The drone category might be defined as the extended notes that draw our interest and spark our imagination. These drones range from the quiet and soothing to the loud and abrasive; at times they are musical, at other times random. And yet, as they wash over us, we may find ourselves transported, aided by the time distortion that often accompanies their duration. Those who don’t like drone music complain that it goes on and on; we wish it would never end.
Radere is our artist of the year in this category, making the list with one collaboration while seeing votes for another (Sun Hammer & Radere’s Lotophagen), as well as for a solo release (I’ll Make You Quiet). Whether solo or in collaboration, Carl Ritger never fails to impress.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen’s Top Ten Drone Releases of 2012.
EUS ~ Los Otros (self-released)
Costa Rica’s Jose Acuña greatly impressed us with this spooky, clanky, dust cloud of an album. But we weren’t the only ones. Hot on the heels of this devastating release there arrived a remix album, hosted by a number of luminaries who added beats and whorls and often mutated the original tracks beyond recognition. The combination of these offerings pushed the project over the top. (Richard Allen)
Fires Were Shot ~ Maritime (self-released)
Fires Were Shot took seven years off before last year’s triumphant return. Sound familiar? The difference between this band and that other, well-known band is that this one is known more for evenings with growing families than for politics and bombast. There’s a place for both, of course; and the place for this single longform piece is in our hearts and on our iPods. (Richard Allen)
Hakobune ~ All the Other Hearts I Knew (Rural Colours)
All The Other Hearts I Knew is a gentle swirl of powdery, introverted ambience that rises from Cupid’s bow. Hakobune’s music is the kind that cuddles the heart, when it is all too often played with, taken advantage of and crushed, until we look down upon a broken heart. A deep, tranquil trip, the music reassures us that love is still possible. The affectionate notes are smothered underneath pink clouds of lost love, and haunted in an echo that still calls your name. Your red-scented powder of perfume hangs in the atmosphere. Letting go is hard; the arrow struck so deeply that your name can’t be forgotten. (James Catchpole)
High aura’d ~ Sanguine Futures (Bathetic)
At first all is slow, thick and claustrophobic, but as time wears on, shapes appear in the fog while light begins to break through the cloud. The album never quite topples into sunlight, but it provides enough hope to go on, a reasonable solace in the face of unrelenting circumstance. Will our futures be sanguine? The answer remains with us. (Richard Allen)
Kyle Bobby Dunn ~ Bring Me the Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn (Low Point)
It’s strangely alluring how we listeners appropriate the work of musicians: it’s the ultimate gift, a concert of shadows born from intimacy now held in the ‘eye of the beholder’. It is a symbolic death, a giving up of oneself to the unknown, a way in which we are able to demand, along with the album, the artist’s head. Dunn’s work has always been a very personal matter, an introvert’s smile, and yet one of its strongest features is that it easily touches upon the worlds of others, like a reflection on humanity that goes beyond the act of simply listening – we touch slightly, and we revel in each other’s memories, giving ourselves up, dying and demanding life. Drone music is deeper by the day thanks to artists like Dunn, and this great album is perhaps one of those turning points that will be remembered as part of a time when things seemed to be changing, when one cycle was over and another one begun. (David Murrieta)
offthesky + Radere ~ I Will Love You, Always (Full Spectrum)
Collaboration was a recurrent theme this year, and is fairly ubiquitous when it comes to experimental music in general. Sometimes the results can be a mixed bag, but in the case of this mighty cross-continental pairing between Philadelphia’s Radere and Denver’s offthesky, it yields one of the year’s best (and most haunting) ethereal ambient releases. (Zachary Corsa)
Sujo ~ Kahane (Fedora Corpse Recordings)
No matter how many Sujo recordings I hear, the word I keep returning to is majestic. These are large, thronelike drones, built on structures of old forest and brass. Ryan Huber has a way with sound, or perhaps he has his way with sound; these structures may churn and burn, but at the end they always seem to soar; beauty survives in this maelstrom. (Richard Allen)
Tonesucker ~ Omnia Convivia Crastina (Onoma)
The title of Garret Keizer’s last book defines noise as “the unwanted sound of everything we want”. Toss all the colors of the spectrum together, and one gets white; toss all the sounds together, and one gets Tonesucker. The band’s latest album is a group expression of controlled bombast, one that often sounds like a hardware store being tipped into a cement mixer. But as long as the listener controls the volume, noise is not noise; this album is a secret weapon, ready to obliterate every unwanted sound in its path. (Richard Allen)
Vincent Malassis ~ passages (Drone Sweet Drone)
Hats off to newcomers Drone Sweet Drone, who impressed us this year with a selection of small surprises. This was one of them. passages is a creatively complex disc that melds the long tones of drone to the extended strings of modern composition. This combination turns out to be instinctive, like peanut butter and jelly, hand in glove, sun and moon; now we can’t imagine one without the other. (Richard Allen)
Zbeen ~ K-frame (Ripples)
Separately, Ennio Mazzon and Gianluca Favaron have made names for themselves in the drone and field recording genres. On this release, they pool their efforts in a beguiling fashion. K-frame sounds like a laboratory filled with gurgling test tubes and pinging machines. One is never quite sure if their experiment is sinister or benign, only that it seems to be in its final stages, with the big reveal only a sonic second away. (Richard Allen)