The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Quietus Charts

Rum Music: The Best Of 2023 Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan
Jennifer Lucy Allan , December 13th, 2023 12:14

Another trip around the sun for the weightless world of Rum Music, reviewed and rounded up by Jennifer Lucy Allan

WaqWaq Kingdom

This year I have written comparatively little about music, because I have been immersed in writing a book about clay and ceramics. Over the course of the year I became more disconnected to the music on my shelves and in my inbox than any year in my adult life. I was listening less and looking more. I also felt despondent about the state of things within music and without. Venues continue to struggle with precarity and closure (Iklectik's eviction is particularly devastating); big business glugs down culture and excretes nothing but its own profits. I am extremely worried by the sale of Bandcamp and the subsequent slashing of its editorial team who were doing such top notch work. In the background to all this there is war, death, and cruelty on a scale I have never seen in my lifetime. The accumulated effects of these events did not draw me to back to music but has increased my distance from it.

While writing I found I often needed silence to think about the objects I was researching, perhaps because understanding their material and historical weights required my absolute attention. While I have spent years writing about various histories within music, these objects I was researching often predated all recorded sound by tens of thousands of years. This fact rattled round in my head for days. I was working on two different timescales and could not find a way to process both at once while writing and listening.

People often talk of music being a saviour; that it is soothing and helpful or cathartic; that it offers a ladder out of the darkness. These are sentiments I've never quite shared. Instead, music has just been with me always, I go to it for everything and it is with me in everything, so it felt odd and unpleasant to lose the thread.

In the end, it has not been recorded music that has got me back on track but live shows. I found my solution in a feeling; in a moment bass frequencies rumbled through my torso; in the melodic squeak of a piano stool incorporated into a composition; or when overdriven guitar and a wailing musician got me like a knife in the heart. I realised that, while I might be reading about objects and histories with an imposing weight to them, when good sound gathers and a crowd is listening, I come back to these spaces again and again because they make me and the world feel briefly weightless.

EP / 64-63 – EP / 64-63
(Permanent Draft)

This one is still all killer no filler after a year in the tape deck, a document of one of my favourite live shows of the year before, at New River Studios in London. It's a first (but perhaps not last) meeting of an all-star line-up that includes percussionist Valentina Magaletti, vocalist Dali De Saint Paul, violinist Agathe Max, and multi-instrumentalist and synth player Yoshino Shigihara (Viridian Ensemble's Laura Phillips was also on visuals). It was the 63rd and penultimate show in Dali's 64-date improvisational event series EP64 and it is a gnarled and mussed up sound from the start: Magaletti's chug and rattle slathered with Max's toothy violin playing; De Saint Paul's's vocals splicing Shigihara's synths. A portal I long to enter again. More!

Ruth Anderson & Annea Lockwood – Tête-à-tête
(Ergot Records)

Tête-à-tête is a deeply intimate collection of three works by two composers, together forming the most moving tribute to a life-changing relationship I have ever encountered. It will be an eternally relevant collage of the sound of love and affection; of utterances that contain more meaning than their words: effervescent giggles, amorous sighing, and words that contain in their expressions an intense yearning, a listening-in to the instant composition of loving conversation. It is a gut-wrenchingly personal album documenting the love of two women for one another, and it is a goodbye of sorts. Like holding a butterfly in the hand, it captures the beauty and meaning of sharing life with another person.

John Fahey – Proofs And Refutations
(Drag City)

A previously unreleased album by Fahey that was recorded in the motel and butter years, where Fahey began moving away from the traditional 'American Primitive' style he had been so fundamental in articulating. This album sits alongside those he made around this time, like Womblife (still trapped and somewhat neglected on a Table Of The Elements CD) and City Of Refuge, as turns towards the gnarled and experimental. The thing that really shook me about this is the opening spoken word herald 'All The Rains', where Fahey gets into some rhythmic and repetitive invocations, before spiralling into an argument with himself. New "lost" albums by the greats are often barrel scraping exercises but this is anything but. A major highlight for me.

Flesh & The Dream – Choose Mortality
(Flesh & The Dream)

Super sensual bangers from the sleeper hit of the year. The potency of this pair was first displayed on ‘The World Is A Stage/Reach The Endless Sea’ from Shackleton’s Tunes Of Negation, but is signed, sealed and delivered on this year's Flesh & The Dream album Choose Mortality, as woozy, sticky psychedelia that blooms with percussions and the snap of marching band drums. In 'Ecstasy Before The Altar' a slow liquid pulse and stoned repetitions move like ink in water, sunk in a cloud of smoke that clears for a regimented snare to cut through. Effervescent and heady, every time I listen to this album I notice new layers: another vocal track sunk in the ooze; repeated words emerging from the syrup; the rat-tat-tat of a woodblock; a chime to collar you in the peakiest moments. After half a year with this album, I find its greatest success in how it manages to be wholly located in esoteric psychedelia, without a single trace of old structures or vintage sounds. I have adored Shackleton and Heather Leigh for years and feel this collaboration was dreamed up for my pleasure by whatever doomsday simulation we're in right now, so please send my thanks to whoever is at the controls.

