Apologies for the wait on the rest of my year-end picks. I had intended on compiling an insanely long list of my favorite noise/drone/ambient albums of the year but decided to make it a two-parter instead. Below you'll find brief descriptions of my favorites accompanied by all appropriate links, and there are even a few downloads that I've managed to track down. Part 2 should be dropping in the next few days.
**Update** Embedded tracks applied to albums where possible. Links to downloads added as well. Many of these are out of print, so I don't feel to bad providing those links. Some of these are still out there, and I've provided links to the label. You want it? You know where to get it.
Blue Sabbath Black Cheer "Endless Blockade" (Gnarled Forest) LP, "For The Sickly Weaklings" (Gnarled Forest) LP and "Untitled" (Gnarled Forest) LP
Seattle's Blue Sabbath Black Cheer have quickly pumped out a formidable body of work since their inception in 2006. Though many releases have been released on ultra-limited, impossible to find cassette editions, usually on their own Gnarled Forest label, 2008 finally saw the release of three full length LP's, which were usually released in attainable pressings of about 500. Together, these three releases are some of the most frightening noise I've come across in a few years. The demented basement dirge of Wolf Eyes is an apt comparison and will probably dog the band for some time. But, after a relatively quiet year from the normally uber-prolific Wolf Eyes (they "only" released a split LP with Sickness, a few tapes and some live, tour-only cassettes) it's nice to see a group taking that sound and running with it, forging it into their own. And that sound is what keeps me coming back; harsh static drenched beats; metallic detritus slammed repeatedly; coarse crunches of fried electronics. For some, these sounds are easy enough to create, but it's the horrific soundtrack-y/storyline created that makes these albums so compelling. Seeing it all pulled off live is where the true experience of the group is at. Luckily I got that chance when they played the all day Noise Fest here in Vancouver. Next tothe amazing Tunnel Canary, they were the best thing there, which is saying a lot considering how many artists played.
Twinsistermoon/Isengrind/Natural Snow Buildings "Levels And Crossings" CD (Digitalis), "The Snowbringer Cult" 2xCD (Students Of Decay), and The "Dance Of The Moon And The Sun" CD (Students Of Decay)
Managed to scoop up most of their releases this year, which never strayed too far from the CD player (sorry, no vinyl on these yet). Most of these releases by these French groups were issued on appallingly limited CD-R runs (The Dance of the Moon and the Sun was issued in a run of 19!) that were, fortunately, heard by the right people. Students of Decay and Digitalis were both kind enough to reissue these in limited runs of either 500 or 1000, allowing regular drone-folk fanatics like myself to actually obtain a copy. To get you up to speed, Natural Snow Buildings is a boy/girl French duo, and Twinsistermoon (the boy) and Isengrind (the girl) are their solo projects. Together and apart the duo make swirling bedroom drone-folk that's perfect for those gloomy days of introspection. Their raga-like drones are the focus of most of these recordings, but occasionally they break out into simple folk tracks that sound like some undiscovered songstress from the late 60s or early 70s. Fans of that era of folk and drone heads alike need to take note of this amazing duo.
DOWNLOAD Levels And Crossings here. (Via Laughing Into Fire)
DOWNLOAD Part 1 of Dance Of The Sun And The Moon here.
Part 2 here
"Rain Serenade" from "Dance of the Sun and the Moon"
Andrew Chalk "Time Of Hayfield" CD (Faraway Press)
Admittedly, Chalk was a new discovery for me in 2008, and I was delighted to find that the man has a very deep catalog and also runs an amazing record label, Faraway Press, which released this amazing slice of ambient drone. The record was apparently made up of extra material recorded for his highly acclaimed album, Goldfall. This album and the few others I've come across are made up of several layers of drones that slide up along side each other, creating a larger cascading drone that envelopes the listener. There are moments of calm (usually when his partner Vikki Jackman is at the piano) that help counter-balance the heavy weight of the drones. Very amazing stuff. For a more in depth look at the Chalk, Jackman, and Faraway Press please visit the Scrapyard Forecast (formerly known as Church of Drone).
