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Rum Music

Rum Music For July Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan
Jennifer Lucy Allan , July 26th, 2021 07:43

Hi-fidelity plunderphonics from Vietnam, synths with no wrong speed from Rotterdam, and the cosmic undulations of narrative vaporwave in Jennifer Lucy Allan's Rum Music excursion for July

Pamela Z, Linz, Austria, by Rubra courtesy of Ars Electronica

Pandemic's over kids, let's get back to normal. Apart from it isn't and we can't. Now more than ever, I feel unsure about what to do, where to go, how much is possible, and whether to look forward to anything at all when the graph remains on an upwards trajectory. It's hard to know what to do with your focus, to point it back outwards into the world, or to keep it focused on your immediate environment. Others in different countries will be having very different experiences, but the low level anxiety I'm feeling here in the UK has prevented me from focusing. I haven't seemed able to get my arse in gear for anything except making these shitty little acrylic paintings while I wait for the kettle to boil, and I can't listen to anything for more than five minutes except a Beenie Man album from the 1990s.

Focused listening has been a struggle the past few weeks. Reader, I lost my sparkle – the joy and thrill of discovery that usually turns on like a tap given a few hours ploughing through my various channels ran dry. For a while I couldn't even listen to a whole song all the way through, never mind an album (well, one that wasn't by Beenie Man, anyway). I was bouncing around without ever landing on anything, looking for a sonic foothold that wouldn't materialise. I realised in just one morning I'd listened to a bit of the NTS breakfast show, three Al Green songs from different albums (two only partially), downloaded something I bought that turned out to just be samples, flicked through about 20 seconds of five of the 65 tabs of new releases open on my poor overloaded mule of a browser, put a record on in the living room and immediately come back upstairs. I can't tell you much about any of these releases, because while I had heard them all, I wasn't really listening.

So, this month's releases had more of an uphill struggle to reach my ears, and needed to shatter my wall of inattention. All offered me respite, comfort, or focus. Bass Clef and Richard Youngs are musicians whose releases I can always listen to – it just clicks for me. Crys Cole and James Rashford's Ora Clementi album offered an immersive and nebulous narrative, and Paul Chain changed tack so frequently I didn't dare switch it off in case I missed something. Really though, it was Pamela Z that brought be back to full ear-health. Pamela Z, I salute you!

Pamela Z – A Secret Code
(Neuma Records)

I am shamefully late to the party on this one but here goes: There's a new Pamela Z record out! Huge news, which I am desperately embarrassed to have missed in May. It is a collection of works made for dance, for Kronos Quartet, as well as material for Z’s "live-sampled concert performance with bel canto, bubblewrap, and tuning fork options". It's out on the reanimated Neuma records and is a big deal as it's really only her third full length in more than three decades. Her vocals (as someone in the Bandcamp reviews points out) sometimes lie on a bed of Akira Rabelais-like chorus of silken and rippling processed voices – particularly in 'Quatre Couches/Flare Stains', and the spoken narrations can be mundane verbal repetitions, or politically resonant. In some tracks, they're both, as in 'Unknown Person (From Baggage Allowance)' where she intones TSA questions about whether you packed your own bag, layered with recordings of people listing the clothes they've packed (including a particularly joyful bra canto). She's sometimes been compared to Monk And Anderson, but I hear more of something like Robert Ashley's later operas – Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) for example – in its tone and dynamic. Z's work broke new ground in terms of live vocal processing, and she uses custom MIDI controllers that allow her to manipulate sound and image with physical gestures, but she is often overlooked – hopefully we're on the way to rectifying that. A Secret Code is exquisite. Do not (like I did) sleep on this one.

Ora Clementi – Sylva Sylvarum
(Black Truffle)

Ora Clementi is a duo of Crys Cole and James Rushford, and Sylva Sylvarum is a cosmic suite of... I don't know what to call it... narrative vaporwave? (See particularly 'Magic Mountain'.) That sounds awful, but this is wonderful: cosmic undulations, thickets of low horns, a suite of electro-acoustic world-building. It draws from various literary descriptions of utopias – ‘Dialogue Between A Grandmaster Of The Knights Hospitaller And A Genoese Sea Captain’ reads from a 17th century utopian text (Campanella's City Of The Sun) that describes an imaginary seven-walled city whose walls are decorated with animals, serpents, dragons, and worms. The landscape painted in sound feels indebted to gentle game music such as Monument Valley ('Umbrella Spinner' in particular), infused with small acousmatic moments of clicks and whirrs. 'Vulning' and 'Peach Of Immortality' are located in a pastel jungle replete with birds, beasts, insects, chiming bells and weather. In the vocal duets there are really pleasing lyrical junctions of words that just sound great together. Choose your own favourite, but mine is the softly enunciated 'hy-dro-ther-mal vent field'. The strangeness of this synthesised place held my attention, but what I liked most of all is that it made me feel good. I felt briefly... hopeful.

