I was putting together my list of favorite drone records from this year and noticed a theme: a lot of them were made by women. So I decided to take out the dudes and make a list of just lady droners. But when I started working on that list, I realized I was leaving out a lot of my favorites because they weren’t capital-D Drone records. So I said fuck it, I’m just going to make a list of my favorite drone records made by female artists even if they’re just kind of drone, or droney, or droning, or whatever. So while this is my least Drone year end drone list, it makes up for it by 1: being more true to what I like, 2: highlighting under-represented artists, and 3: still churning out a fuck ton of drone.
Once again, I tried to shy away from the high profile artists (which, sadly, there aren’t nearly enough of in this niche). There were really only three that probably would’ve been on my list if I felt they didn’t need my extra support: Sarah Davachi, Olivia Block, and Mountain Man. So if you somehow missed any of those, definitely scope them out asap. And Phew’s Voice Hardcore was on the list until I found out the CD version came out in 2017 even though the vinyl and digital editions came out this year. Oops. That’s another crazy one that you should check out.
There are two drone records, though, that were made by dudes and I feel were not given nearly enough attention, and were definitely Top 5 material for me, so I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention the wholly unique blissful doom drone by A Story Of Rats (featuring Garek Druss of Dull Knife) and the debut collaboration between High Aura’d & Asama (aka Thommy Saraceno of Owlfood). Those two records are fucking phenomenal and deserve your dollars.
I made a Spotify playlist again, because even though I hate Spotify, some people rely on it, so here you go. It’s missing songs from numbers 12, 13, and 14 because they’re not on Spotify, so make sure to stream those below.
As always: Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for making incredible music.
See what made the cut after the jump.
Super chill low key sun dappled dream drones with all the twinkling and shimmering your heart desires. The final 9.5 minute track circles around a looming organ and it’s all kinds of mesmerizing.
One of a two short single-song EPs on this list, Sara’s Deep New Unstable Agent is like a beacon of abandoned hope drifting in the depths of the void, stuttering voices that are layered into unintelligible oblivion while machines whir eternal.
Untamed Terror is aptly named as it throbs & heaves, wobbles & weaves a thick bleak mess of unnerving bile. The 30 minute title track is awesome enough on its own but there’s another excellent 15 minute piece to close out the show.
This one’s a bit hard to tackle because there’s a whopping 22 songs, all of them hovering around the 2 minute mark, and they each carve out their own micro universe of sound, some reaching for the skies with blistering bliss drone and others doing their best to imitate a microwave in the middle of a field during a thunderstorm.
As would be obvious by looking at the song titles, this is a percussion record and still definitely one of the most Drone records on this list. Premium minimalism coming exclusively from a bass drum on one song and a tam-tam on the other, the former sounding like a giant wiggling a huge sheet of metal and the latter sounding like that dizzying sound effect used in shit like The Twilight Zone when people think they’re going crazy but are actually the only one who’s not crazy.
And here would be one of the least Drone records even though it’s primarily a guitar record with some synths & field recordings tossed in. Julia plays guitar and makes it sound like a hammered dulcimer or a harpsichord but then also makes it droney? Fucking brilliant stuff. Kinda like if Bill Orcutt studied under Terry Riley. But then the guitar disappears completely and you’re left with a drowned out nightmare that you can’t quite wrap your brain around.
Sarah sums up her album pretty succinctly when she says “When you pulse one note on a vibraphone for 20 minutes, why do you need to do anything else?” This is a jaw-dropping piece of music both in terms of Lenka’s godlike patience and stamina while performing it and the indescribable amount of depth found in these resonating tones. I assume this was performed in the church it was composed for (the liner notes make it a little vague) and I can only dream that someday I could experience this piece in its birthplace. Also, you definitely need to crank the volume on this one. It’s a bit shy.
At first I was being lazy and comparing Jasmine’s Degradation Loops to Basinski’s famous works for the obvious reasons but then I realized Degradation Loops has nothing to do with Basinski and it’s not like he was the first to use time and decay as structural elements in music. So throw that incidental comparison out the window. What we have here is Jasmine bit crushing her 2015 record Yellow Bell over the course of 16 days as an installation piece for an art exhibit. This record is those 16 days condensed down into 30 minutes and the result is nothing less than breathtaking. I’ve never heard Yellow Bell but I can almost guarantee it’s not as good as Degradation Loops. This just gets more and more beautiful as things progress into the inevitable climax that is a fucking glorious wall of digital static.
Megan Mitchell released her debut full length this year under her Cruel Diagonals moniker (which is great) but this single 19 minute song on the months-old label Longform Editions (which specializes in these types of single song releases) is absolutely incredible. It starts out with Megan singing gorgeous melodies that fade in and out through the duration while various alien sounds twist from a disgusting gurgling bog to echoes in a hollow silo and all sorts of strangeness.
Totally unrelated to this record but her website Many Many Women definitely needs a shoutout for putting together a massive index (over 1000 entries) of female musicians who make weird music. If you’re reading this list, you definitely need to check out that site.
Here’s another one with a fuckton of songs (19) also averaging around 2 minutes long, and I’m not even really going to try to argue that this should be considered drone. It’s Hannah Zhalih Mickunas’ voice & guitar, the focus primarily on her voice, humming layered background melodies with lyrical stuff at the forefront, all piled on top of itself and echoed into a heavenly harmonic paradise or stripped down into a raw folk style sometimes pulling inspiration from traditional American tunes, sort of like a weirder version of Mountain Man. Plus I’m just a sucker for female vocal harmonies so this has me fuckin hooked.
This is the only record on this list that has a dude heavily involved (girl/guy duo of Layla Legard and Phil Legard) but 1: it doesn’t matter and 2: I get the vibe that Layla is the major genius at work here. Who knows. Who cares. This record is phenomenal, dark and dense and pagan and misandrous and completely otherworldly. It sort of feels like the dark folk yang to Xela’s yin with a heavy dose of impending doom running through the whole thing.
I Started Wearing Black is so fucking killer. Sonae makes the best ambient techno jams that are just the right amount of weird and then peppers the album with some minimal morose drone. It’s ridiculous how fucking good music this seemingly straightforward is. There’s no tricks or hidden surprises but I somehow keep discovering new sounds, new rhythms, new nooks and crannies to dig through. I could listen to a hundred other drone & droney techno records and still never find something this special.
I started writing a blurb for Kali Malone’s other release this year, the Organ Dirges 2016-2017 EP (because obviously a record with that title would end up on my list), and in doing so found out she released a full length in May, so I had to give that a digital spin and in doing so, I ended up completely replacing the organ dirges with this sexy hulking beast of drone, reminiscent of Ellen Arkbro’s recent For Organ And Brass and Phill Niblock’s 1982 debut, Cast Of Mind is three pieces composed for alto saxophone, bass clarinet, bassoon, trombone, and Buchla 200 synth. So yeah, this is some low end tonal purity, that smooth sound like a refined amber honey pouring through your speakers and then that synth gets nice and textured pushing this into a state of pure euphoria. