The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Rum Music

Rum Music For January Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan
Jennifer Lucy Allan , January 30th, 2024 11:03

Guitar solos, shouted song from Uyghur folk traditions, a French duo under one name and a Quebecois miscellany in the first Rum Music outing of 2024, reviewed by Jennifer Lucy Allan

Danielle Boutet

Belated Happy New Year Rum Music fans. You find me luxuriating in this brief period of each year when I am optimistic that I will stay afloat on the white waters of the river of releases that pours ever forth. In this grace period I have been doing the rounds of my favourite labels asking what's coming up and I can tell you that in 2024 there is lots to look forward to.

Where will cover it all though? I keep reading two things: music journalism is dead and there is too much music coming out. The absorption of Pitchfork into GQ has been covered widely. Despite it not really being in my wheelhouse any more, it was bracing to know that it's always possible to take many steps backwards by reinstating music as a male interest (as Laura Snapes laments here). Less widely covered was the reduction of FACT's online editorial and axing of the mix series (detailed by Chal et al on this podcast).

But Rum Music holds on, as does The Quietus, which is one of a handful of places I can now rely on to receive pitches and cover music in the disparate zone of culture I love and write about. There are good things to report though: the return of Foxy Digitalis has been cause for celebration, and I continue to play much of what makes it into Rum Music on Late Junction (I take the presenting seat every three weeks on BBC Radio 3).

The trickling away of resources has some less obvious effects, one of which I have begun to notice when researching emerging groups or artists who have come up since journalism began to seriously drop off. There are often no interviews or sizable reviews with them anywhere – not on blogs, in magazines, or newspapers. Sleevenotes, label copy, independent record shop write ups make up some of the gap, but too often it means that the only information available is whatever is on a Bandcamp profile. Anonymity is perhaps desirable for many artists, and is an understandable reaction to mainstream and extremely online culture, but I am hungry as I always have been, to understand where music comes from; to know what engine drives these things.

However, if music journalism is taking a dive right now, there is good news elsewhere: I can report that this month was the first time I felt the torrent of boring ambient albums masquerading as experimental music might finally be easing up. Either that or my spam filter has got smart to it. I will say I have also recently heard fuggy trip-hop breaks in albums where they really shouldn't have shown up, so perhaps the ambient beast is mutating thataways.

麦​盖​提​刀​郎​木​卡​姆​乐​队 Mekit Dolan Muqam Group – 巴​亚​宛 Bayawan
(Old Heaven)

I might as well save my word count and tell you to listen to every single Old Heaven Books release, because there is rarely one I don't love. This one is standout: a live recording from Tomorrow festival in Shenzhen in May 2023, of the Mekit Dolan Muqam Group. Muqam singing is a folk form performed by Uyghurs in China, and Dolan Muqam is a regional form, characterised by "a distinctively hoarse, air-rending style of singing". It's this that knocked me out of my seat, 40 seconds in, the singer entering like forked lightning on flatlands. Instant illumination; natural electricity. This shouting out might be compared to other folk singing where songs are really belted out – Sacred Harp is in 'full voice' for example – but the sharpness of the timbre here and the power with which it is delivered sent me back to the first minute of opener 'Bash Bayawan Muqam' over and over again before I could get to the end of the piece.

Danielle Boutet – Pi​é​ces
(Freedom To Spend)

Often music for this column claims to be unclassifiable, but it rarely is, there's always some signposting to be pulled from the murk. This however, by a Montreal art professor Danielle Boutet is particularly difficult to contain. It is shape-shiftingly curious and subtle in its movements. Atmospheres include a DIY-chanteuse feel, and there's narrative in the mode of "Blue" Gene Tyranny, but it's not structured like a DIY album. The palette has something of the Cheri Knight about it, but its compositional chops place it at great distance from any and all modes of post punk. As an aside, it's interesting to think about what some of this music might have become with an orchestra attached – I'm not sure it would be better as such, but structurally there is often something classical and complex about its movements that means it unfurls with repeated listening. With a few session musicians, perhaps some strings, along with the electronics and percussion, I might be sat here writing about tracks like 'Images' being as if from a lost late-era Laurie Anderson album. Later in the album is a duo of instrumental marimba pieces and a glassy minimal synthscape – which might explain why this was categorised in the Ladyslipper mail order catalogue as new age. Boutet had studied music at the University Of Montreal, working on composition and percussion, and made one other album before losing interest in releasing music, and becoming more involved in Montreal’s flourishing feminist and lesbian art scenes. She now is now a professor at the University Of Quebec at Rimouski. Freedom To Spend is carving out a crucial niche into these always interesting, previously unknown, self-released albums by women who were working in their own niches in the 80s. I recommend letting this one grow on you – its charms increase with each spin.

