Album Review

Top 30 Drone Records Of 2016

I did it! I made a list. I didn’t think it would happen being a new dad and all, but it happened. I’m going to try to make a Top Metal list too, but no promises.

At 30 entries, this is the longest Top Drone list I’ve made. But I’ve been eschewing reviews lately and focusing on AGB Radio and A Thick Mist, so I figure 30 is acceptable if you count how many records I’ve directly recommended over the past year.

I seem to continually expand my definition of what a Drone Record is, which means there’s probably a few on here that are stretching the confines of that label, but I still did my best to try to keep it as Drone as possible.

There’s plenty of reoccurring themes in here. Namely, lots of voices/singing (11 have vocals present at least somewhere on the record) and lots of organs & harmoniums. Neither of those are all that surprising, though. But there’s two solo records from drummers, so that’s kinda cool. There’s also two heavily inspired by traditional Indian music, also kinda cool.

I had fun with this one. I changed a few things up this year. First, I decided to exclude any artist that’s been on any previous list. This meant no Saåad, Roly Porter, Andrew Weathers, Sarah Davachi, Mamiffer, Ian William Craig, Danny Paul Grody, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, etc. (Seriously though go listen to the new Saåad and Mamiffer records.) No one likes to see the same people on such a niche list over and over again, so this was a good way to keep things new and exciting.

The other thing I decided to do was not rank this in the traditional way. Instead, I put the records in positions 7-30 into four groups of six, and the records within each group aren’t ranked. So that means the records in group 7-12 aren’t ranked, aside from me liking them more than the previous 13-30 drone records. I did this except for the top 6, which are ranked traditionally. I hope it’s not too confusing.

As usual, I try to keep the Big Droners off this list because anyone who’s a fan of drone probably already knows that Eluvium and Tim Hecker put out records this year and while their music is A+ Amazing, they don’t really need a little DIY blog to help them out.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for making incredible music.

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CONTEST: Win Jon Mueller’s Tongues

Jon Mueller - Tongues
 

Jon Mueller’s music is un-fucking-real. Most recently, he headed up the Death Blues project, which celebrated Life and the present. He’s worked with all your favorites (James Plotkin, Asmus Tietchens, Z’ev, Duane Pitre, Rhys Chatham…) and was/is in Volcano Choir, Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, and Pele. And he’s just the coolest fucking drummer. His newest self-released record (well, released by Rhythmplex) takes his hypno-drumming to the next level, with 2 side-long pieces of ritualistic Truth seeking transcendence that combines densely layered droning vocal chants and relentless percussion, music that can’t possibly be contained by time or place, let alone genre, it’s the sound of everyone you’ve ever met gathering together in an attempt to understand their existence.

So, this is another haiku contest. You write a haiku inspired by the record, drumming, speaking in tongues, truth, transcendence, life, etc, and you send it to drummingintongues |at| antigravitybunny |dot| com by the end of the weekend (Sunday, May 22). The winning haiku will be revealed next week.

Watch a video here, buy it here, and catch up on Mueller’s back catalog here.

Album Review

Top 20 (Not Drone Or Metal) Records Of 2015

Third list! One more to go. No genre theme this time, but I excluded drone & metal records because they have their own lists. Although there are a few that almost made it onto either of those other lists (see: 12, 10, 7, 6), I felt they weren’t quite droney or metal enough to make the cut, so now they’re here. I hope there’s some new jams in here that you haven’t heard yet and that it’s not too predictable.

Have fun. Thanks for reading/listening/appreciating.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the huge lack of some of my favorite records that were just too big for me to want to include. Namely, Carly Rae Jepsen, Chrvches, and Purity Ring (among others). Those definitely wouldn’t seen some Top 5 action.

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Album Review

Death Blues – Ensemble (Rhythmplex, 2014)

death blues - ensemble album cover
Death BluesUnseen (Rhythmplex)

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Disclaimer: I was a bit heavy handed with the quotes in here because there’s just too much to not share. No apologies, just a heads up.
 

Jon Mueller has been working on his Death Blues project for a few years, addressing “the inevitability of death as impetus to become more present in each moment,” which is to say (and I’m paraphrasing a quote I can’t find the source of) Death Blues is as much about death as firemen are about fire. He’s put out a handful of releases as part of this project, including Mueller’s Death Blues debut on Taiga and the Here manifesto, all of which were variations of a visceral motorik transcendence founded on hammered guitar, propulsive percussion, and spiritual incantations, but this is different, a whole new beast.

