th October 2018)
SO MUCH GREAT NEW MUSIC IN OCTOBER !!!
It may be the change in the weather or the longer nights but October 2018 seems to have been a bumper month for exciting new music across a wide spectrum of genres. So this edition of Trust The Doc attempts to capture and comment on some of the particular highlights.
✦ VANISHING POINT: Album released to positive media response & airplay
✦ ALOYSIUS: Post-Rock & Symphonic Parapsychology from Nevada
✦ LINEAR OBSESSIONAL: Diverse Experimentalism in a beautiful park cafe
✦ SONS OF KEMET: Shabaka & co deliver another mind-spinning Jazz classic
✦ PIRIN ENSEMBLE: Powerful human voices fresh from Bulgaria
✦ ANALOG AFRICA: Label promoting Somalian Disco and Ivorian Pop
✦ SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA: Canadian Afrobeat and Funk-Jazz Fusion
✦ FENCO: The welcome return to the live arena of unique Indie-Folk duo
✦ ME FOR QUEEN: Fresh Faves success for Scottish singer-songwriter
✦ PROJECT BLACKBIRD: Stunning epic Pop with a positive message
✦ LEEVEYE: Contemporary Pop with retro beatz from deep South London
✦ MC STIMULATOR: Boing Boing! Birmingham’s King of Grime & Brit Hop
✦ BEAUTIFUL MACHINES: Nomadic Ethereal Alt Poppers from San Francisco
✦ SPYGENIUS: The spirit of the Canterbury Scene is alive and kicking
✦ CHOLLY: Demerara Records’ new signing takes Fresh Faves by storm
✦ SEADOG: Brighton’s Folk-Indie-Dream-Pop hybrid on cracking form
Welcome to Edition 13 of Trust The Doc. Edition 12 was both late and a little light on account of my having so many articles to write for other media. Sorry if you felt that too. But now it’s business as usual with this edition as I attempt to condense a ludicrously strong month for new music into a summary blog of [some of] the best bits. Happy reading x
CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL & LEFTFIELD
At the risk of being accused of self-interest I am going to begin by talking about the Vanishing Point (Vol. 1) compilation I have released on my label Demerara Records. Not least because, after six weeks of crowdfunding the mastering and CD manufacture of the album, it goes on general release tomorrow (1st November) which is also the evening of the inaugural Vanishing Point Solo @ Cafe of Good Hope, Ladywell Place, Lewisham with Gagarin (https://soundcloud.com/gagarin-1), Precocous Mouse (https://soundcloud.com/precocious-mouse) and Environmental Sound Foundation (https://soundcloud.com/environmental-sound-foundation).
Vanishing Point (Vol. 1) contains 19 tracks showcasing a uniquely broad spectrum of experimental, ambient, contemporary classical and alternative music. I am particularly honoured to have received not just tracks but brand new recordings by some of the leading lights on that broad scene including Rothko; Ben Vince; Jenni Roditi’s TIC (The Improvisers’ Choir); Hwyl Nofio and many others, a significant number of whom have been featured in articles I have written both for this blog and for Fresh on the Net (http://freshonthenet.co.uk).
The response from media has also been very encouraging. Elizabeth Alker has featured paulfcook’s Mater Gloria on the BBC Radio 3 show Unclassified which regular TTD readers will know I have been campaigning to get back onto radio. This follows Paul’s success on the Tom Robinson Show (BBC 6 Music), the BBC 6 Music Mixtape and the Fresh on the Net Fresh Faves with his equally impressive Blues Man. We have also seen Rookery’s track The Projectionist played on Source FM in Cornwall, tracks by Cholly and Environmental Sound Foundation ft Dilara featured on Exile FM; paulfcook; Jon Samsworth; Brent Jackson; Environmental Sound Foundaton ft Dilara and some geezer called Neil March (!) earmarked to be played on Radio Dacorum in West Hertfordshire and an impending feature for the album on Conquest FM in East Sussex. The legend that is Tom Robinson has also promised to listen to the album when he returns from his current UK tour with the Tom Robinson Band (and I was honoured to be on the guest list for their show at Shepherds Bush Empire which was fantastic as you knew it would be).
By the way, don’t just take my word for how good the music on this album is. Look at the fact that two tracks from it (Cholly’s One A Day and Jon Samsworth’s Coconut Heralds) have made the Fresh Faves in consecutive weeks. And it’s the public vote that decides that.
