The winter holidays (solstice, Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa) are some of the longest, coldest, darkest nights of the year. It’s when we pull together to seek light and warmth in the darkness, getting together with friends, family, loved ones, engaging in folkloric activities both personal and cultural.
The holidays are also times when we turn off our phones and laptops, unplugging from the weird world web and the neverending grind of late capitalism. The longest, coldest, darkest nights of the year are the perfect occasion to investigate some drone music.
Like many, we got into music journalism during the halcyon heyday of the music blogs, circa 2005 – 2008. With the advent of high-speed internet being widely accessible, combined with an abundance of online servers like Mediafire (predicting the rise of the cloud in subsequent years), created the conditions for a utopian Information Rush. It seemed like everybody was in an arm’s race to upload the latest, weirdest, most obscure, most out-there and adventurous sounds from every genre, era, and corner of the Earth.
During this rush, we listened to an almost frightening amount of glacially-paced, ethereal music, of varying fidelities. Drone bands were like the punk bands of the ’00s, when it seemed that everybody was layering and dissecting field recordings, ambient tones & textures, and acousmatic sound manipulations. This created a critical backlash, with the word ‘drone’ being spit out like something dirty and unclean.
While the cognoscenti moved along to the next thing, it seemed like drone was forgotten. Everyone went back to listening to Pop Music – same as it ever was. The danger, if you spin this condition out to its (il)logical conclusion, is a kind of Universal Pop Structure – aka everyone telling the same stories in different words.
The difference, by way of illustration, would be all Star Wars, no Stalker. All poetic sensibility and metaphysical rumination is stripped from the home/journey/home of the verse/chorus/verse tyranny. And while we love a well-written pop gem as much as anybody, it seems a bit depressing to ditch 150 years of sonic exploration to dole out glorified Vaudeville tunes.
This Winter Holiday Season, we offer 3 drones for Christmas from South Carolina’s Silber Records, to explore the stillness, to reflect the darkness.
Remora – Christmas Drones For One Guitar
First up, we have one raw, straight-to-tape sonic odyssey from Remora, the noisey solo guitar moniker of Brian John Mitchell .
Christmas Drones For One Guitar is comprised of four lengthy drifts, that blend and bleed together, working as one monolithic whole, while still resembling “songs”. This is no passive, weightless, polite background listening, however, as Remora’s fretwork rips, tears, and rends behind the scenes, in a style somewhere between Nadja and the gentle ambiance of Labradford and Windy & Carl. Blissdrone meets shoegaze and post-rock? Yes, please!
Let’s just go ahead and shatter that illusion of critical objectivity and point out that we are guitar players, here at Forestpunk, as well as being fond acolytes of six-string mutations, so we’re always glad to see people pushing the axe’s timbre into new and interesting areas. It subverts the rockist tendencies, and conjures a different vision of the infinite than electronic music does. It’s a bit earthier, more tactile, with the fleshy pads of fingers modulating steel and electricity, like some kind of medium.
Remora takes us into the stratosphere with “Special Occasion”, the lengthiest sojourn here, and brings us back down to the gravity well with “VAB”‘s ebbing echoes. What happens in between is like an anti-gravity epiphany, like watching the entire Earth at once on 12.25, watching the twinkling lights from the inky depths of outer space. Remora’s drones and drifts are dense and full, never boring, and emotive, although Mitchell doesn’t tell us what those emotions are. Instead, he paints a compelling portrait and asks us to investigate, deciding for ourselves how to feel about the story.
A delightful, open-ended exploration, that would sound as fresh and timely in July as the depths of the dark nights of winter.
Lost Trail – Winter EP
For most Forestpunks, Lost Trail need little introduction. We’re longstanding fans of the beguiling soundworlds of North Carolina’s Zachary and Denny Corsa, spending countless hours getting lost in their crumbling kingdom of decrepit field recordings and amorphous electronics.
With Forestpunk being based out of our gloomy corner of the universe in Portland, Or., we don’t get a whole lot in the way of Holiday Cheer. It’s less Winter Wonderland and more Winter Wasteland. While much of world plays in snow drifts, ice skating on ponds, going for sleigh rides, or whatever other Norman Rockwell-isms people get into during the Cold Weather months, our streets turn to sheets of black glass asphalt and the sky is an unbroken sheet of leaden grey skies. Portland’s winters are the natural defense mechanism of the Pacific Northwest, to keep from being overrun by Californians.
Still, we get a bit homesick for the industrial wastelands of Chicago around this time, with the lights of Michigan Ave. reflecting in fluffy banks of snow drifts and prismatic icicles. And as anyone who has grown up in very inclement weather can tell you, these seasons are times of very conflicting emotions. The lights are beautiful on the trees, and it can be nice to see long lost friends and relatives. The winds can also be like razor and surgical steel needles, and the advent of reunions can be more dread and stomach acid than feel good reminiscence.
Lost Trail seem to wrap up the months of November and December in a pretty tinsel bow and deliver them to all us orphans and transplants, which is no easy feat!
Lost Trail’s drones seem hollowed out and misty, giving the sensation of walking in a peaceful cone of silence. They remind us to stay centered, no matter where we are, to seek the stillness and holiness in the dark quiet of these long nights.
Like Remora, it’s easy to imagine Winter sounding good, no matter the season. And if you’re new to the Trail, Winter is a fine trailhead to climb on board and get lost!
Small Life Form – It Is Not Safe But It Is Warm
“a pure slab of aggressive ambient drone”? Between the title and this one line descriptor of this one track release, what more really needs to be said about It Is Not Safe?
Are you one of those that dreads Christmas? Neverending Christmas music loops like so much sonic warfare in your ears? Horrible friends and family? Does Christmas make you feel like Harry from Christmas Evil?Small Life Form’s longform blown-out ambient textures are not as terrifying as the descriptor might make it sound, however. It’s less terrorizing than claustrophobic, as seemingly monolithic Jacob’s Ladders and Tesla Coils spark and hiss around you, like some Cosmic Horror mad scientist’s laboratory.
This is, quite simply, a damn fine power noise/harsh drone record that conveys a feeling that a narrative arc couldn’t. Endless, drifting, grinding, ruminative, anxious, powerful… the perfect soundtrack for feeling slightly out of whack while everyone else is full of glad tidings and good cheer!
Small Life Form FB
As we wind down 2015, Silber Records‘s mission statement seems timelier than ever:
The premise for the label was, & remains, simply to release music by people I like in order to sell enough of their records so they don’t have to work day jobs & to simultaneously sell directly to the consumer at a fair price.
Being purveyors of an online ‘zine and comic books as well as copious amounts of high quality experimental music of every genre, we’d say they’re doing it right! For the faithful, let’s stop worrying what’s hip and in, next year, and make the art that seems true to our heart and souls (or lack thereof).
So Happy Christmas from Forestpunk! We hope we all get our heart’s desires this dark and chilly season.