While ambient music can be surprisingly loud, drone can be surprisingly soft; the genres dance around each other like yin and yang, never separating yet never quite reconciling. In each genre, the sharpest contrast makes the biggest impact.
Drone can be clean or dirty, terrifying or transcendent, with its only constant the elongated tone. Sometimes it seems to have been made in a factory or lab. The genre seeks to tame sounds we experience without focusing upon them ~ from a refrigerator hum to a power drill ~ and turns them into music.
And now A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Drone Albums of 2016!
Anders Brørby ~ Nihil (Gizeh)
This year, Gizeh Records kicked off its Dark Peak series with two releases and capped off the year with a third. This collectable series boasts evocative black-and-white photography along with black-and-grey sounds. But Nihil isn’t quite as bleak as it sounds; by the end, a little light bleeds through. The drones nearly drown the piano, but no winner is declared; after the last note fades, the struggle goes on. (Richard Allen)
Bjarni Gunnarsson ~ Paths (Granny)
What is a moment? While we live in a world in which the theory of relativity is a normal item of knowledge, most of us in the West still see time as a line, and we often equate process with progress. The full implications that relativity has on time are yet to hit the common sense, but there’s no need to go back to the classroom – musicians like Bjarni Gunnarsson can help us understand how sounds topologically link up moments, meaning more than just the present tense: Paths are simultaneously drawn between the past, present and future in an expansive way that does not follow a line (a melody), but many lines at once (a drone). This is experimental music at its best: it puts our very perception into question. (David Murrieta)
C. Diab ~ No Perfect Wave (Injazero)
Engineered by Ian William Craig (on our Top Ten Ambient list), No Perfect Wave introduces us to an evocative new artist who is already drawing comparisons to Richard Skelton. His patient compositions on cello-bowed guitar sing of the wide open spaces of the Canadian wilderness; they offer odes to an explorer’s lifestyle, suggesting that some undiscovered vistas may yet remain. (Richard Allen)
EUS ~ Luminar (Soft Recordings)
Luminar is an all-consuming beast from another cosmos; something that’s slipped in from another dimension. Electrified drones come to life and are full of power. The record becomes an obese, potent thing, its malignant clouds hungry for more and more, devouring everything at a greater rate than the Cookie Monster. Ethereal harmonies are slowly swamped; they’re barely heard over the yawning roar. The air fills with expectation: it’s music for a dark century. (James Catchpole)
Gaetan Gromer ~ Noise Level (Voxxov)
Gaetan Gromer’s Noise Level is studious and incredibly detailed; the notes are well defined, like inked letters stamped onto a white page. The phrases become sentences and new ideas are allowed to ascend over the mind’s grey area – its ‘noise level’. Fogged-out drones pass over like grey skies in mourning, and slower passages allow the music to breathe quietly. (James Catchpole)
Gianluca Favaron | Anacleto Vitolo ~ Zolfo (many feet under concrete)
The music gurgles, bubbles, fizzes and pops. To listen is to block out the organic world and to concentrate on the electrical. Are these the unheard sounds surging through our wires and homes? Could this be what our laptops are up to when we’re not paying attention? It’s exciting to think so. Favaron and Vitolo love intricacy, and Zolfo is a homage to sound. “Infrasound” sounds like pages being turned; this is a book we’d love to read. (Richard Allen)
Manuel Knapp ~ Azoth (Ventil)
Combine our year-end lists, and we have over a hundred albums. This one is the loudest. (Yes, even louder than Noise Level above.) Azoth is also known as Mercury, the “source of all metals”, and much of Azoth sounds like a metallurgist’s forge in an alchemist’s lab. The album is harsh, abrasive and dynamic, overflowing with feedback and teeming with life. Imagine a thousand simultaneous attacks of tinnitus, canceling each other out until all that remains is tone, sweet tone. (Richard Allen)
Nadja ~ Sv (Essence Music)
Nadja’s Sv is a powerful comeback into the land of drones, a masterfully layered soundscape in which to get lost. Losing the way, however, means exposing oneself to danger as much as it means exposing everything else as well – like a stone that provokes the collapse of a mountain, any organism is liable to forge modernity’s path as a fundamental crack in the ground of an environment. As the formation of geological features like volcanos has taught us, that crack releases an enormous amount of energy, like the drilling relentlessness of this album; let it pummel your skull, and let what pours out irradiate everything around you with intensity. (David Murrieta)
Paul Jebanasam ~ Continuum (Subtext)
We knew that Jebanasam was something special back in 2011, when he recorded Music for the Church of St. John the Baptist. But that early work gave no indication of the trajectory he would take, which has led him from the minimal to the hyper-maximal, from religion to science, from a single church to the entire cosmos. The grooves of this record are barely big enough to contain the sounds. Forget putting a dime on the cartridge; you may need a silver dollar. (Richard Allen)
Saåad ~ Verdaillon (In Paradisum)
Verdaillon is centered around the organ in the Church of Notre-Dame de la Dalbade, although it may take many listeners a while to even discern the instrument. Played with the sort of respectful restraint appropriate for a house of religion, the organ offers thick, atmospheric tones in mimicry of absent chanting acolytes. The spectral emptiness of the first half gradually fills in the second, as sounds of life creep in to walk among the empty pews, and it culminates in an astonishing finale – the strident chords of “Vorde” suggesting an awakening, spiritual or otherwise. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)