Posts Tagged ‘Drone’

Cruel Nature Records – 17th November 2019

Christophe Nosnibor

Nathalie Stern made her solo debut with Firetales in 2010: almost a decade on, she delivers a follow-up in the form of Nerves and Skin. The album promises to ‘builds on the experimental folk traditions of her debut, awash with vocal harmonies, synth loops and drones but with the maturity of an artist who knows their craft and is top of their game’.

Although now resident in Newcastle, Stern’s roots are Swedish, and it’s traditional Swedish folk which informs her music. While I have precisely no knowledge or experience of Swedish folk music, the compositions here, as the title suggests, conjure a sense of the barest essence of human existence. Nerves and skin the components essential to the senses, especially touch, are here exposed and highly sensitive. As much as anything it’s the organic feel that permeates the album that renders it so subtly affecting as it drifts and melds to form a sort of biological symbiosis with the listener’s internal mechanisms while it plays.

Stern’s voice is the primary instrument here, and she builds layers of harmony, often by unconventional means, with breaths and short, wordless sounds looped to form cyclical motifs atop sparse synth drones

‘Luchdora’ brings low-impact, lurching beats that thud soft and there’s a heartbeat thump on ‘Then You Talk of War’, which delves into darker territories with moody bass oscillations over which layers of choral vocals build majestically.

‘Deep Sleep’ wheezes monotonously, a lugubrious drone: Nathalie’s vocal is barely a whisper, haunting, ethereal, the melody a sing-song lullaby with an uncanny, shadowy twist that may not exactly be Chuck Palahniuk, but is still moderately unsettling. ‘Moderately unsettling’ is a fair summary of the atmosphere that creeps across the compositions as the album unfolds. Although fear chords creep all over the gloomy ‘Stig in Lucia’, it’s not overtly dark, but the disembodied vocal echoes evoke a certain cognitive dissonance.

And for all its oddness and otherness, it’s on an instinctive, human level that you experience Nerves and Skin: you feel it, somehow, almost subliminally, and it touches parts rarely reached and in ways that are abstract and indefinably, but nevertheless real.

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Southern Lord – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The appearance of a new Sunn O))) album just six months after Life Metal represents a significant upsurge in their usually steady output. But then, as much as it is a standalone document, Pyroclasts exists in many ways as a companion and counterpart to Life Metal, which in the slow-moving scheme of Sunn O))) represented a seismic shift on a par with Monoliths and Dimensions in that it brought a new focus. The question posed by Life Metal centred around what precisely could Steve Albini bring to Sunn O)))’s eternal drone guitar noise. In the event, his ‘stick the mics in front of the amps at a precise distance and angle and let the tape roll’ approach brought new sonic dimensions (but no monoliths) to the fore, giving the band a new and unexpected richness of sound. It’s this clarity and depth that also defines Pyroclasts recorded during the same sessions.

An element of ritual is integral to much of Sunn O)))’s work, and while this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in their live performances, the very nature of the music, the image, and the titling of their albums alludes to a certain type of repetitive organisation and (pseudo)spiritual convention. The origins of Pyroclasts is rooted in that ritualism, as is explained in the press release:

‘The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.’

And so the four pieces on Pyroclasts last between 10’54” and 11’04”, and being aware of the time constraints imposed by the players, the endings make sense: the first track, ‘Frost’, is close to what sounds like a natural ending as the drone hum hangs, but fades uncommonly fast when ordinarily they’d let the note hang for an eternity. Likewise the last of the four, ‘Ascensions’, which starts higher, faster, more aggressively than is usual for Sunn O))), and ends abruptly as though the tape was simply stopped dead – which it probably was.

Given the band’s maximalist tendencies and a propensity for sprawling sludgescapes spanning fifteen to twenty minutes this discipline and concision offers a new insight into their methods. Four tracks and a running time of circa forty minutes is tight for Sunn O))), and it works remarkably well.

Pyroclasts is exploratory and experimental in context of Sunn O))), and in revealing new facets while at the same time mining the same seam the band have explored since their inception, it’s an interesting and highly necessary document of their evolution and practises. Moreover, it’s another booming slab of texture-heavy droning doom and absolutely classic Sunn O))).

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The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion. The players across the four pieces of Pyroclasts are Tim Midyett, T.O.S., Hildur Guðnadóttir, and as always Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson.

Pyroclasts was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio on two inch tape July 2018, and mastered by Matt Colton through all analogue AAA process at Metropolis July 2019. The album is released via Southern Lord on 23rd September.

While you’re waiting, you can check the trailer here:

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Gizeh Records – 26th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

‘File under: Avant-Garde, Drone, Dark-Ambient’, says the press release. And yes, the nine pieces on Göldi fell, an album limited to 175 hand-printed copies on CD are indeed darkly ambient drone-fests, rich in atmosphere and the rumbles of distant thunder. I spend many long hours listening to music of this ilk, and while I do enjoy it, I sometimes struggle for new descriptors, and often find myself gradually drifting in a way that means I have no significant emotional response to detail. And yet this is most definitely not ‘background’ audio: it’s mood-influencing, and the creeping fear chords and unexpected interjections and the trembling sawing scrapes contrive to jangle the nerves and leave the listener on edge. Yes, I’m glancing over my shoulder, pausing my typing to listen to determine if the sound I just heard came from the speakers of an intruder on the stairs, someone in the back yard.

