A Winged Victory For The Sullen: The Undivided Five (LP, Ninja Tune, November 2019)

I had an odd feeling of crossing-the-streams with this album. I listened to a bunch of Ninja Tune stuff in the mid-90s, mostly instrumental and alternative hiphop and breaks, but I think of that as a part of my musical past. So for the third album proper from Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran, who could be said to exemplify a big chunk of where I’ve been musically for the current decade, to come out of Ninja… it was a bit like discovering that two people you know in completely different spheres are actually top chums.

Anyway, onto that actual record. If you’re into the whole modern-classical/ambient-drone thing, then it’s basically a big comforting hug. I mean, I guess that, if I wanted to be super-critical, I might say that this drifts a little bit into the second side — except that drifting is pretty much this music’s raison d’être, so maybe what I mean is that those little moments of magic that make it special as a smidgeon too far apart. When it comes down to it, I don’t think they’re ever likely to get me as excited as I was about their 2011 debut, which remains an absolute classic, but this is still pretty fine stuff.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Richard Skelton: Border Ballads (CD, Corbel Stone Press, May 2019)

Ooh, a new Skelton! I loved 2010’s Landings and 2012’s Limnology but none of his more recent works quite made it onto my radar (I think they were mostly pretty low key?). Well, this one emphatically did, and it is cracking. It was recorded, as you might have guessed, in the Scottish Borders, and is as evocative of time and place as we’ve come to expect. In a new development (or new to me, at least), those droning strings are complemented by some delicate piano on a few of the tracks here, played in a style that somewhat reminds me of Deaf Center’s Otto A Totland. Oh, but check out the three repeating melodic fragments in Roan. Or the gently evolving strings of Kershope, which seem to conjure a mournful longing and a gentle hope in equal measure. Or any of the other tracks, to be honest. Simply gorgeous.

I bought this from the label.

Sarah Davachi: Gave In Rest (LP, Ba Da Bing!, September 2018)

It has to be said, Davachi isn’t going out of her way to make this accessible. The opening track, Auster, consists of eight chords, each sustained for over a minute, played I assume on some kind of analogue synth, with the natural fluctuations of the means of production providing the only variation (well, it’s possible that by about no. 6 there’s some other instrument creeping in part way through, but if so it’s very subtle). If you’re not put off by that stark intro (and I’ll admit that I nearly was — well, by that and by a memory that I didn’t seem to quite get her last record, All My Circles Run, either) then you’re in for a real treat. The rest of the album is comparatively melodic, albeit at a deeply sedate pace. When side one finishes with an elongated and processed sung note, the whole thing seems to make some kind of sense. Davachi combines analogue synthesis, traditional instruments (everything from organs to piano to strings to recorder), and (word-free) voice in a way that sounds completely natural, blended by a process involving tape delays and choral effects and so on. (The violinist is Jessica Moss: probably best known for her work in Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, she also released Pools Of Moss last year, which was at least half brilliant.) Inspired by spending time in churches and thinking about spiritual music, the result is haunting, evocative, meditative, transportive, and beautiful. Oh, and the closing track, Waking, reminds me of Eduard Artemyev’s soundtracks for Andrei Tarkovsky, especially the reworking of Bach for Solaris, which only makes me love it all more.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Clarice Jensen: For This From That Will Be Filled (LP, Miasmah, March 2018)

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for some cello-based drone music, and Clarice Jensen has provided four rather dreamy examples of it here. The first track, bc, was composed in collaboration with the late and sorely lamented Jóhann Jóhannsson, and sounds very much like a tribute to William Basinski, so that’s ticking a whole bunch of boxes for me already. Cello Constellations was written for her by composer, theoretician, and inventor Michael Harrison, and does some uncanny things with harmonics and tunings and multi-tracking. On the flip side are the two parts of the title track, which are Jensen’s own compositions: the first is a spiky little number made of staccato and feedback; the second is a slow-burner that is straight up drone for about its first four minutes, before gradually a melody starts to emerge, and somewhere around the ten-minute mark it briefly and miraculously achieves a sort of Lark-Ascending-style lightness. I must admit that, on my first listen, I wondered whether this album might be a little… academic, maybe? But since then it’s really gotten under my skin. Perhaps not essential listening for all, but for connoisseurs of the sub-genre, one to treasure.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Claire M Singer: Solas (2xCD, Touch, June 2016)

Ooh, now this is really, really good. Claire M Singer, who is the musical director at the Union Chapel, has apparently been writing and performing for 14 years, but this is her first record. It’s really top notch classical drone stuff, with the traditional strings supplemented by some juicy work on the Union Chapel’s organ, and a decided celtic lilt to the tunes. Richard Skelton is one obvious reference, and a one track reminds me of Carter Burwell’s score for the Coen brothers’ Millers Crossing (which I love). The first CD has six tracks which range from the spiky to the pastoral to the upliftingly anthemic, and they’re all cracking. Given all that, you’d be disappointed (well, I would) if we didn’t get a 26-minute organ-based drone epic, and that’s exactly what appears on the second CD: The Molendinar really makes great use of its length, too, taking its time to develop and build without ever drawing things out for the sake of it: it’s a fantastic exhibit of superbly controlled power. Basically, this album combines a number of my favourite things, and does so tremendously well.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.