Fred Frith – Guitar Solos / Fifty

This Fred Frith release might be a lesson in how to do a reissue, but better. It's a double album of Frith's influential and acclaimed Guitar Solos. from 1974, and an album called Fifty, marking 50 years since the solos. I heard he plays the same Gibson on both. The former was recorded by David Vorhaus of White Noise and voted album of the year by NME back in the 70s. Now, in the world of underground music Guitar Solos looms large – there is much to be heard in it that came later, and while Frith says he doesn't feel he is or was like Derek Bailey, it's impossible not to hear that soundworld in here. It is music that embraces texture and resonance; insistent repetitions and noise, and the sounds that make me go fizzy: those bendy metallic notes pulled from the guitar like magician's handkerchiefs. The lyrical lament that opens 'No Birds', and the crowd-of-sparrows-at-the-delay that closes it is burned into my synapses, and I greet it as an old friend. On Fifty, Frith has – joyfully – not softened, nor suffered calcification, and the playing is as energetically nimble as ever. 'Locomoting' is fractious; 'Phalaropes' has a pretty sort of jaunt in its dissonances. The palette remains fresh; the creative insistence in the playing remains. Sonic ideas that might otherwise seep into the earth are caught and excavated, with the main difference to be found in the literal, technological clarity in the recording.

Nina Harker – Nina Harker
(Aguirre & others)

Nina Harker is not a person but a French duo, of artist/musician Apolline Schöser, and designer/artist Nocola Henry. This is their fourth release, with three albums and a 7" behind them all called Nina Harker (cc'ing Célia here). They occupy a space I really enjoy: a type of multilingual, multi-genre music that there is no satisfying or useful way of naming. What they do really well is contrasts, often with very few sound sources, with the suite on this album made from scraps, in a sort of quilted experimentalism that patchworks song, spoken word, crunchy drum patters patched over hung tones; field recordings of weather; a bit of jangly piano and idly plucked guitar; Italian song fragments and German spoken word.

Wukir Suryadi – Sopo Ingsun

This EP of recent live recordings made by Senyawa's instrument-building Wukir Suryadi was released on New Year's Eve 2023, almost guaranteeing it would not get picked up in many spheres. However, its final track, 'Awakening', has got to be one of my favourite pieces ever to come from their camp – a toothy loop on hit strings; joined by a clang and strum – is the stuff of infinite playback, deserving of a far longer loop in an Outside The Dream Syndicate kind of way. The 10-minute long 'Dark Night Of The Soul' also triumphs, with a thumping propulsion drowned in sheets of noise spliced by piercing two note progression. The sharp edges excavate; the weight of the low end anchors. This might be just one of a steady stream of digital missives, but don't miss it.

Roy Montgomery & Friends – Broken Heart Surgery

I adore the big, resonating sound of Montgomery's guitar – like MBV guitars piped through a massive pond. I would be quite happy listening to it going on and on, round and round, but there are things called releases and albums and so here we are. On this album, the guitar and Montgomery's low baritone are joined by friends – Stephen Cogle, Emma Johnston, Nicole Moffat, Martha Skye Murphy, Arnie Van Bussel, and Alicia Merz. All contribute vocals, with Merz and Murphy also co-writing tracks. It is earnest in its expressions, and as an English person who largely bottles up most serious feelings hoping they will never need to be uncorked, whether I enjoy the highest points of emotional intensity on here depends on how I'm feeling. It contains soaring flights of longing, and is an album that narrates the heart's wants; the transient moments where want is met, and those where it is left broken, desire hanging in empty space. (NB: It's also on Discreet, making a pleasing trans-continental connection between Sweden and New Zealand, which I'd formerly perceived as fairly separate underground scenes.)

Faune – Des Fantômes
(Standard In-Fi)

Faune is a duo of Jacques Puech and Guilhem Lacroux from the ever-brilliant French folk scene that has been delivering some of my favourite records of the last few years. From this album, like so many Standard In-Fi and La Nòvia releases, there is a forked path, two wormholes you may choose to follow for more of this stuff. You may take the path of the musicians, or the song. Both musicians have played with a solar system of musicians that offer a lifetime of listening. Puech is a cabrette (bagpipes) player who is part of La Nòvia and is in La Tène ( this extreme microtonal bagpipe Shephard tone/drone tape from last year is killer), and Lacroux is a guitarist who plays many other things, and who is also in Tanz Mein Herz, Toad and other groups. The other fork is towards the songs, which are renditions and assemblages from those collected by the wife/husband duo of French musician Catherine Perrier and British violinist John Wright, or sung by French/Occitan singer Louise Reichert, as well as other sources including contemporary Occitan group La Talvera; composer and musicologist Joseph Canteloube, and more obscure sources including a 78rpm recording collected by Ferdinand Brunot sung by a man named Pierre Bouillaguet, among others. But what does it all sound like? Well. Like trad folk sharpened on a knife block; like medieval troubadours who've heard Desertshore; like the cover to Airs & Graces crossed with Henry Flynt. While you're in this cosmos, make sure you also check out this recent release from the same label by Johana Beaussart – a strange and wonderful narrative song suite that sounds little like anything else.


This came out in between columns and has had some coverage, but I recommend it again in case you missed it: Black Truffle's vinyl issue of a 2018 release by Thai musician Sombat Simla, Master Of Bamboo Mouth Organ Similarly missing the last column deadline is this amazing new album by the legendary Anne Gillis on excellent Japanese label Art Into Life. Like the Fred Frith, this pulls together an early release (Gillis's first, the uber unobtainable Angebiguë) with new recordings, and shows that like Frith, she always had it, had never lost it.

Finally, it somehow passed me by thatthe Smithsonian frog album had been repressed. File in the "animals that sound like synthesisers" section next to Jean C. Roche's recordings of birds in Venezuela.