A lost father, a lost artist, a lost village, lost files; and on the other hand, grace, peace, worship, epiphanies. The drone genre is home to seeming opposites that swirl about each other in a dance of yin and yang. As dark as the music may get, as deep into the cave as it may travel, it also stretches for the light. This year’s selection includes a posthumous work from a beloved artist, a celebration of autumn, an ode to geography and a raw, early response to the war in Ukraine. In these albums, one will hear unsettling tones matched by masses, words of memory and prayers for peace.
Loudness can be therapeutic, and sometimes no other response makes sense. These albums find healing in the interplay between quiet and loud.
Alberto Boccardi ~ Petra (Room40)
Inspired by the five years he lived in Cairo and recorded on returning to his hometown Milan, Alberto Boccardi’s Petra sits between two worlds. The frenetic, glitchy chattering in the earlier pieces captures the busy streets of the Egyptian capital, while the softer drone passages reflect a calmer pace of life in Italy. The voice of Cinzia De Lorenzi is the secret weapon on Petra – often heavily processed, it nonetheless brings a humanity to the pieces making them all the more accessible and appealing. An album that balances the busy with the beautiful. (Jeremy Bye)
Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch ~ Ravage (Fatcat/130701)
Ravage is an example of where our genre classifications don’t do an album justice. There are some beautiful, highly emotional drones on this record, but equally, there are some graceful – and again, highly emotional – piano compositions. The key element is the underlying depth of emotion in these pieces, whatever approach Emilie Levienaish-Farrouch adopts. This album is her way through grief toward hope. Sometimes a dissonant, industrial drone picks the mood perfectly. Other times it is expressing oneself in powerful piano cascades. Occasionally, it’s both at the same time: this is an album where we can feel exactly what the artist feels. (Jeremy Bye)
Jóhann Jóhannsson ~ Drone Mass (Deutsche Grammophon)
A fundamental effect of drone music is its defamiliarization of sounds – their immateriality is dispelled, their stability questioned, their singularity demolished. This Mass begins with religious allusions, choral styles that might remind listeners of sacred genres, but when “To Fold & Remain Dormant” starts playing, all those elements fall into an estranged shape that parallels the texts upon which the work is based: it is Christianity at a distance, a reliquary of ancient difference. No longer familiar, we can engage with its spiritual qualities as the result of aural effects strange to the Westernized vision of Christian music – throat singing, sustained tones, overarching repetitiveness, melodies tinged with solemn sadness. Don’t let the orchestra lead you astray – this is great drone music. (David Murrieta Flores)
Jo Montgomerie ~ from industry home (Helen Scarsdale Agency)
The primary material of this album is not sound fragments, but sound debris. Unlike the possibly ‘natural’ associations of chance encounters with found sounds, these remnants allude to the aftermath of work. And work cuts across absolutely everything we do – it shapes the world, and in the process produces rubbish, which we refuse to look at, but is the substrate upon which our lives are erected. Montgomerie links this refuse thoroughly, adding sounds of her own home and her body into the mix, creating a sonic description of our “industry home” that does not romanticize that work. It grinds, it screeches, it drones on… just like us. (David Murrieta Flores)
Kinbrae & Clare Archibald ~ Birl of Unmap (Full Spectrum/The Dark Outside)
The album stretches across multiple genres, from ambient to drone, field recording to modern composition. This multi-timbre approach lends itself well to the subject matter: an island that is not an island, a location lost in time, a series of perspective communicated by spoken word. Birl of Unmap has the feel of a documentary and the tone of a soundtrack: this is real life, even if what is real is difficult to define. (Richard Allen)
KMRU & Aho Ssan ~ Limen (Subtext)
From the opening track “Resurgence’s” relentless eleven minute exploration of drone and decay, to the slightly more staid but still ear-splitting noise of “Rebirth,” sound artists KMRU and Aho Ssan push the human ear to its limits. In the words of the artists the album is invested in duality, the idea that something can always be re-heard or re-interpreted. It’s not just noise for its own sake though; album closer “Ruined Abstractions” was initially released as a single whose sales benefited migrants seeking refuge and asylum. Through swirling synthesizers and pummeling drones, Limen deploys the power of noise to refuse the ability to ignore, aiming to use it instead to rewrite and rewire how we interact with the world. (Jennifer Smart)
Sarah Davachi ~ Two Sisters (Late Music)
The Two Sisters are those of faith and chance, according to a quote in the 1981 film Possession. Sarah Davachi balances this album between the two, as exemplified by the characters opposing each other on the cover art. It certainly feels like faith rather than chance flowing through this album. There’s a sense of the devotional in these compositions, whether they hark back to medieval works or contemporary drone pieces. It’s not a record to take lightly; you will want to sit in contemplative silence when it plays to experience Two Sisters fully. It may be a way to commune with the divine. (Jeremy Bye)
THLTTLDBB ~ SeeUSearching (Somewherecold)
THLTTLDBB’s Matt Greenwall and Phillip Andrew Lewis craft eerie and serene loops out of processed audio, the sources of which seem palpable if just out of reach. Like other haunted audio genres such as vaporwave, on SEEUSearching the duo craft a sonic aesthetic that traffics in the shimmery, achy nostalgia of a generation whose unprecedented access to the sounds of history resulted not in intelligibility, but a blurry collage of half-remembered sounds and images. From the ethereal ambience of opener “Angela’s Lights,” to the eerier loops of “Francine” or “Monster Ashes,” SeeUSearching ranges widely across the landscape of melancholy ambience and gentle drone. To listen to the album is to be all too aware of the passing of time, surfaced in both the album’s soothing repetitions as well as its almost familiar images. (Jennifer Smart)
V/A ~ Epiphanies (Hallow Ground)
Featuring an array of artists working in experimental and electronic sound, Ephipanies captures the subjectivity of its titular experience. From FUJI||||||||||TA’s rich layers of drone and minimalist repetition, to Reiner van Houdt’s play with signal and air, these compositions structure a variety of temporal and spatial experiences. Both within individual tracks as well as in the relations between them, Epiphanies reveals the multiplicity of ways in which sound can be used to explore anticipation and create space for an engaged waiting that yes, might result in an epiphany. (Jennifer Smart)
V/A ~ Liberty | Compilation of Experimental Music from Ukraine (Flaming Pines)
As a physical as well as a digital release, Liberty avoids the trappings of many sprawling fundraising compilations to deliver a cohesive overview of the rich and varied Ukrainian drone scene. Modulating from ambient to electronic with an experimental bent and industrial overtones, the album scatters its granular glitter to uncover the lustrous side of sombre tones, steely resonance and fissured harmonics. Seamlessly compiled by Igor Yalivec, Liberty reveals a sonic palette of depth and, above all, clarity. One Ukrainian artist told how she reconnected with music, after the full-scale invasion put everyone in a state of constant alert, thanks to I, Iteration’s track “Homeland”. A testament to the healing power of music. (Gianmarco Del Re)
KMRU this is a cover design santoddio! Music + image = spines….
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