Moving Slowly but in Different Ways

From two American cities come two releases that deal in slow-moving, expansive music that might loosely be filed under “drone.” It is curious how the two differ both texturally and in an ideological sense. The LicketsSong of the Clouds (INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION CD IC-010-A) nabbed the no. 2 spot on ethereal music emporium Textura’s end-of-2011 wrap-up, and the rich layers of hand-crafted ambiance that comprise this album’s considerable mass quickly justify that placement. The main attraction is the forty-six minute centrepiece to the record, a gargantuan composition that slowly unfurls into a haze of guitar, cello, flutes, and probably more (hey, it’s hard to tell). I am distinctly reminded of the regal, symphonic drone of The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, both in terms of timbre and mood, although the Lickets are more obviously an improvisational troupe. They deal more saliently in dissonance, albeit never at the listener’s expense.

Meanwhile, Bee Mask‘s Elegy for Beach Friday (SPECTRUM SPOOLS 2xLP SP 005) is a glorious hulk of gatefold double-vinyl (which I, tragically, am enjoying vicariously through my promo CDR) that compiles Philadelphian Chris Madak’s personal favourites from eight years of held tones and glacial synth chord progressions. Seeing as only five or so people own most of the scant-edition tapes and CDRs that were sourced for this retrospective, it turns out to be a rather reasonable proposition for Emeralds’ John Elliott’s Spectrum Spools, who are attempting to corner the market on luxury LP editions of drone obscurities. The release differs from the Lickets’ not just because the focus drifts from acoustic instrumentation to electronic sound, but also because it transmits as a much more calculated affair. Elegy’s tracks sound less improvised than those of Clouds; they instead focus on evoking a specific cosmic atmosphere throughout – basically the same gambit as half the folks putting out records under the drone banner. This intergalactic flavour permeates the entirety of these two exemplary discs, with Bee Mask’s splintering synths hoisting the corpus up into space on the backs of occasionally preposterous song titles like “Fallen Tree Thursday and the Half-Crushed Arc of the Sky Taking Tea in the Pastoral Index.” Picking favourites is something of a gag when one is dealing with hazy, layered synth chords — and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it — but “Stop the Night” is a personal highlight; one of the more ‘accessible’ drones on the release, and one which brandishes its reverberant kosmische influences most overtly. Then again, perhaps I like it best because, at (only) ten minutes, it’s the longest track on here, and I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around three minute drone compositions as it is. In the end, the record’s longest compositions seem most readily suited to carefully evoke those empyrean sensations being targeted, though Madak has had the wherewithal to cross-fade his shorter tracks together, rendering the first two sides more like collages of Bee Mask’s past material than focused standalone compositions.

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