For information about the album and all Vanishing Point live events check out https://www.demerararecords.com/vanishing-point.
I am pleased to have had my attention drawn to the unique artist that is Aloysius Scrimshaw (or just Aloysius as he is billed on his Soundcloud page header). (https://soundcloud.com/aloyscrimshaw). Aloysius’s music is hard to pigeon-hole on account of the diversity of his ideas and influences. His Soundcloud page (which announces him as Aloysius - the Dead Musician) contains a lot of material with descriptions that include Post-Rock and Symphonic Parapsychology. So whether it’s the dark ambient experimentalism of the instrumental 5 Distinct Knocks, the dreamier textures and half-spoken, half-sung refrain of Will you help me and its journey through contrasting sections or the amusingly titled Their Greatest Hits (1971 - 1975) with its scary repeated spoken voices about seeing a ‘Dead Scrimshaw’ and broken up experimental pop dystopia, you never really know what you are going to get. All of which makes the imminent arrival of Aloysius’s Post-Music EP for Pink Dolphin something to look forward to. If you like music that is dark and menacing but full of invention and irony too, I recommend you check out Aloysius Scrimshaw. His Souncloud page will guide you towards other links too. And his output is impressive both in terms of depth and frequency of new recordings.
One of many interesting things that happened to me in October was meeting up with the wonderful Richard Sanderson (https://richardsanderson.bandcamp.com) who, as well as being a composer and performer of innovative music and sound art, is also the man behind popular experimental music event and label Linear Obsessional (https://www.linearobsessional.org/) who have released countless albums of music across a wide range of experimental and leftfield genres and put on the excellent monthly live Linear Obsessional at the lovely Arts Cafe in Manor Park in Lewisham. I am also delighted to announce that I will be playing (as Environmental Sound Foundation) at the Linear Obsessional gig on the afternoon of Sunday 9th December. But before that, I will be attending as a fan on Sunday 11th November and frankly, I can’t wait to experience this amazing event. I am also looking forward to Richard coming and performing at one of our Vanishing Point Solo gigs early in 2019.
I am so pleased that we are in the midst of such a great time for new and innovative Jazz and Jazz-influenced music; probably the best period for Jazz since the heady days of 1970s Fusion. I have commented previously on artists whose music I love so much like Kamasi Washington (https://www.kamasiwashington.com/) and Thundercat (https://www.facebook.com/ThundercatOfficial/) but I am also really pleased that so many UK artists are pushing the envelope.
Chief among them has to be London-based Saxophonist and Composer Shabaka Hutchings (http://www.shabakahutchings.com) whose energy and output is amazing as are his projects Sons of Kemet and The Comet is Coming. I ranked The Comet is Coming’s album Channel The Spirits in my top five of 2017 and Sons of Kemet’s 2018 opus Your Queen Is A Reptile is another gem that bristles with energy, mind-spinning instrumental play and an infectious mashing up of influences delivered with popping, slightly dirty [fretless] Bass Guitar, busy percussion and drums and scintillating sax (plus some great vocal elements). The cross-rhythms, Eastern-inflected harmonic language and forays into a more ethereal freeform style are just a few of the features that make this album one I feel the need to listen to over and over. Sons of Kemet have just completed the UK leg of their tour. Next time I intend to make sure I don’t miss the opportunity to experience them live.
WORLD IN UNION
Although I have never much liked grouping an incalculable range of music from across the globe under a glib heading, World Music remains the most convenient means for us to define this heterogeneous spectrum of styles and traditions.
BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction and World in Motion both continue to shine the spotlight on fascinating music from other parts of the planet and one such example came to my attention in the form of Bulgaria’s amazing Pirin Ensemble (http://www.balkanfolk.com/artist.php?id=118) whose Vila sei gora (A Forest Burst Out Into Leaves) showcases their modally inflected harmonies and vocal dynamics; in many ways recalling 16th and early 17th Century English Choral music but with a more contemporary stirring style of singing. A little research reveals they are one of Bulgaria’s most popular musical exports. Worth checking out if you are moved by the sound of a powerful, rangey choir that switches between full-on SATB harmony and passionate solo phrases.
