ACL 2018 ~ Top Ten Drone

In terms of ACL submissions, drone took a back seat to ambient this year.  But when we did hear drone albums, we loved them.  As we reported a year ago, drone artists received a surge of inspiration after the Brexit/Trump votes and their music has become increasingly relevant. These artists struggle with the state of society, railing at politicians, seeking for hope in the morass.  They reflect earth’s turmoil through dense textures, yet allow a little light to come in.  They’ve been pushed to the brink, but haven’t yet given up on humanity.  Whether using their music as catharsis or their liner notes as inspiration, we can learn a lot from them; the darkest of music may yet lead to the brightest of days.  And now, without further ado, A Closer Listen presents the best drone albums of the year!

Giulio Aldinucci ~ Disappearing in a Mirror (Karlrecords)
Giulio Aldinucci’s Borders and Ruins was one of our favorite albums of 2017: a reflection of the border crises that served as a lament and call to action.  2018’s Disappearing in a Mirror expands the concept to that of identity.  Who are we when we assimilate?  Where is the border between birth identity and cultural identity?  When a nation compromises its founding principles, what does it become?  Once again, Aldinucci amplifies his subject matter, treating it with dignity and grace.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Siavash Amini ~ FORAS (Hallow Ground)
FORAS is not an easy album to get a handle on – we don’t know what it is, but we like it. The quartet of pieces fit together like movements of a symphony: each one has a different character but they coalesce into a work greater than the sum of its parts. Moving from passages of lush drones to blistering, almost metallic intensity, this is not a casual listen but it is deeply rewarding. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Ebauche ~ Mutable (Self-Released)
Mutable needs to be seen as much as it needs to be heard: the accompanying art turns the album into an artifact grounded upon the dissolution of the borders between things, transforming them in beautifully unexpected ways. Our perspective subjectively modifies that which we listen and look at, establishing a relationship in which we, too, become involved in the drones that are ever-changing. Strident, but also sometimes quiet, Mutable finds its path in the erasure of whatever divides one from the other, a strong sound being composed of several softer ones, a soft sound occupying the entirety of the mix by virtue of its droning presence. You’ll be the same afterwards, but also different. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Tim Hecker ~ Konoyo (Kranky)
The explosive Konoyo was recorded in a temple in Japan, connecting spiritual delicacy and lilting glissandos with a deep reverence for the location on which it was recorded. Like rising smoke, Konoyo ascended to higher levels, seguing seamlessly through a range of throne-tones which commanded equal amounts of respect and awe. The tightly controlled electronics were slightly reserved, distilled, but the quieter tones seeped into the listener’s skin. Instead of exploding like barrels of gasoline, the descending cries could’ve been the weeping for old traditions long since usurped, but they continue to hold much importance, culturally as well as spiritually. Konoyo was a temple unto itself.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Rafael Anton Irisarri ~ Midnight Colours (Geographic North)
Only a few months passed between Midnight Colours and 2017’s The Shameless Years, so it’s understandable this is equally politically-charged. Although here, the prolific Irisarri is not angry, he’s just disappointed as humanity continues to drive remorselessly towards armageddon, be it natural or nuclear. So it appears that swathes of atmospheric drone can break your heart after all. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Hannes Kretzer ~ Black Noise (Unperceived Records)
A photo in black and white can enhance its details and change the mood of its subject. What makes Black Noise so successful is its evolution from bright orchestral ambience to increasingly introspective, oceanic drone, as Kretzer changes filters and saturation to highlight less-pristine textures. The turning point is the set’s lengthiest track, whose enveloping layers submerge the light of before and carry us like helpless jetsam toward uncertainty. These are no depths of despair, but Kretzer and the distorted voices that flicker in and out of the final tracks appear to at least be asking, what now? (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Yann Novak ~ The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past (Touch)
One could wax philosophical on humankind’s propensity to ignore the lessons of history or its insatiable need for progress regardless of cost. Ultimately, Novak may just be encouraging us to be mindful of the now. These four glacial pieces certainly afford the space for such meditation. Synthesized drones are focused on the mid and high registers, while scratching and rumbling textural irregularities emerge as though from the primordial soup – nature’s music that is both fascinating and easy to ignore, unless you take a moment. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Sekar DMN ~ S/T (Ground Demons Org)
Sekar DMN transforms ceremonial instruments into blistering drum kits. Reimagining new purposes for Indonesian gamelan, this fusion of black metal with musique concrète transcends the culture’s traditions and myths. The first two tracks edit the gamelan into lively loops, a whooping and hollering crowd worked into a frenzy on “Keybar Deathcult 2018.” The third track, “I Tu Protoza, Mas,” smears the metallic instrument into a cloud of distortion. And the album closes with a field recording, emerging from an opaque trickle to a steady drone of falling water. Sekar DMN suggests that nothing is stable while sustaining suspense through the use of editing and extended techniques. By the end, we, too, are transformed from struck metal to running water, evaporating into air.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Various Artists ~ Anthology of Electroacoustic Lebanese Music (Unexplained Sounds Group)
Anthologies organized by country often seem to fall into the same trap. If they cater too much to the expectations of the listeners, they become a cliche, or worse, a caricature of the culture they are meant to represent. But without any cohesion uniting the various contributors, what justifies their being grouped together besides an arbitrary geographical coincidence? Unexplained Sounds walks this fine line beautifully with this collection of tracks from a dozen members of Beirut’s  experimental music scene. While not aiming to be exhaustive, this anthology nonetheless demonstrates an impressive breadth of styles and unique artistic voices that freely combine influences without apparent constraint. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Zenjungle ~ Fragmented Lives (Midira Records)
On the CD, the album is one long track; on the vinyl, it’s divided into two.  The first half is about hope, the second about despair ~ specifically the despair that settles in after hope has been crushed.  This reflection of current events in Greece will find resonance in listeners around the world, as the very act of creativity means the artist has taken a breath and pulled back from the brink.  A beautiful irony can be found in the fact that the vinyl is clear; everything else may be muddled, from world affairs to the density of these drones.  But we can still imagine clarity, and pray for its return.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review


  1. Ben

    What are we, six years in now? Continuously grateful for your consistent contributions throughout the years. I hardly miss TSB anymore, long live ACL!

  2. thanks a lot for including the Unexplained Sounds Group anthology of experimental Lebanese music. But more in general for the constant and coherent work you do every day. A special thanks to Richard!

  3. Pingback: 2018 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part IV – Avant Music News

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