Witch ‘n’ Monk – Witch ‘n’ Monk (2020)

Witch 'n' Monk - Witch 'n' Monk (2020)
Artist: Witch ‘n’ Monk
Album: Witch ‘n’ Monk
Label: Tzadik
Year Of Release: 2020
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Tracklist:
01. Escarbando (4:51)
02. Coal Mine (7:31)
03. Self (4:21)
04. Pagan’s Storm and the Sea Ballad (6:11)
05. The Cage (3:39)
06. The Gathering (4:13)
07. Outchant (4:11)
08. Gualchovan (4:22)

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Witch ‘n’ Monk are a theatrical Anglo-Colombian duet featuring two very different musicians. Mauricio Velasierra plays a variety of flutes, while Heidi Heidelberg is a classically trained soprano singer who plays spiky prog-punk riffs on guitar while using looper pedals. They’ve released two mini-albums as Bitch ‘n’ Monk, but their new moniker rather suits the slightly shamanic, unearthly quality of their music.

This self-titled LP, recorded in rural Wales and in a former Stasi bunker in Berlin, is their first for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, and you can see what attracted a sonic anarchist such as Zorn to their music. They talk of “abandoning the egoistic 20th-century idea of the lone, male composer writing his opus” by recording stream-of-consciousness music: hours of sleep-deprived, endlessly mutating improvisations are sliced up and used as the basis for these slightly manic musical collages. Rather like Zorn, they make a mockery of genre – thrashy guitar riffs are overlaid with Amazonian panpipe melodies and flashes of Bollywood strings; multi-tracked choirs are digitally mutilated with terrifying effect; Reich-ish minimalism mutates into ecstatic samba. At points you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re listening to an opera, a futuristic hip-hop track and a folkloric field recording, all playing at once, in almost unlistenable discordance.

The album features several guest percussionists: drummer Nicolas Stoker delivers twisted, junkyard funk beats for the opener Escarbando; Seb Rochford freaks out on the playful, childlike postpunk of Coal Mine; The Cage sees Gidon Carmel providing a juddering tango in the disorientating time signature of 13/8. But Witch ‘n’ Monk don’t really need a drummer – they can create hypnotic beats by looping Heidelberg’s muted guitar riffs or Velasierra’s breathy overblowing. On Outchant, the pair improvise angular riffs over a compelling rhythmic chant; on the closing track Gualchovan, they provide ghostly noises over an antique drumbox.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that Heidelberg and Velasierra are rather profligate with their melodies: each track features an abundance of riffs and hooks that could provide the basis for a dozen proper songs. This is an album that frequently invokes the exploratory spirit of postpunk, but it would be fascinating to hear Witch ‘n’ Monk forced into punk’s three-minute concision.

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