I started writing this post in April. APRIL! I remember writing up my thoughts on the first five releases on this list in June (my Blackhoods feature for my unofficial Not Not Fun Week was also written in this period), on the train to my parents' place, and the file inexplicably vanished. It may seem arbitrary or reactionary, but I did start this blog to talk about great music irrespective of timelines and trends; therefore what lies here is fragmented memories, further exacerbated from a debaucherous Halloween (I didn't dress up or go to a party or anything - just played records, watched horror movies and drank gin til 4am, because I could). I hope you enjoy this - it's good to be back droning.
This has been a regular go to release since it came out in April. Enigma German Army brought out Millerite Masai through Yerevan Tapes and has produced heaps more cassette releases since then - to the point where I shall do a German Army post every day from now to cover them all (and it shall be known as German Army Week...) Millerite Masai is a haunted prism of sounds, samples, industrial shadows, electronic phantasms, strong pulses, stronger rhythms - a voodoo tantric dance into the television horror of our times. It's incredible. I honestly don't give enough lip service to this kind of music - Ill always be a guitar noise tragic at heart - but German Army is close to my favourite artist right now. I hunker down in the dark, meditating on the slipstreams of another world, and German Army keeps mining the depths of the cerebral oceans at a frenetic pace, ready for your submersion. Listen, and see why.
Anne Guthrie is one of a few artists that is releasing material through the Students of Decay label. Guthrie’s Codiaeum variegatum is her first full-length release, a symposium of eccentric instrumentation (including French horn, contrabass and violoncello) and field recordings that knits together that dichotomy of interior and exterior sound, natural and manmade, deliberate and unplanned. It all unfurls at a slow yet deliberate pace, with slight manipulations warping the senses, so that the various divides between opposites become indistinguishable. The constant buzz of wind, water and natural ephemera underscores the seemingly halting, hiccupping compositions, as if the human element feels awkward and out of place in this world, yet the middle third (‘Unlike More Slender and Graceful’ and ‘Pendulous’) becomes a metallic trawl through undulating noise, alarms that score the night sky. By the end of the album these juxtapositions melt into one and becomes a frozen, cocooned embrace, intimating that this is a cyclical experience, eating its own tail, never to end. Tenebrous.
Toronto artist Babel's record Rillingen is a four-part suite of outer-wave surrealist swirl, a drone harvest harbouring deep-seated feelings of loss, lust and laboured ambitions. Soaring to the furthest regions of cerebral antipathy, Rillingen is at once an awesome amalgam of space and sound, and a vessel that houses the harbinger of the End of All Things. It’s the kind of meditative composition that invokes elation and dread at the same time. Anne Guthrie may have played with opposing factions of the same febrile coin, but Babel’s transgressions are apocryphal in nature – this is the ominous calm before the storm. I think this is a great record that says so much with seemingly so little – what the best drone albums should do – and the final 37 minute opus that closes out the experience is one of gentle waves of catharsis, both transmogrifying and rendering all other thoughts meaningless.
King of the Grove is another Yerevan release, this time from Bird People. Bird People is a Viennese collective that have been knitting together foreign sounds into sonorous collages since 2011. King Of The Grove is forty minutes of glistening glissando-esque mirages, in and out of focus, sliding surreptitiously in and out of consciousness. The album is made up of two pieces – the first, ‘To Peer Into The Huntress’ Mirror’, begins with the tones of chimes in a cavernous enclave, lanterns flickering, before a rumble of beckoned wind flows through the passageways, evoking the long-dead and the never born, culminating in a squall that eventually peters out with pipes and strings in the distance, a ritualistic cleansing; whilst the second, ‘A Harvest of Birdsong And Bones’, is at once more primal and celestial, a coalescing melange of undulating tones that lulls into security before tumbling down into an amorphous ritualistic abyss in the final few minutes. The word ritualistic appears twice there for good reason, as King Of The Grove has been called forth. Only 70 copies of this was made, so harangue Yerevan to rerelease this excellent beauty.
Now bouncing back to the Students of Decay and Californian John Davis' tech-eschewing (and almost a year old) Ask The Dust. Starting with the stuttering synthetic hum of computer talk, Davis spreads his influences far and wide, weaving all oscillations, synth plateaus and sine waves into a breathing paean to humanity - lived, loved, lost - and its arresting to technological mores. It's subtle in many ways, with various passages of composition designed to touch, to awe, yet the electronic intrusions never fully disperse. The samples used are prescient in the least - the final distressed voice crackling out of closing track 'Julian Wind', answering a question of whether she liked being on another planet more than on Earth, says it best though - "I couldn't do all the things; I couldn't accomplish anything; I couldn't talk to anyone I know...I couldn't stay very long."
And to Students of Decay again. Mark Banning's Journey To The Light. Originally recorded in 1984, the album displays a sense of New Age muzak romanticism that is of its time, yet overshadows all cheesy permutations that came thereafter (and boy, are there some off ones...) Performed with processed electric guitar, zither, voice and field recordings, Journey To The Night is one of the truest transformative pieces, transferring fears and anxieties to the dark side of the moon, placing in its stead a cocooning calm. The neo-Zen floating notes is pure 80s - for some reason I see the pixellated sunsets of Sega driving classic Outrun merging with an eternal opium haze dream in Blade Runner-era Los Angeles. There is nothing kitsch about these two pieces - they are earnest, and therefore more honest than anything of its ilk before or since.
The Isle of Man's Isvisible utilises modular synthesisers to crawl into the wormhole, exploring myriad tangents of how drone and beats co-exist (usually with an emphasis on hypnotic, narcoleptic time signatures). He has a huge amount of material floating about the cosmos, but retrospective 0413-0714 serves as a great introduction to his world. This is drone that contorts emotion and tempo, while still interested in highlighting and contrasting both. I could listen to this all night - and do. How there are only 76 followers on Facebook I have no idea. This is great.
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Cestine are an instrumental duo who craft elongated slipstreams of lightweight elegance. The two-track cassette Other Half/Bright Encounter (out through Rok Lok Records), with each song sitting pretty at fifteen minutes each, float along in their own spaces - the former above the stratosphere, the sky devoid of colour, the world devoid of any meaning other than the thought passing through the mind at that very instant; the latter a cassette-coiled crashing of waves, samples and field recordings all corralled into a cavernous isolation before breaking through the other side, eternally cleansed.
These last two entries in this behemoth entry are SM familiars. London-based Hanetration has kept the run of EPs going, with latest Murmurist playing out like a outer-realms stand-alone score to the excellent TV show Utopia, especially opener 'Morning'. The set up too is interesting - the flow of a day (of what I take to be London), with the pinnacle - 'Fly' - lasting less than forty seconds before the sun withers away. 'Sundown' is the most intricate song Hanetration has done yet in my opinion, eschewing the tonal subterfuge that is his MO for textural percussive clashes, a pastoral closing of the day.
And finally we have fydhws from Macedonia. The Sound (four movements in the key of D) is part of his continued exploration of chord structure, stricture, adherence and expansion. This is more in the vein of dark psych drone than the no wave and ambient blasts of his oeuvre. Think White Hills crossed with Earth. So not overtly drone. But it blazes in the darkness, like Earth reimagining giallo scores.