In a classroom, a drone is a nuisance, but in music, it’s an attraction. These artists know that drone is more than sustained sound; it’s texture, movement and tone. Songs hum like appliances, grind like motors & clank like factories. Reflecting the title of Daniel Menche’s honored work, drone is a marriage of metals. This list includes some of the loudest music of the year, but also some of the softest; the beauty lies in the contrast.
If there’s one constant on this list, it’s that these ten recordings don’t sound like each other. None would mistake Menche for Pausal, or EUS for Main. A wide variety of approaches leads to a wealth of sound. The field may still be in flux, but the quality is clearly on the rise: encouraging news for fans old and new.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Drone Releases of 2013.
Aquarelle ~ August Undone (Students of Decay)
August Undone will likely endure the test of time, perhaps not in the spectacular, mainstream sense, but as a departure from its peers that somehow remains closely related. It represents everything that is great about drone music, done right. The volume is massive, the sound is thick and noisy, yet a deeply emotional element thrusts the listener right into the middle of yellow falling leaves, their crunching against the ground eliciting many a vivid memory of being undone, of the flow of seasons in every withheld sigh, every melancholy look at a clock that seems to say “I know”. Albums like this are few, and like a gift, it will remain embedded in our treasure troves of memory. (David Murrieta)
Daniel Menche ~ Marriage of Metals (Editions MEGO)
With Marriage of Metals, Daniel Menche continues to show how immensely interesting his work is, particularly as it represents some of the keenest concerns of contemporary music. The album provokes a long (alchemical) meditation on music technology. The gamelan is united with the computer, creating a platform from which to think about communication, community (since both a gamelan and a computer can be conceived of in terms of systems, of paths to order), and the production of mingled sounds. Marriage of Metals explores the interaction of digital and analogue, traditional and modern, East and West, noise and music, as an analogical procedure. A completely new, albeit uncannily familiar, type of sound emerges. This album has so much to say, so many veins to adventurously roam into; it’s, an idea impeccably performed. (David Murrieta)
Ennio Mazzon ~ Xuan (Nephogram)
The idea of recording a single 42-minute track and releasing it as an album is daunting; some would call it foolish. Ennio Mazzon silences all potential skeptics with Xuan, an electronic exploration of scrapes and whispers, silence and noise. Certain melodies are accidental here, others intentional. Even the sub-tones have sub-tones. The album is a Where’s Waldo of sound; with so many hidden textures, repeated plays are a necessity. (Richard Allen)
EUS ~ Sol Levit (Contradicta)
This is the second year on the list for Jose Acuña, who also scored with 2012’s Los Otros. The new album is also related to another album on our list, as Petrels’ Oliver Barrett contributes cello to the recording. But its beauty lies in the reframing of the past, as Acuña incorporates evocative samples from his great-grandfather’s recordings. We are remembered best when we are remembered with love, and Sol Levit provides multiple generations with a new legacy. (Richard Allen)
Main ~ Ablation (Editions MEGO)
At 48, Robert Hampson is one of the oldest artists to make our year-end list, but if anything, age and experience have brought him wisdom and grace. His latest work resurrects Main as a duo (welcome back, Stephan Mathieu!) and as a result, the new work is filled with a sense of sonic surprise. While other artists are content to revisit old themes, Hampson and Mathieu are anxious to experiment with new sounds, and every step they make here is surefooted. Our hope is that this collaboration will continue in 2014. (Richard Allen)
Pausal ~ Sky Margin (Own Records)
Heavenly-bright, Sky Margin glows warmly with its own phosphorescent aura. The pure dronescapes glisten like ambient gems, trailing through the high sky. Pausal’s seemingly stratospheric rise is an indication of the duo’s quality – their music is sensational. Sky Margin rests peacefully, at the top of their ambient ascent. (James Catchpole)
Petrels ~ Onkalo (Denovali)
Topping Haeligewielle was always going to be a difficult proposition, but Oliver Barrett sidesteps the issue with Onkalo, a different sort of album that delivers more in terms of sound and less in terms of story. Sure, the album includes references to nuclear waste and balloon launches, but the main story is the boldness of the artist, who goes for broke with a 20-minute track late and succeeds. We’d give the album points on ambition alone, but Onkalo also happens to be powerful and expansive: a pair of factors that launch it into the stratosphere like hot air blown into cloth. (Richard Allen)
Secret Pyramid ~ Movements of Night (Students of Decay)
Secret Pyramid is the alias of Vancouver musician Amir Abbey. Movements of Night is full of sunken ambient tones, emitting a dull aura in the face of a fading civilization and a crumbling harmony, The vast seas of drone flow with the surging momentum of change, leaving deep chasms in their wake. The fathoms imprint blurry hieroglyphics upon the music, which is gritted by light distortion and swathes of reverb. The drones loose themselves on the world with ferocious intensity, touching upon something that is as mystical as the ancient pyramids, left behind so long ago. (James Catchpole)
Shoganai ~ ショウガナイ (Self-released)
We love the dark stuff: experimental drone filled with crunchy distortion and off-kilter tones. Bas van Huizen’s under-the-radar project is slowly finding its way to the surface like a coelacanth adjusting to the light. This smoldering set is evidence that the artist thrives best when he pushes the boundaries. Neither safe nor staid (nor pronounceable), ショウガナイ nonetheless adds a light touch of humor, winking at listeners via the inclusion of a smile icon. (Richard Allen)
Svarte Greiner ~ Black Tie (Miasmah)
Miasmah has a very special place in my heart. The label has come to exemplify the true essence of experimental music, and no one knows how to bring that sound into focus better than curator and owner Erik K Skodvin. Over forty minutes spread along two side length tracks, Black Tie manages to subtly yet purposefully enthral and encapsulate its audience in a strange confine that offers as much space for thought as it does encage them in a state of relentless claustrophobia. Black Tie is masterfully recorded and laid out and the flow throughout is second to none. (Mohammed Ashraf)