ACL 2021 ~ Top Ten Drone

Drone is the music of suspension: a constant underpinning of sound graced by modulation.  The music was perfect for a year in which things seemed to move very slowly, as if through molasses.  Many of the artists on this year’s list were inspired by isolation or political impasses.  Others found patterns in the weather or created their own loops.

While we reviewed less drone this year than in prior years, the albums we covered made a big impact, and their emotional range was wide.  Some albums were sullen, others angry, others filled with awe.  A curious aside: the first and last drone albums we covered this year each appear here.  We hope that you enjoy our selection of the year’s best drone albums!

Aperus ~ Weather Anomalies (Self-Released)
Drone music is rarely designed to be an easy listen, but this album is particularly unsettling: it’s a document of solastalgia. Inspired by a fire that lasted 28 days in the mountains near his Santa Fe home, Weather Anomalies is Aperus’ attempt to capture what was occurring around him. It’s an environmental album, utilising field recordings and radio transmissions alongside more traditional instrumentation to provide a musical response to the situation. Aperus isn’t just responding to a month of living with the smell of mountain fire in the house, but the likelihood of this becoming the normal state of affairs. It’s this very real aspect that makes Weather Anomalies equal parts compelling and terrifying. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Arigto ~ Pretense (Self-Released)
This album follows a very long line of avant-garde assaults on musical associations, transforming the relationships between strings, voice, and the interpreters that give them life. Here they are collapsed into a musical machine of constructed dreams and silicone-dusted horizons, grinding and growling its way through an expression of the world’s obscured depths. Identities done away with, Pretense sounds like an all-too-human cry of alienation, its moving parts a tender collection of ruined selves emerging from the pitch-black metal forests of modernity. Listen well, for this is our half-life. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

BJ Nilsen ~ Irreal (Editions Mego)
Like a conductor introducing some spectral orchestra, BJ Nilsen’s Irreal opens with a clank-clack-bang of noise that dims the lights and sets the stage. Over three tracks, Nilsen incorporates water, birds, creaking wood, and much more formless collected sounds to weave a tapestry of everyday sound displaced from its natural source. There is an uncanny valley aspect to the resulting compositions, where the mundane, disjointed field recordings and additional synthetic flourishes sound eerily at home with each other despite the obvious collage playing out in real time.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Black Swan ~ Repetition Hymns (Past Inside the Present)
Repetition Hymns somehow combines the epic heaviosity generated by a wall of organs holding down a single note for all eternity with the tactile softness and comfort of a favourite cardigan. This is an album that is composed of tape loops, which gives a sense of compositional uncertainty in the recordings, as well as a pleasing layer of hissy ambience. The listener may wonder how many times Black Swan had to experiment with each iteration before getting it just right. The more likely response is just let this gorgeous, generous, and inspiring music enfold you. Released in early January, it has stayed with us throughout the seasons thus far, and we can’t imagine not having it close by. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Eartheater ~ Phoenix: La Petite Mort Édition (PAN)
The La Petite Mort Édition of Phoenix is a true sonic rarity: an artist from one genre successfully introducing herself to another.  Sequenced as a continuous mix, the set completely transforms the original tracks, creating a sense of growing intensity while underlining the dramatic nature of the original compositions.  By owning the field of drone, Eartheater proves herself capable of subtlety, creating a balance that few if any could have predicted before this release.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

GROWING ~ Diptych (Silver Current)
The two sides of Growing’s Diptych present the longstanding duo at their amplified best, with modulating guitars creeping out of the ether towards pummeling, slow-building climaxes. Often dubbed “headphone music,” Growing are most invested in the transcendent, body-shaking effect of sound so consistently forceful that it becomes easy to drift in and out of. The initial impact of Diptych is a world-building wall of sound that lets you forget about anything around you; it’s staying power is how that intensity becomes atmospheric over time, like a new compound in your body attaching itself to what’s already there. (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Ian Wellman ~ On the Darkest Day, You took My Hand and Swore It Will Be Okay (Room40)
Ian Wellman’s stark and intense set is the Los Angeles drone version of Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning.  This time, everything is burning, literally and figuratively.  When the woods are ablaze, politicians are boiling and the populace is steaming, where can one find hope?  Wellman suggests that the touch of a hand and a kind sentence may be enough to stem the tide.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Lea Bertucci ~ A Visible Length of Light (Cibachrome Editions)
The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument that dons the cover of Lea Bertucci’s A Visible Length of Light is in a state of restoration, courtesy of work from the Biden administration that overturns downsizing that occurred during the Trump years. It’s an ongoing process, but at the very least a signifier of good change that the proverbial American West is not yet dead and trying to return from some horrific, elegiac reckoning. Bertucci ponders this dichotomy of dread and hope from her NY window, meandering on the flute as passersby sneak into her recordings. Organ, saxophone, clarinet, and manipulated tape fill out her arrangements, cohering into an aural tapestry of the tempestuous waters we’ve been riding in the last few (or few dozen) years. Over longform meditations and quick refrains that evoke both a longing and calling for a sense of placidity, Bertucci provides 2021’s yearly, always necessary statement on the state of affairs, all while gratifying us with a song cycle of enveloping, sublime moments of reflection. (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Martina Bertoni ~ Music for Empty Flats (Karlrecords)
This forlorn set was recorded before the pandemic, but seem prescient.  Music for Empty Flats was recorded during a Reykjavik winter as the composer dreamt of spring.  One can hear the yearning in every draw of the bow.  The music operates as empathy and consolation, encouraging listeners to keep on keeping on; the greenery will emerge in time.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Yuko Araki ~ End of Trilogy (Room40)
You leave work for the day, drive through rows of pulsating LED lights, a McDonalds blaring its never-ending smiley face of manufactured comfort, and SUVs honking their way back to the nuclear family. You fall asleep with nothing fully processed, waiting for the stimuli to seep out in uncontrollable ways so that you can start fresh in the morning. Yuko Araki’s End of Trilogy is that pandora’s box of nonconsensual experience combusting itself to find some sort of meaning— there has to be some sort of meaning, right? Those screams and fluttering, industrial scanner sounds are a psychedelic purge of the excesses you cannot escape from, playfully distorting the menace that’s always trying to suck the joy out of the overbearing multiplicity of daily life. (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2021 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part V – Avant Music News

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