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Rum Music: The Best Of 2022 Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan
Jennifer Lucy Allan , December 16th, 2022 09:36

Jennifer Lucy Allan plucks her essential releases from this year's onslaught of sonic activity in the Zone, from hurdy gurdy and home-made modulars to gamelan and music made under Swedish bridges

Cheri Knight, photo by Toni Holm

Music writers across the board have been hand wringing about the lack of consensus in EOY lists for years. Outlets that still run democratic processes have seen a fragmenting of opinion to the extent that in some quarters (not this quarter) an album needs a mere handful of votes to sit fairly high up in the charts. All this might render them somewhat useless, but when done right, I reckon it reforms the EOY list into a useful discovery exercise rather than an accurate summary of the year.

Often this is put down to a silo-ing of tastes, a demobbing of music's tribal aspects thanks to algorithms and whatnot, or just me getting lazier, but I think it's also got something to do with the levelling of the playing field through a platform like Bandcamp that means things are more evenly accessible, and so everything has floated to the top. When I first started this column a few years ago, there would be a decent split between releases hosted on Bandcamp and those elsewhere, but it's now extremely rare for me to be writing about a release without a Bandcamp embed. I regularly find that what I think is a super obscure CD-R with inkjet printed inner, readily available on Bandcamp.

There are so many fish in the sea you can cast a line anywhere and come up with a decent catch. This is undoubtedly A Good Thing, for artists and for listeners – it democratises access to underground/independent/experimental/whatever music, and simplifies artists' access have to potential listeners. It also helps me avoid costly (usually Swedish) postage costs. There are two cons – not really Bandcamp's fault – namely that any monopoly on the culture naturally comes with precarity, and EOY lists become plain weird as historical documents as the years roll on.

It used to be that there'd be a Scott Walker album or something for everyone to congregate around, but this year's Björk album doesn't seem to have cut through, or is now considered too mainstream to come into contact with The Zone I inhabit here. There have been some 'big' releases this year, notably the new album from Diamanda Galás following her recent string of reissues, but I've not yet seen that cut through in the way it ought.

More broadly, I'm aware of a shift in appropriate metaphor, whereby my job has changed from one where I'm out beyond the walls of the city digging around in the dirt, into one where I'm stood atop a mound of refuse (hundreds of ambient records – joking!) sifting for priceless artefacts.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, the list that follows are the things I found in the pile. Thing not in this list include an album I'm in the middle of – a very recently released live album recorded at Tomorrow Festival in Shenzhen, China in 2016, of a collaboration between FaUSt and Keiji Haino. Zappi's drums with Haino's guitars is a match made in heaven – quite literally in this case, as it's released on Old Heaven Books. I'd also like to give an extra shout out for the labels I loved this year, who often orient me in the murk. They include but are not limited to: Dusty Ballz, Recital, Purge, Mesh-Key, An'Archives, Old Heaven. To the self-releasers: I send my thanks and gratitude. If there's a banger I missed, I'm on Instagram or Twitter, where listen more than I talk, although if you are thinking of recommending something with wishy-washy electronics and a smattering field recordings, think again.

Thanks for reading, see you in the New Year!

Bill Orcutt – Music For Four Guitars

An ideal fusion of the two central Orcutt genus – concept-troll Orcutt and flayed-Americana Orcutt, realised in 14 structures played in counterpoint on guitar. Comes off like watching expert butchery upon a beautiful carcass; or piles of scaffolding erected into architectural forms before being taken apart. Comes with a score, too.

Diamanda Galás – Broken Gargoyles
(Intravenal Sound Operations)

Luke Turner kept messaging me, asking breathlessly if I'd listened to the new Diamanda Galás yet. I kept putting it off, thinking I'd need to be feeling fairly robust to broach the walls of her sonic citadel. How wrong I was! This is both a salve and a salvo – energising and furious, using poems on the horrors of trench warfare and hospital treatments by German poet Georg Heym, with masterfully simple clangs and exclamatory instrumentation that are perfectly sounded and placed. We are not worthy.

Silvia Tarozzi & Deborah Walker – Canti di guerra, di lavoro e d‘amore
(Unseen Worlds)

Still the most moving moment from any album this year is a few seconds on the second track of this album, 'La Lega'. Strings come in gently underneath the Italian women's folk choir – the Coro delle Mondine di Bentivoglio. It's cinematic, perhaps intentionally emotive, but who cares, because it is like the whole choir has been lifted from the lowly earth and is transcending into heaven on a cloud, a Renaissance painting in music; a sacred elevation of this working class women's music. Can't get over it, won't get over it.

The Afrorack – The Afrorack
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

This got flipped in the tape deck over and over, over and over. Reminds me so strongly of something I still can't quite identify. A brilliant debut, but short – in 2023 I'd love to hear longer excusions into signal processing from Ugandan synth builder and producer Brian Bamanya, aka Afrorack, on what he reckons is Africa's first DIY modular synthesizer. It slaps, and I'm putting it here because I listened to it so much, and to re-up my request for the next album. WLTH 10+ minute travels of the infinite spaceways.

