ACL 2019 ~ Top Ten Drone

Drone music doesn’t need to be scary; there’s nothing inherently frightening about elongated tones.  Yet the drone genre does seem predisposed toward darkness.  Just look at the cover art for Black to Comm; or the compositional corpses found in the BABEL hardback shown to the left.  Disembodied voices, sudden crashes and poetic musings all find a place in this year’s list, along with the more traditional organ and in one case, field recordings. Perhaps this turn to the dark side is partially due to the use of those other drones, whose high-pitched buzz can be a call to terror.  But drone music can also tell stories, as one encounters in the music of Richard Skelton.  “If walls could talk,” he seems to say; and then they do.  And now, A Closer Listen presents the best drone recordings of 2019!

BABEL ~ Thirteen Exquisite Corpses (Arachnidiscs)
This release put an end to the Arachnidiscs label after twenty years. It also stands as a milestone by its own merits. Layering synth with traditional instrumentation, the two-disc collaboration testifies to the power of artistic mind-melds. Willing the souls of animals into the beyond, this album speaks to the mystical powers of sound.  (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review and Interview

Black to Comm ~ Seven Horses for Seven Kings (Thrill Jockey)
As the song titles make clear, this is an album glutted on the mythologies of the past. These source narratives may get stirred into one bleak, phantasmagorical melting pot. But huge variety remains: from metallic drones, to string, brass, and piano; from lush synth to pounding percussion; from an underworld river to angelic ascension. Across this multitude of textures and directions, the quality of Black to Comm’s artistic vision is consistently high.  (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review

Black to Comm ~ Before After (Thrill Jockey)
Seven Horses for Seven Kings got the attention (which was well-deserved); but six months later, Marc Richter released a follow-up EP whose quality pales only in comparison to its parent.  Before After is a series of reimaginings, created during the Seven Horses sessions and occasionally sharing some of the same source material.  Folk tunes find new settings, unmoored from their origins; frightening rustles escape from the walls.  Having both recordings enhances the appreciation of each.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Clarice Jensen ~ Drone Studies (Geographic North)
The movements that make up Drone Studies provoke a certain sense of listening to an essay as it develops. Questions and issues are introduced, then explored, progressively containing the seeds of coming inquiries. Certain matters fall away in importance, others are highlighted, but there is always a base from which the sounds emerge. Brightness and harshness coincide, soothing and uncomfortable tones follow each other in intimate play, creating themes and topics, asserting this album’s place among the year’s most interesting. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Michael Bonaventure ~ In Tenebris Ratione Organi (Eighth Tower Records)
Whenever you visit a cathedral city, check for organ recitals and drag your loved ones unwillingly along. Whether atheist or devout, intense vibrations filling a sacred space can approach a transcendental experience. Recordings of the organ often fall flat by comparison; but this album by Michael Bonaventure succeeds in capturing the sublime power of the instrument. Moreover, it blends elements of traditional church music with cacophonous, psychedelic drone.  (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review

9T Antiope & Siavash Amini ~ Harmistice (Hallow Ground)
9T Antiope released three albums this year, each of them so different that one might think they came from a different duo.  And yet, their flexibility turned out to be a bonus in a saturated market.  When people expect you to speak, howl; when they expect you to soothe, unnerve.  Feedback, abrasion and anger all have their place here, on an album that screams about connection in an environment that demands volume before recognition.  By collaborating with Siavash Amini, they’ve opened up their sound to an even wider variety of timbres and emotions.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Richard Skelton ~ Border Ballads (Aeolian Editions)
It’s tempting to tie an album titled Border Ballads into the ongoing B**xit shambles, but given Richard Skelton’s current location, inspiration may stem from much closer to home, looking ahead to another potentially shattering referendum for the UK. There is a distinct possibility that the currently nebulous border between England and Scotland will become more politically defined in the next few years, and the sparsely populated land on either side – and the rivers that run through – will suddenly be the focus of a lot more interest. Skelton’s work has always been of and in the landscape, of course, and Border Ballads is no different in that sense; his signature mournful long-bowed strings hover around as, here and there, a piano picks out what could be a variation of a folk tune. There is a subtle change in style, though; with more definition to the minimal arrangements, each instrument ebbing and flowing in the mix. The pieces are more concise too; even then, shot through with melancholia, the overall effect is overwhelming. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Several Wives ~ Göldi fell (Gizeh)
You only glanced at the cursed painting for a moment, but now you’re trapped inside it. Several Wives make a field recording of your bemused attempts to escape. Bowed strings echo down the corridor from a hidden chamber, rising in intensity as the ritual proceeds. This is a beautifully haunting album, with an organic, droning atmosphere and no cheap jump scares.  (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review

Simon Scott ~ Soundings (Touch)
In Western cultures, people who are calm can get a bad name: if they’re one step away from serene one moment, some reason, they may be two steps from erupting the next. Soundings, Slowdive drummer Simon Scott’s debut studio album for Touch, has a monk-like pulse with no signs of snapping. Gone is the drum kit and 4/4 beats of his mainstay band. Instead, Simon’s electro-acoustic suite mulches field recordings from his global travels alongside dustings of live strings and modular synths. It all lingers calmly in a jetlag haze—a traveler’s sleepy wonderment.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Sunn O))) ~ Life Metal (Ideologic Organ)
Life Metal is over an hour of fully immersive drone metal, designed to be played loud (seriously, don’t rely on computer speakers for this one), with the overall effect leaving the listener in a transcendental, meditative state, feeling unexpectedly optimistic. It’s an album drenched in heavy, slow riffs but it is not oppressive, the twin guitars of Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley having a hitherto hidden lightness of being about them. The duo chooses their collaborators wisely as well, from the AAA engineering of Steve Albini to the timely presence of Hildur Go∂nadóttir on voice and cello. The cover is indication enough – this is a Sunn O))) record that lets a little light, a little colour – yes, even a little life – into its grooves. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2019 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part VI – Avant Music News

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