It was also refreshing to hear Samy Ben Redjeb, founder of the Analog Africa (https://soundcloud.com/analog-africa) label joining the magnificent Max Reinhardt (Late Junction, BBC Radio 3) to play tracks including a selection of Somalian Disco tracks and also something by Ivory Coast’s founding father of national popular music Ernest DjeDje (https://soundcloud.com/patico1-nmb/sets/ernest-djedje) a legend in African music who is seen as the principal pioneer of the ziglibithy style which incorporates Ivorian Folk ideas into a more mainstream popular music.
Then it was actually Lauren Laverne on the BBC 6 Music morning show who continued her own consistent support for international flavours by playing the excellent SoulJazz Orchestra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeIT1NYy4wg) with the lilting Soca-edged Afrobeat of Greet The Dawn from the Canadian collective’s Resistance album. Shades of Orchestre Jazira (remember them?) in the way it fuses West African, Caribbean and Anglo-American Pop sensibilities into an infectious groove and hook. ‘If you kick a dog long enough/The Dog bites back’ they repeat. Can’t argue with that.
I was especially pleased that our Vanishing Point gig at the Ivy House on 4th October provided a platform for the enigmatic Fenco (https://www.facebook.com/fenco.bande) who are a duo consisting of singer Becca Fenton and the aforementioned Paul F Cook on looped guitar and backing vocals. The combination of their voices which gel beautifully, Paul’s skillful looping of guitar figures (enabling him to play parts on top of parts completely live) and their engaging personalities delighted the audience and delivered a set of lovingly crafted inventive and original songs that aren’t really Folk and aren’t really Indie but have elements of both garnished with some Psychedelia, Jazz, Blues and other flavours that appear and disappear. Hopefully they won’t leave it so long before their next performance.
I was stretching the definition of Folk with Fenco and so it is with Me for Queen (https://soundcloud.com/meforqueen) whose distinct and beautiful songs deny categorisation. But since her own blurb uses the term Soul Folk I feel I can include her in this section. She was a recent guest on Tom Robinson’s Saturday Night show on BBC 6 Music and a few weeks later her track In This Skin topped the Listening Post vote and put her in poll position at the Fresh Faves. Reviewing the track on Fresh on the Net my fellow moderator-author and friend Chris Ingram dropped this stunning paragraph which I had to quote here: ‘I really love this song, I mean love, love. I want it’s essence captured especially around the 2 minute mark when the drums and brass kick it up a notch. Me For Queen has stolen the very soul of the sea and with her musical pestle and mortar created a sauce so fine I want to dip my metaphorical deep-fried ears in it’. There is no way, I mean no way, I could possibly better that description of her amazing music!
So once again it is my trusty Pop Scene section that has the most artists mentioned within it. And as tends to be the case, it is my role with Fresh on the Net which has brought so many (though not all) of these fine artists to my attention.
One such band is Project Blackbird who stormed the Fresh Faves earlier this month with the epic life-affirming Elevation. So I was really honoured to be given the opportunity to review the new album Endurance. It’s an album that underlines the breadth of talent and diversity of ideas within the band. Opening with Aurora Borealis, initially dominated by Jon Read’s mellow trumpet and Thure Gade Johanssen’s guitar before Ming Nagel takes centre stage with her gentle spoken word. This is immediately contrasted by the sophisticated mid-tempo Pop of Same Heart. What one realises very rapidly from listening to Project Blackbird’s music is that it is all underpinned by effortlessly impressive musicianship, thoughtful arranging skills and Ming’s seductive soulful voice. Resistance, in a nutshell, is useless!
The title track mixes a powerful spoken word message of rising up and unity in the face of injustice again surrounded by lovely playing which is again contrasted, this time by the sweeter sound of Postscript. Then Selde introduces vibrant organ chords and tasteful lead guitar with shades of early Fleetwood Mac
The album closes in on its midpoint via the aforementioned Elevation with its spoken message of love, learning and humanity and inspiring chorus of ‘We will rise’ sung in Gospel-like harmony. It is a song which, if the charts weren’t drowning in homogeneous hybrids of Pop, EuroHouse and Commercial Hip Hop, would and should be No 1 all over the world. Next up are the spacious Pop and tremelo chords of Sunflower, the folkier Underneath the Ramparts and Lighthouse which allows Jon’s melancholy trumpet to stretch out over arpeggio keys and soft ambience.