Cheri Knight – American Rituals
(Freedom To Spend)

Should perhaps be in archival but for all intents and purposes this was a new album and sounded like it was made last week. Plain and brilliant, fresh and easy. Pulls from the structures and tendency towards phased structures in minimalism, but filtered through whatever's right there in front of you via a post-punk attitude. Namely a student recording studio and your own voice – a few words, fragments of bass playing, freshest album of the year. Totally essential.

Richard Thomas – The House Rabbit Of Jesus Green
(Ffordd Allan)

A collection of sonic ideas recorded in lockdown, edited into 20-ish minute chunks. Round and round it goes, with all its different parts and no track listing to speak of. Is it too much of a neg to say that this album fulfils the role ambient music usually has, but without any of the predictability or tedium? It's what I want to listen to most of the time right now.

[PS. When I first wrote about this I hadn't clocked this was released via private press label Fford Allan. Fford Allan may not after all be a real person, because it's basically what you'd find on a road sign: it means, roughly, Road Exit in Welsh.]

Antonina Nowacka & Sofie Birch – Languoria

A very special record that occupies the same psychic space for me as Joanna Brouk's The Space Between. Languoria is an album that holds time; contains a sense of levitating. It is – excuse the florid indulgence here –a relief from the Sartrean Nausea induced by the thick reality of any given moment. Birch's instrumentation acts as a glowing, pulsating aura around Nowacka's distinctive vocals. Nobody else sounds like her. I'm a fan.

Jon Collin – Bridge Variations

One of my most persistent earworms of the year came from unexpected quarters – namely from under one of Stockholm's many bridges. 'Black Licorice' is played on Collin's second hand nyckelharpa, as he quietly roamed around the resonant space under a bridge somewhere, accompanied by the rush of tyres on asphalt. Extended tones lock into place, and the nyckelharpa soars around the cavernous concrete structure, riding updrafts over layers that rise to meet him.

Dewa Alit & Gamelan Salukat – Chasing The Phantom
(Black Truffle)

My plans for next year include finding out more about Alit and his gamelan. Apparently it is custom built, or non-standard in some ways, includes his own tunings and unorthodox playing techniques. On this, his second release on Oren Ambarchi's Black Truffle Alit leans into gamelan's machine-like potentials in patterns and timbres of mallet on metal. Is heard best after enough listens to get your ear in on its patterns and motifs.

Jem Finer – Hrdy Grdy
(Thanet Tape Centre)

Dear Father Christmas, all I want for Christmas is my own hurdy gurdy and a place to play it. A gurdy is an instrument that extends the body beyond the breath, the turn of the handle creating an uncanny suggestion of the inhale and exhale of a living thing if played one way, but which is a clicking, clunking when played with force. I loved this album simply because Finer works with both sides of its character.

AOB: Reissues & archival

A brief run-down of reissues and that which has been made available again. Everything on here I consider completely essential.

Loren Connors – Airs

Calligraphic guitar in gestural strokes on a silken surface of hissing patina, subtle reverb for black ink that soak the fibres.

Valentina Goncharova – Ocean - Symphony For Electric Violin And Other Instruments In 10+ Parts
(Hidden Harmony)

The Magnum Opus of a composer who has worked at the fringes, almost unknown to the Western world for decades. Uncanny and strange, seeing her play live recently made me understand that Goncharova's music has come from outside of any lineage we might associate with its immersive, watery timbres.

Terry Jennings – Piece For Cello And Saxophone

Essential minimalism via acoustic means, a line drawn and followed; lengthened, stretched; time uncoiled. Someone squeeze it onto a CD, please, the triple flip's no good.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – Jerusalem
(Mississippi Records)

[This one's still not up for streaming]

Emahoy sings! There'll never be enough from the finest piano playing nun the world has ever known. Notably the single track of her singing is intended as a trail for a full album of singing on the way next year.

The Jacks – Vacant World

[Neither is this, but listen to the best track here]

All the weight of Len if he'd fronted a heavy psych rock band, in Japan, in 1968. Yoshio Hayakawa comes on as if wailing to us from the banks of the river Styx. 'Marianne' is the vinegar mother of so much that came later.

Aunt Sally – Aunt Sally

‘Subete Urimono’ is my favourite tune of the year.

Les Rallizes Dénudés – The OZ Tapes
(Temporal Drift)

Was worried the clean-up job might remove at least half of what I Ioved about this band, namely the muss and scuzz of recordings. Having received the LPs I can say I had nothing to worry about. Joy!

Harry Pussy – You’ll Never Play This Town Again

And so we find ourselves back at the start. No introduction necessary.