Moussa Tchingou – Tamiditine EP
(Sahel Sounds)

Moussa Tchingou is one of the most in demand guitarists from Niger, and this is a recent high point for the ever-excellent Sahel Sounds. I felt that on this EP Tchingou had picked up where Mdou Mcotar's autotuned 'Tahoultine' had left off. Loaded with familiar torque of Tuareg electric guitar, propulsive percussion, his Auto-Tuned vocals add a really distinctive shimmer to the desert blues. With those gossamer refractions in the voice and electronics it is sited in the distorted air between horizon and sky – it reminds me of the opening of Herzog's Fata Morgana. I'm waiting for the next release, and am now receiving missives on WhatsApp that suggest there is much more to come.

Mary Jane Leach – Woodwind Multiples
(Modern Love)

I include this Mary Jane Leach album in my end of year list because when I couldn't listen to much I could still listen to this. Divinely paced and beautifully captured, this is an album of microtonal composition for single instruments or single types of instrument, which include four bass flutes, nine oboes, nine clarinets, and seven bassoons. Composed between 1985 and 2020, the instruments are looped like Moebius-strips via tape phasing and overdubbing. Listen for the pulsing sound of microtonal beats as two woody pitches fall almost together.

Lucy Railton – Corner Dancer
(Modern Love)

Lucy Railton goes from strength to strength, but I feel she's hit her stride in Corner Dancer, an immaculate articulation of her twin spheres of action that might be articulated as a venn diagram of raw electronics and classically trained cello; or of a forensic balancing of sound events and the infinite space of controlled silence; or of noise and New Music, most obviously rooted in those genres via her activities as an instrumentalist. Paradise 94 from 2018 now feels like a warm up for this. In a recent Rum Music I described it as mechanistic and minimal – coolly confident in its brutal streamlining of these cropped and puckered instants of sound. It's all about weight, density, space and balance.

Mykolaiv Singers – Winter Songs, Wedding Songs

This project started before the invasion of Ukraine, and began as something other than it has now become, due to the brutal destruction wrought upon the country’s Mykolaiv region. It is now a document that carries something of a time before; a document of people and their songs under threat. It collects recordings of various unaccompanied singers and groups performing folk songs, some recorded in the 1980s, others as recently as 2012. The Mykolaiv Singers named as artists are not one group but refers to all those recorded here, who have been collected by Tetiana Chukhno. Songs are about marriage and the seasons; and lyrical poetry transposed into songs sung in full voice. Some of the seasonal winter songs are about bread, green groves and birch trees, their simple themes echoing into the present moment.

A.Maiah – F(r)icciones

An album by Basque Country guitarist and composer Asier Maiah that is more than the sum of its parts, assembled from experiments and miscellaneous works that were the result of false starts and paused projects. It opens with a choral piece for 18 female voices, "composed for a soundtrack to a documentary that doesn’t have a release date", followed by pieces made for a music convention that never happened, and an attempt to "create a drone piece by accumulating guitar noise". The bold contrast between the vocal piece and the noisier textures was enough to grab me, but I have found it unexpectedly sticky and have had it on repeat. As a work in progress it should feel more cobbled together, but it is radiant and enveloping.

WaqWaq Kingdom – Hot Pot Totto
(Phantom Limb)

I love WaqWaq Kingdom, their spangled hi-NRG Minyo brightens any dull day. In terms of its ingredients it is effectively a food fight - DJ Samples and sounds from Shangaan electro, footwork, chiptunes amid muscular buzzy rumbles, while Kiki Hitomi's Minyo chants ride the vibes. 'Buri Buri' is the standout. Hot Pot Totto is the third in a triptych of albums all of which are highly effective uppers, beginning with Essaka Hoisa in 2019, followed by Dokkoishi in 2020. Any year is made better by having a WaqWaq Kingdom album in it.


Rum Music's reissues for 2023 are:

Dorothy Carter – Waillee Waillee
(Palto Flats)

Essential sound of underground dulcimer master who spent time as both a nun and a steam ship deck hand.

Peter Gutteridge – Pure
(Superior Viaduct)

That Dunedin sound at its finest, with Suicide-adjacent standout tracks, only ever on cassette until now.

Les Rallizes Dénudés – Citta '93
(Temporal Drift)

They blew the doors off.

Les Rallizes Dénudés – Baus '93
(Temporal Drift)

Four days before they blew the doors off.

Non-Band – Non-Band

Wriggling, bouncing post punk from 1980s Japan, it's the violin that makes it.

Tolerance – Anonym
(Mesh Key)

One of two releases by the mysterious Tolerance, minimal industrial-leaning post-punks that retains intimacy and close attention to sound.

Annea Lockwood – Glass World

A landmark work collating micro compositions made with glass.

Hiroyuki Onogawa – August in the Water: Music for Film 1995​-​2005
(Honest Jon’s)

Earwormy YMO-reminiscent synth themes, some made for punk film director Sogo Ishii's dreamiest film about ancient aliens, heatwaves, the high dive and precognition.