Dronescapes (on eMusic & Bandcamp)
What do you put on when you want to feel post-apocalyptic, but music just won’t do? Reach for a dronescape, of course!
To start w/ a feeble attempt at differentiating between what’s below and what’s on the ambient list not long ago: I think drones are first and foremost more ominous and dystopian than ambient music, possibly excepting “dark ambient” that I’m not very familiar with, or illbient. A dronescape, to my ears, doesn’t usually use many tones, especially short ones, but rather moves in waves of maximal duration, to the point where loops present in much ambient and most electronic music are either unidentifiable or absent. To my recollection, for example, I don’t remember any tracks on Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2” being dronescapes but rather clearly loop-based. I think drone music can have a beat, though it has no reason to and probably shouldn’t make it the focus of any track. I’m open to correction from drone enthusiasts out there, a lively, jolly bunch, I’m sure.
Is Nils Frahm the closest drone music has to a superstar (and do I gather correctly that most of his works don’t sound like “Trance Frendz” or “Loon”, the only two albums I’ve heard)? I think the centerpiece of Trance Frendz, “23:52,” is a perfect example of a melodic drone piece that is still a song, is IMO not ambient, not to mention something an otherwise piano album builds up to and follows with an extended denouement. The whole thing makes a strong case for electronic albums to vary their styles rather than sticking to just one. Perhaps every industrial album and not a few other genres would be improved by adding a drone track or two.
I gather drones can also be more or less noisy. Those on this list definitely lean on the less abrasive side, mainly b/c I only rarely feel like listening to noise, and even more rarely feel like paying to own it (instead of music I like quite a bit more and will listen to a lot more). Important Records and a couple more labels still have plenty of Merzbow, but after finding “Merzbient” noisier than I need to hear more than once, no one should anticipate a list of my favorite noise albums.
A whole album of drones, noise, or noisy drones will probably crush my spirit or otherwise overwhelm me if I’m not in the mood.
With those criteria in mind, I’m not sure I absolutely love any of these or if that’s even possible. The selection on eMusic seems pretty wide, so I can’t say these are the “best” drone albums out there. I’ll be more likely to listen to those closer to the top for reasons that may be inexpressible. All entries are 99 cents unless noted otherwise, the exception in this case. Cheap digital downloads either made me interested in drone music or wrecked the genre for me; I can hardly imagine digging into the experimental section at Amoeba and paying $10 a pop for a dronescape album. Those looking for very serious, expensive drone albums should try the Disintegration State label: https://www.emusic.com/label/989799/Disintegration-State
1. “La loi des autres" - Tecte (2020). Rather otherworldly in a semi-sci-fi way, this inexpensive, short album is a nice example of a piece that’s experimental insofar as it straddles the lines between music and purely ominous, rather evil droning. Some, like “La première trace,” have a really nice build to them. Since there’s no beat, could they be “dark ambient”? The tracks are long enough to establish a dark tone but never so long or grating as to become stale or obnoxious. Right in the droning sweet spot, in other words. https://tecte.bandcamp.com/album/la-loi-des-autres
2. “Rückverzauberung Live in London” - Wolfgang Voigt (2016). An orchestral drone is no small undertaking or feat, let alone one that goes uninterrupted for a full hour. This starts with a quiet, low electronic gurgle and reveals nothing of where it’s headed. Brass gets overlaid first, followed by other sections of the orchestra, more electronics, and even some ethereal vocals, definitely at a measured pace. The overall effect is slightly more calming than unnerving, despite some distressing string passages, but it’s still too overbearing to be called ambient, IMO. 99 cents. https://astralindustries.bandcamp.com/album/ai-02-ru-ckverzauberung-live-in-london
3. “Legends” - North Americans (2015). This starts off innocently enough, but that second track, “Lux,” is a heavy, metallic earful. The next two resemble the hum and whirring of quieter machinery. “Irelia” starts off most threateningly, perfect for imagining a barren landscape or something laid waste by humanity, growing gradually calmer. A 12-minute coda feels appropriate for a collection of drones that still feel differentiated and as though having been on a journey of total solitude. NYP: https://northamericanshome.bandcamp.com/
4. “Ishi” - M. Geddes Gengras (2014). Contemplate the Dali-esque album art while listening to nearly eighty minutes of serene electronic droning, including a “bonus” track longer than the length of an average album. It would fit a space exploration film just as well. The guy is quite prolific if you search for him outside of Leaving Records. https://leavingrecords.bandcamp.com/album/m-geddes-gengras-ishi