DOWNLOAD Time Of Hayfield here (via Scrapyard Forecast)
**note: the above photo is a compilation of all 9 album covers.
Emaciator "Reflections" 2xLP (Accidie Records) and "Coveting" LP (Not Not Fun)
Though known for many years as a harsh noise artist, Jon Borges (aka Emaciator) has channeled his energies into creating beautiful and brooding drone work. Reflection is a 2xLP set of gorgeous guitar and synth drones that sway over a submerged bed of submerged and hazy keys. His top friends list on his myspace page is an indication of the new direction he's been heading in, featuring Fears Fall Burning, Eluvium, Belong, Warmth, and Acre, all of whom have been filling the same drone void as Borges has on these two albums. The LP on Not Not Fun, Coveting, see's Borges venturing into the same fuzzy and static haze of Fennesz, but the outcome is much more sinister than the brighter outlook of Fennesz. In fact, I would rather listen to these two full lengths than the most recent Fennesz, which, don't get me wrong, is just fine, but Emaciator is exuding much more emotion through his work than the predictable Fennesz. Commence shower of hate...now.
SutcliffeJugend/Prurient "End Of Autumn" 2xLP (Troubleman)
The meeting of these two noise juggernauts on record is any noise nut's dream (nightmare?) come true, and, yes, it does live up to the expectations that one would laud on the pairing. Harsh electronics flail wildly against controlled high pitched feedback, all while red-faced and heavily distorted vocals scream fight for attention. In fact, everything here is demanding your attention. And that's just the first side. Heavy, entrancing, and commanding...my favorite noise record of the year.
"End Of Spring"
Download the whole fucker here. (Via New Noise Net)
Daniel Menche "Body Melt" LP (Important)
Entirely made up of a Hammond organ and Native American drums, Menche's drone masterwork is one of the more intense listens here on this list. The organ oscillates in a continuous manner and keeps the pace of the record going from a slow meander and into full throttle intensity and back again. The drumming goes from either an army of submerged pitter patter or into a full-on death march. The organ and the drumming continuously fight for supremacy, with the droning organ coming out on top at the end of both sides. This is a companion piece to the Glass Forest CD that was released at the same time as Body Melt, both on Important.
Fear Falls Burning "Frenzy Of The Absolute" 2xLP (Conspiracy Records)
This towering drone work comes courtesy of Belgium's vidnaObmana, who, for intents and purposes is Fears Fall Burning. He does have a few helping hands on the drums courtesy of several drummers from various euro-metal bands. The drumming, for the most part, is a slow, methodical, and sludgy pounding which help flesh out the slow-unfurling of the guitar-driven drones and rumbles. The results are akin to the slow-motion sludge of Earth but juxtaposed against the high-end droning of vidnaObmana guitar. With several releases planned for '09, I anticipate even bigger actions from FFB in the very near future. Stay tuned...
Expo '70 "Black Ohms" CD (Beta-lactam Ring)
2008 proved to be a real banner year for Expo 70, especially after wallowing in relative obscurity for the years preceding. '08 saw Expo '70 (Justin Wright being the only mainstay in the "group") release several dark drone releases on labels like Peasant Magik, Beta-lactam Ring and Kill Shaman. He also managed to crank out a few split releases with the likes of Rahdunes, Be Invisible Now!, and I Am Sea Monster. The highlight of the bunch would have to be his full length album on Beta-lactam Ring, Black Ohms, which is easily his most focused record yet. Full of the buzzing drone guitar I've come to love from him. Due out on vinyl in early 2009.
Sample found here. (via Raven Sings The Blues)
Barn Owl "From Our Mouths A Perpetual Light" LP (Not Not Fun)
From Our Mouths A Perpetual Light is full of the kind of woozy, blown out and warbled riffage that makes your turntable sound like the motor is dying. A slow crush of riffs, comatose drumming, and down-the-canyon vocals marks Barn Owl as the leader in what I hereby dub stoner drone. Along with this release, the duo also pumped out a few solo releases (under Elm) and did a split with the infamous Tom Carter of Charlambides. The Elm release, as Aquarius Records put it was "all woven into a beautifully creepy expanse of slow burning twang flecked drone. Not all that far removed from more modern Earth, but much murkier and way more ominous." Unfortunately for you, my dear reader, damn near everything these fellers have released this year went out of print damn quick. Keep an eye on Aquarius records for future releases as the duo have very close-knit ties with the shop--Jon works there! This was the secret to my success in keeping up with the duo this year. The stock has risen on Barn Owl, don't miss out in '09.
"Voice of the Other"
Snatch the whole album here. (via Weed Temple)