Rum Music For February Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan

Molam gems, Ainu traditional music and experimental hurdy gurdy in Jennifer Lucy Allan's excursion into international sonic hinterlands

OKI by maciej komorowski

This month I’ve been pulling records out from my compilations shelf. It’s right at the bottom, so I rarely touch it of an evening. It’s been great to reacquaint myself with favourites (and now classic) compilations: Choubi Choubi on Sublime Frequencies; the Honest Jon’s series London Is The Place For Me, and my favourite compilation of all time: Forge Your Own Chains a collection of "Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges 1968-1974" on Now Again.

I also pulled out some Mississippi compilations, which are the ones I have most affection for. The string of compilations they released between 10 and 15 years ago upended my idea of what compilations could be, and the sort of worlds they could create. It seems they have a precursor in much more primitive hand made mixtapes, which were later developed into more professional productions that (in the UK) could be picked up in the Honest Jon’s shop for a tenner.

They all had really vague but poetic titles – Life Is A Problem, Last Kind Words, Love Is Love, Last Time Around – and at first didn’t really focus on any particular type of music, instead coalescing around a mood or a feeling. Later, they developed to cover specific genres and regions: Jamaican gospel; early calypsos from the 1920s to the late 40s; country-inspired and yodelling songs from 1950s Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya.

One I’d never quite connected with first time around is Brass Pins and Matchheads, but in the last few weeks I have grown deeply attached to a yodelling track on it by Jodlerklub Thun – a yodelling club from Thun in Switzerland. Yodelling perhaps seems one logical conclusion of a hunt for ever more esoteric sounds, but before you leap to any conclusions, I can assure you this has nothing of the stereotypical musical theatre thigh-slapping yodel-ooh-hee-hooo you might be imagining. It really has a very strange aura – it’s eerie and soothing, and captures an impressionistic image of an entire landscape. I have been putting it on before bed and first thing in the morning, waking with a yearning for its open-armed spirit, and hankering for its eiderdown chorus line to send me off each night.

In between times, I listened to these…

Astrid Øster Mortensen – Skærsgårdslyd
(Discreet Music)

Astrid Øster Mortensen’s Skærsgårdslyd is an album of music that pleasantly insinuates itself into the day-to-day. It has a presence in a room like a window left open, whereupon a breeze brings in a patchwork of untreated recordings, fiddle, organ, piano and guitar, and wisps of unfinished songs and needled motifs. I don’t care to hear any more organ music, especially not from Sweden, which seems to be the world centre for underground musicians and composers doing organ records, but I can put my bugbear to bed and permit it here, as it sits within such a quietly arresting collection of tracks, that come on like spells and dance away in flurries of bundled loops, footsteps on wooden floors, and jangling keys (both the ivory and the door opening kind).

The Frenzied Bricks – The Frenzied Bricks
Height/Dismay – Height/Dismay

(Efficient Space)

Two 7"s expanding on Oz Echoes, a compilation of Aussie underground DIY synth music from the 1980s. The Frenzied Bricks were school friends Chris Merchant and David McCarthy, conjuring some sort of goth pop/ post punk/ coldwave sound on a budget, with a drum machine, a good New Order-ish (emphasis on the ish) clanging bassline and some synths all with the tinny veneer of a proper bedroom production. Apparently they never played live, and those that knew about them thought they were just one person. This single was pulled from demos sent into a radio station where they sat unexamined for 40 years. Height/Dismay were Patrick Gibson and Dru Jones, and the three tracks include one called ‘The Tinning Test’ featuring a band member reading from the Australian Standard for tinned copper wire. 

Anadol – Felicita

I really don’t know what’s going on here, but that’s not a bad thing at all – the collection of sounds, styles and motifs doesn’t hang together as anything I can work out, even after repeated listens. There is a kosmiche engine behind the opening track, then it’s all change for some Twin Peaks-ish incidental music – like offcuts from the Audrey Horne motifs – which are then bleached into a sort of dinky coldwave piece, before some lyrical saxophone playing drifts onto the scene, which is in turn ousted by a collage of rippling synths and space sounds, glassy synth pop, and Anatolian psychedelia. This unlikely multi-genre trip is a bit of a head fuck, but its twists and turns are so unexpected I receive them as a rare and pleasing boldness.