5. “Wisconsin Mining State” - Thet Liturgiske Owasendet (2017). Upgrade your post-apocalyptic imagery by being more specific about the kind of apocalypse experienced, in this case, post-industrial mining in small, upper-Midwestern communities. To describe the sound, the interplay between the drone and two well-placed beats reminiscent of the Netflix logo on “Klar Piquett” is masterful in is evocation of dread, and the dynamite blasts on “Iron Ridge” are the droning equivalent of explicit lyrics. The last track almost seems hopeful by comparison. The Bandcamp review is excellent for a more holistic, artistic description of the elements and the artists’ intentions. I’ll just add a plug for my home state to quit mining and Save the Wolf River! https://wisconsinrivers.org/mining/ https://forwind.bandcamp.com/album/wisconsin-mining-state
6. “In Ceremony” - Secret Pyramid (2020). For some reason, this only allows 30-second samples on eMusic, and I probably would have left it on the wishlist if not for critical acclaim on AMG. Quite nearly pleasant, melodic drones I wouldn’t quite call ambient. Apt, cool band name to boot. The first track alternates piercing high tones stopped just short of being shrill, tinnitus simulators with warm, soothing low tones before progressing to something like a harmony. It’s nice to hear any experimental electronic music that “goes somewhere,” and as the title suggest, these could well be used for ceremonies or storytelling. https://secretpyramid.bandcamp.com/album/in-ceremony
7. “Holunder” - J46+2/ (2020). One 49-cent track almost ten minutes long will appeal to those who like the quiet instrumentals of Nine Inch Nails. The guitars over the shifting background tone are subtle and understated, quite a nice job of mixing. I do wonder what will come after the “post-ambient” it claims to be. Reviewers note: not every genre needs a “post-“ version. https://spacehoneyrecords.bandcamp.com/track/holunder
8. “Restos” - Las Mairinas (2015). Here’s an example of a 99-cent EP that wants to experiment with droning by adding guitar noodling and some semblance of rhythm, a heartbeat in the case of “Secretos del Mar.” It also straddles the line between echo and reverb. Two tracks of over ten minutes in length, you can be the judge of whether it adds up to something interestingly dissonant. The last five minutes of “Restos de un País” inexplicably become a bass & drum rock song w/ dark lyrics about a silent devastation, sticking w/ a post-apocalyptic theme if not its droning soundtrack. I find it mildly amusing that iTunes labels it “latin” just for having titles in Spanish. NYP: https://lasmairinas.bandcamp.com/album/restos
9. “Continus” - Aymeric de Tapol (2016). This one is a conditional recommendation in that it’s featureless to the point of being nondescript or even close to what I’d call boring, on the first two tracks no less. And I hardly use that word at all. Hang in there and “Different De” has some more interesting electronic whirring sounds over a kind of metallic siren. The lengthy “Clear” closes on an underwater note. They’re quite prolific: https://aymeridetapol.bandcamp.com/ , also split between two fine experimental labels on eMusic, Tsuku Boshi and Vlek. The $1.49 price of this one may be the primary selling point; I prefer other stuff on both labels.
On other lists: “Belzebu” - Telectu. 2016. “Segments from Bari” - Trrmà, Charlemagne Palestine (2020). “Silent Spoke” - Splice (2018).
Bandcamp Only: “Freak On!” - Sunroof!/Richard Youngs/Vibracathedral Orchestra (2020). Quite long tracks and a fair bit of electronic versus analog variety over the course of more than an hour. NYP: https://vhfrecords.bandcamp.com/album/freak-on
As previously mentioned, Disintegration State gets my vote for the most dedicated label for dronescapes, with Romtid Musikk a close second and underselling. Fang Bomb, Broken20 are also recommended if more general experimentation may be included. SPEKK has a lot of big names, Japanese artists, and high ratings, while BluesMind is all Japanese but only half relevant. Polyphonic Music Co. Ltd. has so many crosslistings I wonder if they’re actually trying to trick people or disappoint them with a small catalog of almost all droning.
I’d say a label like Driftless isn’t dedicated to drones but has more dronescapes than ambient music, but a lot of synth-pop and general electronica as well. Peder Mannerfelt Production, Hans Mondial, Wow Cool, Geometrik, Into the Light, and Verlag System are also mixed. Awkward Formats is very small and quiet. I really should have bought one of the 99-cent albums on the aptly named Greytone label for this list. Maybe next time.
Completists can try Sci-Fi & Fantasy and Nomer, but I don’t recommend them.
Labels offering dronescapes have considerable overlap with ambient labels, so I’ll just list those again. My favorites are Ancient Language, Hundred Acre, It’s a Pleasure, Stillpoint, LANTERN, Moller, ROHS!, 3rd and Debut, Adx, Beacon Sound, I S L A, Line, and White Paddy Mountain.
Also worth a listen are Personal Escape, Shimmering Moods, SPEKK, Moodgadget, Romtid Musikk, Spiritech, Instinct, Odd John, ZBM, Magneto Nature, Tehnofonika,
Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMuReddit.html
& by my evaluation http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMusic%20Labels.html