The extended tones of drone can undulate and loop or attack like disturbed bees; they can lull one to sleep or startle one awake. Both types of drone are represented in this year’s picks. Some familiar names are present, joined by a few newcomers. Whether hard-edged or soft, they caught our attention. A slew of early season releases made us feel that the genre would dominate the year, but the second half of the year was slow; only one of the recordings below stems from that time frame.
In recent years, the word “drone” has taken on negative connotations, from a droning voice to a military drone. But this is the good sort of drone, and we embrace it!
And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Drone Releases of 2014.
Black to Comm ~ Providence (Dekorder)
Part of Dekoder’s Hybrid Vinyl Series, Providence is a perfect example of how to do a long track right. This quarter-hour piece continues to develop throughout its length, passing through stages of fuzz, beat and cacophony on its way to a pulse-pounding finale. An album would follow later in the year, but this is the one that rocked our boxes in 2014. (Richard Allen)
cétieu ~ Ceiling Stories (BLWBCK)
Pale flowers. A walk in the park on a cold day. That’s the music of Poland’s cetieu, who crafts thoughtful, sensitive music. Recorded in January, Tekla Mrozowicka’s music is emotional and evocative of nature’s beauty. The cool air circles throughout. But “The Dreamers” and ‘Waiting for Somebody or Something” hint at an underlying struggle. Her eyes are open; she displays the quiet beauty of the world through music. If only we’d open our eyes to it, we’d see the beauty of every day. (James Catchpole)
Doron Sadja ~ Breath Heart Skin (Shinkoyo)
Doron Sadja’s “farewell to Brooklyn” is an elegant affair, a series of drones accompanied by a series of photographs that were taken from his apartment before his departure for Sweden. Tones rise and fall like stratocumulus clouds, often disappearing into wisps before gathering their strength for another surge. As Sadja enters a new phase of his life, he leaves a powerful legacy, and this coda is a perfect present to mark the transition. (Richard Allen)
Hiss Tracts ~ Shortwave Nights (Constellation)
The long-awaited collaboration between Montreal sound art heroes David Bryant (Godspeed, Set Fire To Flames) and Kevin Doria (Growing, Total Life) not only fails to disappoint, it overjoys. These are the bursts of ebullient noise one would expect from a Godspeed stripped from all symphonic rock-band trappings, with beautiful washes of damaged tape and rat-trap rusted guitar pouring through the walls like so much sunlight filtering through cracks, leaving only faded traces behind. (Zachary Corsa)
Kyle Bobby Dunn ~ Kyle Bobby Dunn & the Infinite Sadness (Students of Decay)
KBD’s odd pronouncements and tongue-in-cheek titles certainly get a lot of attention. Is he just taking the piss? Probably, but let’s not let that distract from the music itself. It can be easy to take Dunn’s music for granted with so many slow, long albums to dive into. . Produced solely with an electric guitar, volume pedal and looping station, Dunn’s compositions have become more complex with subtle rhythms lurking below the surface. Kyle Bobby Dunn & the Infinite Sadness is a milestone in his oeuvre. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Lawrence English ~ Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
Lawrence English’s welcome return this year has yielded various amazing works of art, one of which is Wilderness of Mirrors, a gem of an album that reminds me of why drone matters so much, of why it’s still one of the best ways to truly explore unknown musical territory. Paired, as it is, with a literary sensibility and a knack for subtle metaphors and references, Wilderness of Mirrors proves to be a complex, challenging work, one that will possibly remain with us for the coming years as a beacon of drone done right. (David Murrieta)
Lost Trail ~ Blacked Out Passages (Visceralmedia)
This was a really good year for drone music, and Lost Trail contributed its fair share with Blacked Out Passages. The album lays bare the beauty of the techniques the band uses, the sheer enjoyment of making something deeply interesting out of pieces thought of as refuse, as impossibly non-musical, so caught up in the world there’s just no point in listening: carefully, methodically, Lost Trail manipulates all those bits and bolts, often furthering their decay, revealing a blissful process of creation through erasure and re-composition, re-use and re-tuning. Sometimes, it’s just much more fulfilling to be lost, to forget, to think noisily and daydream about nothing at all. (David Murrieta)
Noveller & thisquietarmy ~ Reveries (Shelter Press)
Reveries presents a way of droning that is massive and fragile at the same time, that is impersonal and individual, and it does so by bringing in an element of improvisation that in the genre is often left to the ‘spontaneity’ of decisions in the studio. Both artists here function not as one but as a collective, a malleable, unstable performance of unity that is not afraid to leave its musical matter out in the open, its concrete forms made visible in the very dialogue they have crafted. What might seem mechanical at first is easily seen later as a labor of love, of the humanity at the core of massive soundscapes such as these. (David Murrieta)
Petrels ~ Mima (Denovali)
Hans Zimmer’s OST to Interstellar was a marvellously epic and oppressive work, but Oliver Barrett’s flagship release of the year would certainly not have felt out of place in its stead. Indeed, the first track’s title alone, “40 Year Mission to Titan Is Overtaken by the 40 Minute Mission to Titan”, could almost be considered a plot summary (don’t think too hard if you haven’t seen it yet). The undulating waves of drone may convey a barren astral landscape, but the passages of bleeping electronics comfort with their sense of (robotic) companionship. Cerebral in concept and captivating in execution, this is a science-fiction album that feels as vast and sprawling as the distances it conveys. Stellar stuff, sir. (Chris Redfearn)
Robert Curgenven ~ They tore the earth, and, like a scar, it swallowed them (Recorded Fields)
We seldom come across a drone release that is not only musically appealing, but important. They tore the earth, and, like a scar, it swallowed them is the rare exception. The music of this album and its predecessor, Sirène, weave together Australian Aborigine history, field recordings, and The Tempest in a manner that teaches and transports. The scars of history represent numerous abuses, and this remarkable work tills the earth to reveal forgotten truths. (Richard Allen)