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Monsieur Doumani

Review by Lee Blackstone


Madness is everywhere, it seems. Family, friends, and neighbors are emerging from lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic: putting on shoes, gassing up the car, heading to restaurants…while the pandemic continues. The familiar has become unfamiliar. Conspiracy theories are rife, while politics have been amped up globally so that the right and the left serve as magnetic poles ripping civil society apart. Main streets lie gutted; refrigerator cars house the dead; meetings are Zoomed, groceries one-clicked. It would all be sobering, if liquor stores had not been considered essential services. Who’s behind the mask?

This particular ball of confusion serves the Cypriot band Monsieur Doumani well. The trio is now comprised of Antonis Antoniou (tzouras, electronics, vocals, stomp box), Demetris Yiasemides (trombone, vocals), and, since 2019, guitarist Andys Skordis. Together, they have released Pissourin, which in Greek-Cypriot dialect means ‘total darkness.’ Listening to their latest music, one might think that Monsieur Doumani have written the soundtrack for the Dark Night of the Soul that we have all been blindly lumbering through. There is a spirituality here that is embodied and intoxicated, the band grabbing you by the shoulders to wake you up in these lucid dreams of songcraft.

Since their 2013 full-length debut, the sound of Monsieur Doumani has progressed on each subsequent album. On Pissourin, the group sounds huge due to the confident use of electronics that blow open Monsieur Doumani’s core salvo of tzouras (a Greek relative of the bouzouki), trombone, and guitar. The band manages to be groove-oriented and spacious by nodding to both progressive and psychedelic rock. The second track, "Poulia" (Pleiades) sounds like a Cypriot folk tune over a gnawa base, Antoniou’s tzouras snaking around an insistent beat and Yiasemides’ trombone line. The track is hypnotic, and then suddenly – in the last 40 seconds -- the trance-like meter speeds up, the brakes fail, and there is a full-on thrash explosion to end the tune. The longest track, "Koukkoufkiaos" (Owl), bends the tzouras into clean-sounding grit over a weaving foundation that emerges into what sounds like vintage synth space-rock oscillating and squealing in the night sky.

Listen "Tiritichtas"

Turning to the poetry of this album, the lyrics feast on inner landscapes and longings that correspond to the introspection of our current condition. The album begins with "Tiritichtas" (an imaginary, mysterious being), with lyrics written by Giorgos Vlamis.
Just listen to the night giving birth
At the crack of dawn it’s in labour
Something makes noise
and disappears
The wind brings a voice with it

The song itself examines the inner life, urging the listener to get up, move, sit, or find - what do you do with your voice, with your body? As ever, there are social pressures bearing down: "Counsel is coming by the bucket; who’s babbling, who’s demanding?"

Listen "Kalikadnjari"

An answer comes on "Kalikadnjari" (Hobgoblins), with lyrics supplied by Marios Epaminondas. "I’m losing it, I’m telling you… I’ve got a screw loose," declares Antoniou; there is madness inside, the natural world outside, and here come the bill collectors. "Who’s in debt, and who can pay?" The answer – "Only our craziness will save us" – reminds me of the exorcism found in Italian tarantism, where submerging oneself in music and mystery is the line walked between integration in society, or being marginalized.

Listen "Astrahan"

"Astrahan" closes out the album with a throbbing, intense workout: kosmisch Cypriot music that is leering and dangerous:
You come out red, rolling in blood
You light up the body and charge it
Lustful voices turn me into a lunatic
In the oceans lies deep pleasure.
The tune ebbs and flows, a final postcard from the fever dream of Monsieur Doumani.

Overall, this album is wicked – fuzz and grit, echo and thump dot mental maps pointing to a loosening of consciousness as the road to revolution. "I’m signaling to the galaxies," sings Antoniou on "Nychtopapparos" (Night Bat). Listen to Monsieur Doumani, and let the bindweed sprout from your head.

Photo: Kostas Stanoulis

Find the trio online.

More to read and listen to:
Monsieur Doumani:
Antonis Antoniou: Kkisméttin

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