There is more spoken word on the Funk-Rock influenced The Old Whim Horse in which the twangy guitar and resonant upper register trumpet recall Spaghetti Western scenes. Contrast continues to characterise this work as next we have the dreamier textures and octave vocals of The House that you blew down. Nearest Relative, meanwhile begins with Ming’s voice in sparse setting accompanied by minor key piano chords before other layers slowly appear. It remains slow and minimal, dominated by voices with a growing intensity. There is some lovely bendy guitar towards the end too. Even more gorgeous is the guitar interlude of Brother, a mix of jazz-tinged chords and picked melody. Django Reinhardt meets John McLaughlin.
This sets us up for the final track. Blackbird starts with arpeggio backing to Ming’s harmonised vocals which are soon appended by long chords and another track of guitar. It’s a simple but touching finale to a masterpiece of musical invention and cleverly crafted Pop of an intelligent, calm and yet emotionally affecting kind. Evidence beyond all reasonable doubt that Project Blackbird are a band the world needs to know about.
An artist I have been meaning to blog about here is South Norwood-based Leeveye (https://soundcloud.com/leeveye) whose Shark is a genre-defying slice of futuristic funky Pop with a soulful falsetto voice and a plethora of agreeable sounds from slap Bass and wobbly synths to retro beatz and electronic buzz. A.N.A.N.D.A is in similar style and has some lovely breaks and bubbling sounds juxtaposed against vibrato chords, light piano figures and sweet melody. Lately (ooweoo) has a strangely Blondie-ish vibe and is another cracker. Leeveye is definitely an artist to look out for because I suspect it won’t be long before we have an album of this refreshing music to get our teeth into.
Moving into more unequivocally urban territory, I had the pleasure recently of playing a gig in Birmingham on the same bill as local lad MC Stimulator (http://mcstimulatorofficial.com/) whose unique brand of Grime and Drum’n’Bass was awesome to experience in a live setting. He also turned out to be a really likeable guy who I am now pleased to call my friend. And I have since had the opportunity to listen to his latest album Underestimated.
With his trademark ‘Boing Boing’ references appearing throughout (which also feed into his canny merchandise), what makes his music so enduring is how he mixes up different types of voices and nuances. There’s a natural flow to his style and delivery but it is also the breakz that emphasise that flow. Highlights include tracks like Grimery which is a great anthem for Stimulator’s unique sound and Health is Wealth which speaks to the importance he places both on physical and mental health, subjects he speaks about with compassion and authority. Get Nasty is full of light and shade and again demonstrates the inventiveness underpinning his music. It’s a fine album and, having experienced him live, I feel MC Stimulator can be for Birmingham what Chiedu Oraka is for Hull and Elmz XIX is for Nottingham. The various British Regions are reinventing Grime and Urban music. And in a good way of course.
Beautiful Machines (https://soundcloud.com/beautiful-machines) are a fascinating entity. Hailing from the creative hub that is San Francisco, they say they have been ‘... travelling the world as musical nomads’. This may or may not explain the track Bastian’s dreamy striking soundworld of slowly interweaving synths and guitars playing sustained notes and chords as trippy upper register male vocals come to the fore. The word ethereal can be bandied about with undue abandon but here it is entirely appropriate. The entire song sounds like it originates from a powerful dream sequence.
It’s like a telephone singing is more uptempo but just as beautifully bonkers, seemingly unable to decide whether it is a Daft Punk style slice of Electronic Disco or a Jazz-tinged Psych Pop instrumental. It’s rich and otherworldly though and very appealing.
The legendary Canterbury scene of the early seventies that played such a major role in shaping the Prog Rock, Folkrock and Psychedelic genres of that period may be a long time past but the spirit of that scene can be heard loud and clear in the music of the intriguing Spygenius (https://soundcloud.com/spygenius). How aware or otherwise this particular Canterbury band’s members are of this connection is not clear. But their organic vocal harmony style and instrumental interplay brings to mind some of the mystical Pop moments from the likes of Caravan, Kevin Ayers and Soft Machine.
13 Years kicks off with a descending acoustic guitar figure that reminds me of Kurt Vile. The vocal, with its folky vibrato, is immediately quite traditional and when the harmonies arrive the first reference that comes to mind is classic Welsh Psychedelic Rock band Man. The switch from minor to major is exquisite and the arrangement is sparse and enigmatic, punctuated by what appear to be environmental sounds. They describe themselves as a Powerpop 4-piece from Canterbury. But trust me (sic.), this is not Powerpop. It is more like a kind of Psychedelic Folkrock with Prog undercurrents.