The strings drone and drag into scraping metallic contrails that melt into undifferentiated sonic melanges, and this is an album that creeps and crawls, spreading dark energy like dry ice around the ankles as it plunders the gut-twisting fear-chords and unsettles from beginning to end.

At times mellow, delicate, and at others uncomfortable, scraping sinuous and dissonant, this is a deep and contemplative work that elicits reflection from the listener. At this particular moment, I’m reflecting on time – specifically, time when I had time to stop, to think, to spend afternoons simply listening to music and / or reading a book. It feels like a long time ago. What happened?

For all the darkness, I can’t help but be amused by the press write that states ‘Several Wives lie in the darkened corner of a room. Paintings torn, forgotten against the wall. Dead rhythms seep through the floor. Everything is tired. Everything is jaded.’

It’s funny because of the band name. it works in that it conjures a most visual and vaguely surreal image that’s entirely incongruous with the music itself. Plus, as anyone who’s married will likely tell you, one wife is more than enough, and the prospect of several is even more terrifying than the shrieking, wailing cat, string crescendo that howls and mewls the challenging finale of ‘The Blinding of Delilah’. There’s also an element of if not outright humour, them flippancy about some of the titles: ‘that dream you had’, ‘that other dream you had’, and ‘Her on the phone’ are casual-sounding and contrast with the weighty, atmospheric drones that creep and crawl around among the looming shadows of their own casting.

Göldi fell is a difficult album, but for all of the right reasons. None of it feels easy or comfortable. And nor should we want it to. It’s healthy to be unsettled, unnerved from time to time, to be dragged out of that tiredness, that jadedness.

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16th June 2019

Of course I was always going to be sold on an album with a title like Southern Phlegm. I mean, what’s not to like? Kadaitcha’s third release straddles ambient, drone, industrial, and power electronics to deliver four tracks driven by throbbing pulsating grooves welded to repetitive, cyclical guitar lines, and rent with the gnarliest, nastiest treble-shredded distorted vocals.

The first, ‘Phagocide’ pumps away for over nine minutes. The guitar and synths form a messy sonic fusion, a thick mass of distortion while wibbling space-rock blasts of analogue send blurred neon arcs through the heavily-grained backdrop like shooting stars. ‘Sewerbound’ is appropriately titled as it plunges deeper into impenetrable murk. It’s dominated by clattering percussion, the edges distorted and decayed, while screeding noise howls a vortex of sonic agony. Frequencies collide to create an endless flux of aural incompatibility. Everything is distorted, dirty, there’s malice in every note. The lyrics are impossible to decipher from amidst the sonic blitzkrieg, but there’s nothing about the delivery that suggests there’s any comfort or kindness on offer here.

Slow, brooding ambience builds an unsettling atmosphere during the opening minutes of ‘Datura’, before the overloading guitar crashes in. It’s got the low-end distortion of Sunn O))), but grinds away at a repetitive motif with the bludgeoning brutality of Swans. It’s a full-on kick to the diaphragm.

Closing off, ‘Vulpine Sacrifice’ arrives almost by stealth, a snaking bassline strolls in slow and slow, a stop/start stammer gives it an almost hesitant feel. Circuits fizz, crackle and hiss all over the place, before the final two or three minutes find the conglomeration of elongated hums coalesce to create something approximating ‘music’, akin to a swelling organ drone. But you couldn’t exactly call this brief moment of musicality that draws out to the fade the light at the end of the tunnel: it’s low, slow, and ominous and seems, if anything, to point toward another darkened door which opens onto stairs leading to an eternal abyss.

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Kadaitcha – Southern Phlegm

10th May 2019 – Constellation

Christopher Nosnibor

SING SINCK, SING was always going to be a bit of a trip, being the fruits of a collaboration between Efrim Manuel Menuck – founding member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion – and Kevin Doria from Growing and Total Life.

‘Do the Police Embrace?’ sets the tone: an immense, repetitive, oscillating drone where melody melts into vaporous abstraction and the vocals, not atonal, but keyless and quavering. There’s a heavily sedated, psychedelic feel which is all-pervasive: the album’s five tracks are sprawling patchouli-scented sonic meditations.

‘A Humming Void an Emptied Place’ is the sound of multitonal dronal collapse, and stands comparisons to some of the extended drone-centric workouts that feature on Swans’ Soundracks for the Blind and the releases from their last iteration, only without the build, the crescendo, dare I say the pay-off? The objective is clearly very different: this is an album designed for hypnotic immersion rather than catharsis.

In music criticism, ‘woozy’ is one of those descriptors that has mixed connotations, perhaps more often than not hinting at a vague mixed pleasure a certain level of dizziness can give rise to, the light flip of the stomach after a rollercoaster or a touch of alcohol-induced giddiness. But are SING SINCK, SING (is that an album title or a band name, or both?) feels more like the woozy of carsickness after a long journey on winding, bumpy roads on a hot day. It’s the awkward, slurring slapback reverb on the vocals on ‘We Will’; it’s the droning organ tones that criss-cross in slightly out-of-time waves; it’s the formless expanses which undulate, heave, and sigh.

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