2017 was a pivotal year for the drone genre, formerly considered the least political of all genres. Yet as the noise of the world increased, so did the interest of artists in using drone and noise as commentary. By creating tonal contrast, these artists opened sonic windows that served as metaphors for political and societal dialogue. Whether addressing immigration, hate speech or the proliferation of “post-truth”, these artists harnessed their own fear and hope into something meaningful. How amazing to hear that distortion can be used to bring thoughts into focus: a testimony to the talent of these composers.
And now, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Drone Albums of 2017!
Aquarelle ~ Leave Corners (Debacle)
Is a drone that pauses still a drone? Leave Corners gently tugs at our attention for its first minutes, withdrawing several times so as not to unduly disturb. Of course this is drone – ‘Music is the space between the notes,’ Debussy once said – and the pauses allow our minds to refocus. Ryan Potts aka Aquarelle proceeds to fill out the sound with fragile acoustic and electric guitars, sonorous cello, and fuzzy electronics. With a Biblical backstory conveying a call to alms, this is a warming wintry comfort for the festive season. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)
bvdub ~ Heartless (n5MD)
The title is cold, but the music is warm; the world can seem heartless, but Brock Van Wey insists on being positive. Layers of sound drift slowly down to land softly on each other. We wish conversation could be like this. The album may have been conceived as a therapeutic exercise, but by the end it becomes a message: a clear path still exists through the woods. (Richard Allen)
Constantine ~ Hades (Bedouin Records)
Mythology is not a set of tales or, like the Enlightenment would have us believe, a collection of lies about a world not yet illuminated by rationality. It is a heavily metaphorical way of understanding and of seeing, it is a conceptualization in which Hades is not only the Greek underworld but also the infernal passageway of the Mediterranean that is currently the protagonist of one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent years. Through drones, field recordings, and dark ambient sounds, Constantine emotively evokes the intensity of this cursed journey across worlds, the cavernous oppression of the voids that reach all the way to the very core of the Earth. (David Murrieta)
Giulio Aldinucci ~ Borders and Ruins (Karlrecords)
The title says it all. As nations close borders, they close opportunities: opportunities of freedom and safety for those outside, opportunities of diversity and cultural richness inside. There’s nothing to be won by giving in to xenophobia. Using portions of sound collected during his own travels, Aldinucci records a requiem for a lost time of global community; we are no longer the world. (Richard Allen)
The Inward Circles ~ And Right Lines Limit and Close All Bodies (Corbel Stone Press)
It’s clear Richard Skelton hasn’t quite shaken off his sojourn in Cumbria as that provides at least part of the inspiration for And Right Lines Limit…. Two of the tracks here are shared with his Scaleby project based on the 1845 discovery of an ‘ancient Briton’ buried in the Cumbrian settlement. The remainder is equally evocative of a timeless place; one of forbidding landscapes, barren of life, the deep drones hinting at ancients acts of violence. The Inward Circles continues the sinister and desolate themes of the previous albums; this is Skelton at his mysterious best. (Jeremy Bye)
Lawrence English ~ Cruel Optimism (Room40)
The Cruel Optimism musicalized by this album is dense, brash, multi-layered and perhaps most importantly, cooperatively built. English slid collaborations into his usually massive sounds, introducing uniquely interesting passages into the thickness of drones, the dark torrent of clouds of the cover underpinned by the distant shine of sunrays. It might not be about an optimism as self-inflicted harm; it might want to field the torrent as a weapon, its cruelty a consciousness of the grand desires that shine around it and the willingness to fight for their realization, for the unifying potency of the idea of a better, more just, more equal world for everyone. (David Murrieta)
Nickolas Mohanna ~ Chroma (Karlrecords)
Nickolas Mohanna conceives drone music mother warned about: nocturnal emissions from a malfunctioning dream machine. Timbres creep and thrash, colors bleed, and melodies collide from distant homelands. Layering woozy vocals alongside keyboards and urban found sounds, Chroma merges asymmetric structures swarming with humid mass. And yet we dive into the bubbling vat—gladly—because when it’s over, silence never feels the same. (Todd B. Gruel)
Rafael Anton Irisarri ~ The Shameless Years (Umor Rex)
2017 saw our politicians continue the shameless propagation of false narratives and fake news that reached mainstream politics in 2016. U.S. sound artist Rafael Anton Irisarri’s reaction was timely – The Shameless Years propels waves of intoxicating fuzz that spread like political obfuscation. Cleaner ostinatos occasionally breach the surface to impart songs that could be requiems to truth. But, by its close, Iranian Siavash Amini has joined to imbue a more sanguine spirit, the two men – so divided in the eyes of many – uniting on a calmer ode to seeing beyond one’s religion. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)
Siavash Amini ~ TAR (Hallow Ground)
In the midst of ongoing political and military strife, Iran has managed to maintain a vibrant musical scene. One of Tehran’s treasures is Siavash Amini, who uses traditional instrumentation to augment his electronic textures. TAR may be thick and immersive, but the violin rises above the din like a voice of reason. This is the sound of fog and foghorn; which will you follow? (Richard Allen)
Yann Novak ~ Surroundings (LINE)
Yann Novak’s Surroundings was commissioned for the Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young fine arts museum in San Francisco. It became the very atmosphere of the place, as well as ushering out the sound of the city and the local park. Its ambient citizenship looked down at the loud, blaring city with a hushed disposition, watching the daily grind from on high. Higher altitudes gave the music first a sense of peace and then of distance. Spaciousness was born out of that parental bond. Surroundings was both a part of the city and the heart of the city, both a lonesome onlooker and a crucial participant…away from things and yet closer than you think. (James Catchpole)
Once again, a fantastic selection of 2017 finest in this genre. Thanks to A Closer Listen team for your terrific work since so many years!
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