The track Heathen further confirms this, again characterised by picking acoustic guitar, lush harmonies and what sounds like an accordion. You’ve got a lucky face is more in the Powerpop department but is also quite retro in feel. Digdens Rise is more about electric rather than acoustic guitars but is nevertheless quite unusual in the chord mix and repeating keyboard melody. The overlapping vocal and backing vocal harmonies are lovely and the contrasts of dynamic and texture are so inventive.
Final verdict: Spygenius are much more interesting than the term Powerpop suggests. I’m sticking with Psychedelic Folkrock with Prog undercurrents. It will be a travesty if the wider world is denied the opportunity to savour their music.
One of the most exciting events for me personally this month was that the super-talented Cholly (https://soundcloud.com/chollyhappymusic) has signed to my Demerara Records label for both label and management. That is not an offer I have made to anyone before and it seriously underlines just how highly I rate her as an original, inventive and immensely likeable singer-composer-multi-instrumentalist who, at 24, has a potentially massive future.
I met Cholly by chance when she was playing in Jon Samsworth’s excellent band at a gig I was promoting and when I checked out her Soundcloud page I was immediately struck by the song Lonely which kicks off in a very earthy organic style with multi-tracked violin, percussion and quickly expanding vocal harmonies but gradually gives way to electronic and synth sounds. It is a song in which it is almost impossible to identify the tipping point at which it switches from being dominated by acoustic sounds to being dominated by electronic ones. Partly that is because the listener is busy focusing on Cholly’s haunting vocals and the interweaving harmonies that highlight the contrasting timbres she achieves with the different registers in her vocal range.
Then there is One A Day which appears on our Vanishing Point (Vol. 1) compilation album. Slow, melancholy and enigmatic, it is a beautiful and brittle showcase for Cholly’s vocal arranging skills, accompanied again by a cocktail of contrasting sounds and subtle nuances. Rinse, Repeat is similarly haunting and climatic, a powerful slowburner of a track that takes me into another world. Cholly is already picking up support both from the Fresh on the Net audience who voted One A Day into the Fresh Faves this month and from Exile FM courtesy of the very same Ming and Jon whose wonderful Project Blackbird album is reviewed in this edition. Their awesome show The Monday Night Ride-Out is a fantastic listen as is the whole radio station which they formed last year.
Cholly plans to release a new EP and an album in the new year and we hope to get a UK tour in place too so exciting times ahead.
S E A D O G (https://soundcloud.com/seadog) which is how they always spell their name when submitting tracks to Fresh on the Net, have been on my radar for some months with a consistent track record of submitting strong material. So I was properly chuffed for them when they flew into the Fresh Faves this month with the excellent Words sometimes fail. Reviewing the Fresh Faves that week my friend and fellow moderator-author Sarah Gosling (who many of you will know as presenter of BBC Devon & Cornwall’s Introducing Show) said ‘Brighton-based musician Mark Benton, AKA Seadog (along with “an ever-changing cast of musical friends”), has made a perfect late-nineties vibe dream-pop track, which I can’t wait to see in the next nostalgia movie in the vein of The Breakfast Club’. I couldn’t better that other than to perhaps add that there is also a punchy folkiness in the track too.
There is now a new track on S E A D O G’s Soundcloud page. Shell Shocked also has an enigmatic folkiness with its acoustic guitar figure and soft vocal harmonies. An electric lead part adds colour while the insistent beat drives it along. The references here are more early seventies Psych-Folk-Prog (see Spygenius review above) than anything to do with Dream Pop. It’s also very very good.
The advantage of Mark Benton being essentially a solo artist with fluid band membership is he is able to explore these different elements of his songwriting with refreshing freedom. Now he needs to be heard by a wider audience. Hopefully that will happen for him soon.
AND FINALLY ……
Well that’s it for Edition 13, folks. But hopefully after a somewhat sketchy Edition 12 (largely due to the sheer volume of articles I was writing for other forums), this one gets things back to normal and reflects a really strong month for new music. I can’t promise but I will try to get Edition 14 out by mid-November. In the meantime, watch this space ……..