ACL 2015: Top Ten Drone

Memorious EarthExtended tones form the basis of Drone, a category that can be as soft as a refrigerator hum or as loud as the military plane that adopted its name.  But there’s so much more to the genre than simple extension.  Texture, abrasion and dynamic contrast all have their places, and the resulting spectrum of sounds between releases can be astounding.

Drone works tend to be released in the darker months; this is the second summer we’ve been nearly drone-free.  We forget that we miss them, and just as we remember, they return.  This is the time for renewed immersion.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Drone Releases of 2015.

*AR ~ Memorious Earth (Corbel Stone Press)
This book, film and music project is hard to resist, and it’s no surprise that it ends up on a year-end chart.  The attention to detail is astounding, even for Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson.  Corbel Stone Press label continues to be a trustworthy imprint, and this is one of its finest releases.  The poems pay tribute to long-lost words; the music descends like a slow-rolling fog.  Memory may fade, but sturdy records can resurrect the distant past.  (Richard Allen)

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AUN ~ Fiat Lux (Cyclic Law)
Let there be light, the title of the album says, its cover seemingly depicting an enormous storm that flows in a spiral. Its sounds however, are constantly underlined by low-end drones, an erosion that drains away any and all explosive loudness, like watching a disaster happen very far away. The irruption of a rhythm makes it all the more incisive: there is a hearbeat in the core of this hurricane cycle of creation and destruction, the remains holding out against the skyline as the ruins of the new. (David Murrieta)

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Charlemagne Palestine ~ Ssingggg Sschlllingg Sshpppingg (Idiosyncratics)
Charlemagne Palestine is no stranger to fans of minimalism and drone, producing dense and hypnotic music since the early 1970s. After so many decade of making music his new work is still enthralling and surprising. In addition to his characteristic drones, more maximalist than minimalist, here Palestine conjured a dense sound world, adding field recordings of chirping birds, aggressive speeches buried in reverb, and a the slow marching beat of a snare drum that appears and disappears steadily as the work progresses. The album art intensifies Palestine’s ritual use of stuffed animals to almost comic degrees. But Palestine has always attempted to produce Total Works of Art, and the music alone is but one aspect of how his work creates a space of communion.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Forest Management ~ Encounter
Encounter condenses soft and yet determined emotions and buries them among the leaves. Like love-struck declarations, unforgettable drones are carved into the music. Active in the sense that it’s always evolving, and serene in the way that it slowly develops, Forest Management’s music is a beautiful getaway that goes deeper than most. (James Catchpole)

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Gonçalo F Cardoso & Ruben Pater ~ A Study into 21st Century Drone Acoustics (Discrepant)
Drones, yes, real drones.  These are the ones that descend from the sky, wreaking havoc on native populations and making even the rich squirm at the sound of rotors.  This work might have landed in our Field Recording and Soundscape category, but we couldn’t resist the association between one type of drone and another, especially as this set sounds so downright dangerous.  (Richard Allen)

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Jefre Cantu-Ledesma ~ A Year With 13 Moons (Mexican Summer)
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has worn many hats over the years–Root Strata label founder, Tarantel member, Grouper and Arp collaborator, and solo artist with almost two decades of releases behind him–yet he still manages to surprise with his latest solo record. A bittersweet ode to the end of a relationship, Cantu-Ledesma gestures towards song-like structures (even including drums and shoegaze guitars) while maintaining just enough abstraction and noise to keep things interesting, like Cocteau Twins collaborating with Xenakis. Taking its name from a Fassbinder film, it is predictably cinematic in scope, dense and process-driven without feeling overwrought. A gorgeous, sprawling masterpiece. (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Merzbow ~ Konchuuki (Essence Music)
Konchuuki is the loudest, harshest, most uncompromising album on this year’s list; it contains what may be the noisiest music we’ve reviewed all year.  Listening is like being caught in a wind tunnel with a horde of locusts.  Yet there is great beauty and awesome power in these static-charged rumblings.  At times, even a robotic beat manages to break out.  A quarter century into his discography, Merzbow is still going strong, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Essence Music’s packaging is of special note: the three-dimensional special edition is a marvel, and even the regular edition contains a pop-up butterfly.  (Richard Allen)

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Ricardo Donoso ~ Saravá Exu (Denovali)
One of the most conceptually heavy and masterfully developed records of the year, Saravá Exu incorporates drone, experimental, glitch and tribal-esque percussion to chart a period of self-imposed exile for Donoso. As he descends deeper into his personal hell, the fragmented, unsettling elements gradually coalesce into a thunderous finale – and the possibility of epiphany. (Chris Redfearn)

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Rutger Zuydervelt ~ Sneeuwstorm (Glistening Examples)
Sneeuwstorm (also chosen for our Best Winter Music feature) is a single half-hour piece that sounds exactly like its title.  The surprise is that the music is comprised of squalling saxophones.  By manipulating the sounds of brass, Zuydervelt creates a saxophone snowstorm: finally a tempest that doesn’t make one want to seek shelter.  (Richard Allen)

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Tim Catlin & Machinefabriek ~ Whorls (Low Point)
This makes two drone inclusions in a row for Rutger Zuydervelt, whose third collaboration with Tim Catlin offers far more dynamic contrast than their earlier work.  Together, the two operate as yin and yang.  Whorls is packed with variety, morphing from one track to the next, and often within tracks as well.  It’s the sound of two artists who have come to understand, appreciate and ultimately compliment each other’s contributions.  (Richard Allen)

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