OKI – Tonkori In The Moonlight
(Mais Um)

Ainu are a historically marginalised indigenous group from areas around the Sea of Okhotsk such as Hokkaido in Japan. During the 19th century, Ainu land was annexed by Japan, and they were effectively denied status as an indigenous group, subject to various prejudices meaning many were forcibly assimilated into wider Japanese society, losing their traditional culture and language along the way. OKI only discovered he was Ainu aged 18, as his mother had hidden his biological father’s identity from him. He was a big fan of reggae at the time, and so applied reggae’s Babylon promise to his own hidden Ainu heritage, and went looking for his roots in Hokkaido, eventually picking up the tonkori, an Ainu five stringed harp. This is a collection of his tracks pulled from the 90s and 00s, which includes the notable presence of Ainu musician Umeko Ando. This should-be-legendary singer and tonkori player, for me, has the same spirit as Elizabeth Cotten. Although obviously from a very different tradition, she has an instantly recognisable timbre and cadence to her singing style that marks her out a mile, with overlaid trilling ornamentations. OKI’s thing is not to make traditional Ainu music but to mix it with other elements, which often works but occasionally doesn’t. The uncomfortable jazz fusion of ‘Yaikatekara Dub’ has a snare and hi-hat shuffle I do not like, whereas ‘Afghan Herbal Garden’ has a cute bontempi-ish bounce, and the abrasive textures of throat singing complements the tonkori and traditional singing beautifully.

Debit – The Long Count
(Modern Love)

Debit is Delia Beatriz, and this is her debut album on Modern Love, and let me tell you, this is not what I expected to hear when Sonia at Boomkat emailed me about an album drawn from an archive of Mayan wind instruments. There is nothing traditional about this, nothing obvious about its use of Mayan source material. It sounds like nuclear winters; like sirens on the Labrador Coast waiting for the mail packet; like trains travelling lonely pine forests on the Russian steppes. The sounds used are tiny samples drawn from the archive of the Mayan Studies Institute at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, with which Debit has built a set of digital instruments that allows all the elasticity of staying in the box. She apparently used some sort of machine learning techniques, including manipulation of the tunings. The result is a really unique album (and I mean that as a compliment) populated by lonely scenes where wind instruments haunt one another and never coalesce into melody. Sonically, it’s a musique concrete record more than anything else, where the archive is the raw sound, and compositional concerns are more aligned with the obfuscating thickets of sound produced by Jean-Claude Éloy or Beatriz Ferreyra, than the more shrill metallic surfaces of other participants in that scene.

Various Artists – Classic Productions By Surin Phaksiri 2: Molam Gems from the 1960s-80s
(Em Records)

This is the second volume of molam bangers from Japanese label Em Records, collecting more tracks made by producer Surin Phaksiri between the 60s and the 80s. The distinctive sound of molam comes mostly from the khaen, a set of reed bamboo pipes in the form of a mouth organ. Multiple pipes are blown at once, and its sound – sometimes like a glorious multiphonic train horn coming down the tracks, at others like an electronic instrument – is what defines the brightness of molam tracks. Its puttering rhythms and brittle neon sound have an inbuilt loudness, and with the khaen, nothing else sounds like molam. My favourite track here is ‘Call Me Please’ sung by Lam Phloen.

Keiji Haino – My Lord Music, I Most Humbly Beg Your Indulgence In The Hope That You Will Do Me The Honour Of Permitting This Seed Called Keiji Haino To Be Planted Within You
(Black Editions)

I used to have a book of CDRs, containing stuff friends had ripped, burned and traded with me before the era of Discogs or a regular wage with which to buy obscure records. One of those CDs, and one which I still take on any long car journey, is Keiji Haino’s 1995 album The 21st Century Hard-y-Guide-y Man. So it is with joy I can report the return of the Hard-y Guide-y man on a full-length album. (He never really left – Haino has played the hurdy gurdy on and off since he got one.) My lord Music… was recorded in LA in 2019, and is on Haino’s relaunched Purple Trap imprint, on which he’s released a handful of things before, and is now under the wing of Black Editions. Haino’s playing here is fairly restrained, and the invocation of ‘My Lord Music’ in the lengthy title gives it the suggestion of sacred art. Much of it captures a mood of intense introspection or meditation, but as the resonances gather energy and focus, there is a kind of revelatory gurdy apogee.


Richard Pinhas’s Iceland has been reissued!

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