ACL 2020 ~ Top Ten Drone

Fewer drone releases came in this year than ever before.  The world was so dark, it seemed that even recording artists weren’t in the mood to record dark music.  But by the end of the year, we began to notice something extraordinary; drone artists were turning their attention to reflections, elegies, and warnings, while cracking windows open for hope.  One artist chronicled the rise and fall and tentative recovery of the Aral Sea.  Another produced a multi-media project about climate change.  A duo introduced Eastern nuance to Western despair, while a label devoted weeks to studies of isolation and quarantine.  On the surface, the music seemed dark, but beneath these shadows flowed currents of light.  And now, A Closer Listen presents The Top Ten Drone Releases of 2020!

Constantine Skourlis ~ Eternal Recurrence (Bedouin Records)
On this immersive follow-up to Hades, Constantine Skourlis tackles the polarization of society, the disintegration of truth-telling and the climate of denial: heady subjects that deserve the dramatic treatment.  Without voice (save for a wordless soprano), the set carries the weight of the world on its shoulders, a sonic Atlas.  The combination of organic and electronic instrumentation lends the production a regal quality, like the changing of kings.  We reviewed it just before the U.S. election, and things seem a bit brighter now; we can only hope.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Galya Bisengalieva ~ Aralkum (NOMAD Music/One Little Independent)
It is a testament to Bisengalieva’s work and talent that her debut is such a powerful musical statement. This is a recording not only about the human-made environmental disaster of the Aralkum desert, it is also a recording of the place itself. The composer played with field recordings in the making of this music, and she uses the violin (usually a voice of humane expression) as a tool of uniformity. The result is stark – a hopeful elegy in which the monotony of the desert contains a multiplicity of both lost and newfound lives. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Giulio Aldinucci ~ Shards of Distant Times (Karlrecords)
Early recording technologies were marketed as means to produce sonic family portraits, yet the practice never really caught on. There’s something too unsettling about hearing the voices of the dead, especially when they’re disconnected from a moving image. Artists, however, have made productive use of this haunted feeling, one which has been compounded by time as a recording medium itself ages. Now, we are so inundated with sounds that we perceive voices even where there are none. Shards of Distant Times evokes this confused state of perception, confounding the listeners sense of time in a way that is all too appropriate for the temporal distortions so many are experiencing in 2020. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Jeremy Bible ~ Human Savagery/Broken Ecologies (Self-Released)
Over the course of the year, I’d become so accustomed to hearing the music while watching the images that I neglected to note how dramatic this music is on its own.  Human Savagery (and its companion piece, Broken Ecologies) are powerful, immersive, multi-media statements, years in the making.  The hard work has paid off.  We are left with a testament to the world’s beauty, as well as to the threats posed by industry and greed.  This stunning collection is in turns soothing and shocking; don’t be lulled or that third track will knock you off your seat!  (Richard Allen)

Original Review ~ Human Savagery

Original Review ~ Broken Ecologies

Phill Niblock ~ Music for Organ (Matière Mémoire)
When we consider minimalism, we think repetitious melodic phrases, cyclical rhythms, or ethereally shifting drones. Compared to these hallmarks, Phill Niblock’s music is even more minimal than minimalism. Over the decades, Niblock has employed numerous instruments in building dense thickets of sound. They seem as monolithic as the block of colour in Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, until we attune ourselves to the continual interplay of microtonal layers. With its liturgical timbre, Music for Organ is a slight departure in an exciting direction; but it’s also a beguiling (re)introduction to Niblock’s style. (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review

Richard Skelton ~ These Charms May Be Sung Over a Wound (Phantom Limb)
The delicately placed dead wood on the cover of These Charms May Be Sung Over a Wound indicates a slight manipulation of nature, a desire to find patterns in the dying earth. Richard Skelton was previously engrossed in a kind of organic ambience that explored the residual tones of acoustic instruments. Now he spirals into self-awareness, documenting the electronic tools that once recorded “authentic” sounds. Technology tries to tame that which is real, but it eventually becomes more integral than what it sought out to understand. The sonic shell of the natural world is heard in swelling synthesizers trying their best to remember what it felt like to pluck a string. The original now only exists in fragmented half-lives.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Roly Porter ~ Kistvaen (Subtext)
Kistvaen is the continuation of Porter’s exploration of deep times, in which the ultra-futuristic is also an aesthetic flip of ancient aeons. The album’s title refers to burial chambers in Wales that go back 4000 years – a time far enough into the past so as to be practically alien to us. The main difference with Porter’s past few releases is the introduction of voices, a surprisingly suitable accompaniment to deep drones that suggest not the stars but the earth’s core. The voices’ gravity comes from a vastness within, an infinity only matched by distant glows in the skies. Only an artist of Porter’s caliber can produce such wonders. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Sontag Shogun and Stijn Hüwels ~ The Floating World and the Sorrowful World (Thesis)
Here are two remarkable pieces improvised by the North American trio of Sontag Shogun and guitarist Stijn Huwels, captured at the latter’s home in Belgium, with additional sounds added later. The inspiration of the title might be Japanese, but there’s no obvious geographic locale for the music produced here – it’s simply drawn out of the ether, the kind of alchemy that is hard to explain. The two pieces have their own characteristics, but both navigate through an intensely powerful ebb and flow, both coalescing into form and then releasing into multitudes; a kind of fluid dynamics given musical expression. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Susana López ~ Crónica de un secuestro (Elevator Bath)
Thankfully, music in 2020 has helped us forget COVID-19, for a few tranquil moments. However, art can also face up to the world’s difficulties. As the first wave of European lockdowns crashed around us, Susana López presented her work as a chronicle to this hijacking of normal life. Its textures are enthralling drones, gradually building layers or shifting their intensities. Light rhythmic devices give the sense of time ticking away, or of lone heartbeats sustaining isolated bodies. It is tempting to hear claustrophobia in these intense soundscapes. However, a vast opening of inner space might come closer to describing the album’s effect. Ironically, since López uses field recordings as one of the foundations of her drones, she also smuggles us back outdoors. (Samuel Rogers)

Original Review

Various Artists ~ Touch: Isolation (Touch)
This multi-week project ended up falling into five of our seven genre categories, so we somewhat arbitrarily placed it in Drone.  Trust us, there’s a lot of sonic variety here!  Even more important than the variety and quality of this set is the fact that Touch wanted to do something for its artists during a time when gigs were being cancelled and sales were dropping.  This spirit of support is virtually unprecedented at this level.  The artists responded in kind with a wide array of offerings, a tapestry of isolation that made listeners (including other artists) feel less alone.  A fall follow-up subscription project, Touch: Displacing, is already in full swing.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review


  1. Pingback: 2020 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part III – Avant Music News

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