Paul Chain – Paul Chain Is Dead Volume 1
(Horn of Plenty)

Paul Chain is the alter ego of metal musician Paolo Catena (also the co-founder of Italian horror metal group Death SS), one he began using in the late 70s. He announced the death of the moniker in 2003 (hence the title of this collection) and destroyed all the tapes and photos in his possession at the same time. Horn of Plenty has been pulling them together, and have just released the first volume of this broad, varied body of work, if you can call it that. It's really important to listen to the whole thing all the way through to appreciate the wild spread of styles – it's no good hearing just one track as you'll miss a handbrake turn, which might be from lo-fi bedroom plucked guitar to screeching synths, or the colossal doom-clang of chords, or DIY industrial textures. The centrepiece is a side-long track, but I much prefer the wild assortment of pieces on the other three sides – it's like Heitkotter tried to make a Franco Battiato album without turning off the Sunn O))) cassette playing in the background. One strange and heavy bedroom record.

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective - Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế

Vietnamese group Rắn Cạp Đuôi, working out of Ho Chi Minh City, started out making music in their teens in 2015 – this is a massively accomplished release for a group all still in their early 20s, chaotic energy streamlined by days-long improvisations at a local gallery. Notably, Berlin producer Ziúr is on co-production, whose chop-and-slice stylings are structurally and stylistically audible (or, perfectly matched to the group's kinetic energies). It's a sort of hi-fidelity cyber-plunderphonics, more in the mould of a DJ Scotch Egg than John Oswald, but not as daft as either. It delves into traditional Vietnamese singing and thunderous gongs, to clouds of digital ambience made textural with various distortions, to the digital slice & splice present in much contemporary alternative club music. Read a longer interrogation of this in the Lead Review. I loved it.

Richard Youngs – Blue Thirty-Nine
(Blue Tapes)

My favourite time to have a nap is when someone else is pottering about the house – the relaxing feeling that things are being taken care of. While on the opening to this tape Richard Youngs really leans into a nagging repetition of a phrase, it then settles into a pace and mood that induced in me this same feeling of someone else's presence. He sings and plays guitar for the pleasure of playing, looping and listening around phrases, not songs, it's not quite introspective, but isn't a consciously outward-facing performance either. Youngs has put out somewhere in the region of 170 releases – I haven't heard all of them by a long stretch, but I've been spending time with his sound for over 15 years now, and it never gets old. He works on different instruments (voice, shakuhachi, guitar, drum machine), in different ways (playing with his feet, improvising, playing full songs) but whatever he's doing he always sounds immediately and unquestionably like Richard Youngs. It's a comfort.

Beatriz Ferreyra – Canto+

Room40's next collection of work by concrete composer Beatriz Ferreyra, a follow up to last year's Echos+ (like that release, it brings together pieces from across her career). Here, we find it on the edge of shriek at times, meaty clumps of sound paired with delicate soundscapes. Ferreyra's work sits apart from some other concrete composers for me, in that when she wants to, she really goes in on volume and density. Two of these tracks are dedications – 'Au revoir l’Ami' is for sound artist Bernard Bashet, an engineer who with his brother developed a number of sculptural musical instruments from glass rods and metal sheets, among other things; 'Jingle Bayle’s' is for Francois Bayle, which I'm imagining as a a surprise Christmas present for Francois.

Bass Clef – Magnetic Chapters
(Wrong Speed Records)

Bass Clef is another like Richard Youngs, whose music just hits the right frequencies for me, it's always a pleasure, I am a fan. This is on a label called Wrong Speed records, so I played it at both, as it seemed like the proper way to listen. I enjoyed it at both. At 45RPM it bounces, glitters, is busy and bubbling, and at 33RPM it's woozy and mesmeric. I particularly love the squiggly groove of track one Side B, its shinks, boings and shuffle. I am aware I could have checked the digital release to find out which speed was intended, but I chose not to. It seemed a shame, particularly given the label name, that a digital version eliminates the vagaries of what speed to play a record like this.

Seekers International – ROOTPRINCIPLE

Muggy dub explorations that get better with every listen, as my ears become accustomed to the liquid murk enough to peck out the earworms. Technically a reissue, this is a vinyl remaster of a limited cassette from 2014 by the elusive Seekers International – a Filipino-Canadian crew in Richmond, British Columbia. They often get placed somewhere on the fringes of dub and dancehall but I guess structurally this is also somewhat connected to the lineage of audio collage too. Rough samples are torn and shredded on groggy dub soundscapes, sirens echo and wail, disintegrating vocals are anchored by humming shuffling synths that sit in holding patterns. Perfect in oppressive midday heat.


There's another drop from the Alice Coltrane vaults, an issue of what I think is one of her greatest albums, Turiya Sings. I guess it's a demo version of that album (it's called Kirtan: Turiya Sings) and while in other cases that's fine, as sometimes it's valuable and ear-opening to encounter earlier versions, that might be bolder and rawer than the end product, the rich sound of Turiya Sings are not improved by being slightly lo-fi in my opinion. I do not feel in exaltation without the big bendy organ sounds lifting me from my seat. All Alice is essential, really, but I'm on the fence about this one.