Ensemble is the feather in the Death Blues hat, the fully formed masterpiece that seems as if Mueller had been planning this all along, because not only is there the record, a bright orchestral blossom aided by composer William Ryan Fritch and a bunch of other multi-talented musicians, but also a 16 page book of essays from seven of Mueller’s friends writing on loss, regret, and vulnerability, Mueller is hoping this “offers both a chance for people to escape within the work, and to then come out of it with a new perspective on their own situation. And ultimately, to consider what positive actions can be taken based on that new understanding.”

The music here is absolutely fucking incredible, it’s the score to the realization of the self, or more specifically, the self as finite, and every moment here is a triumph, an explosive but tender display of the world’s beauty, seeing past the pain & destruction into the positive, a hopeful potential way of life, these are rich, lush movements with cheering strings, majestic chords, yearning melodies, and bombastic climaxes, completely distinguished from the previous incarnations of Death Blues, the hammered guitars almost gone entirely, the wordless chants relinquished to the background of a few pieces, and now a much more dynamic song structure, this is downright pop in comparison, but this is the future Mueller intends, overwhelming & uplifting, take the bliss head on and proceed knowing fully your ultimate destiny.

As fantastic as the record is, I think I may even be more enamored with the essays, all of which speak to me on a fundamental level. There’s so much raw wisdom offered up, so many emotions & ideas that will take a long time to truly sink in.

Brent Gohde’s piece on suicide is the opener and he sets the mood for the remainder of the book when he proclaims “And there will come a day that I’ll sleep forever. But until then, I made a promise to wake up, if at all possible.”

David Ravel’s story of his father and wife dying, and watching them die, literally brought me to tears. His honesty is one that I feel will probably resonate with many: “We, all of us, die. This is not only true but also strikingly obvious. And yet, in spite of my experiences with death, I don’t think I’m smart enough or strong enough to practice the mindfulness that Jon encourages and us.”

Tom Lecky’s short abstract piece is a lipogram, which means he never uses the letter “i” and his explanation of why he chose this method is something I will always relate to: “The significance of that is quite obvious, and coincides with what I try to do with any creative act: kill the sense of self, destroy the idea of expression, make the act of making and the resulting thing the subject. I never want to be the subject. I, insofar as I am an individual, is not at all interesting to me artistically. The desire to obscure and see a self disappear is the goal.”

Stacy Blint writes a powerful multi-page stream of consciousness poem where she talks about being raped, having shitty parents, and the inherent difficulties of life.

Chris Koelle proved to me how similar people can be while having such starkly different belief systems. This is a man who seems deeply religious and believes lust to be an evil, a “slow motion suicide,” neither of which I identify with, but who also tries to find the fleeting moments of wonder in the world, which is something I also strive for, and I know this is a whole lotta stuff I’m about to quote but it’s just too fucking good. “I feel now as if the only heart I’ve ever had is a broken one, and healing don’t come easy. But somehow, there have been moments, and all the brokenness, of signs pointing toward Hope, of felt healing: through a friend’s gracious word, in a knowing smile, within a solid embrace and a mere, miraculous pat on the back. In split seconds of feeling the weight of the glory and beauty of this world press in, just for a moment, outweighing the crushing threat of despair from inside and out there.” And finally “This quiet shudder of being grateful is a gift I think I’ve experienced more and more frequently as I’ve gotten older. Which, when I stop and think about it, is really encouraging, considering the fact that the pains and problems of life become more acute the older we get. Perhaps that’s the very reason why this feeling of gratefulness wells up more and more as time goes on. Fire both consumes and refines.”

Faith Coloccia has an amazing piece on her “experience with exorcism, and sacrifice, having seen behind the veil of heaven in a nascent state” and how profoundly it has changed her outlook: “The blood is red, I cross the threshold into resurrection and the open eyes of life.”

Sally Haldorson concludes the book with a story of winning a poetry contest at a young age, the long lasting memory of her mother’s hand written book of poems, and what it’s like cleaning out your dead parents’ home.

The physical object that is Ensemble is a gorgeous piece of artwork, it’s a large hard covered book (different than an LP with bound pages inside) that’s adorned with artwork of masks made in the 1970s, and it has a slot in the back of the front cover for the vinyl. Absolutely amazing.

Death Blues’ Ensemble is something a written review can barely hope to explain. This is one of those rare times when the trope of “you need to experience it yourself to really understand” is 100% accurate. This is the whole package of concept & art perfectly realized, raising the bar for music, writing, and experimental projects of any kind. Ensemble might literally change your life, and will at the very least offer a totally unique experience, one that you’ll treasure for quite a while.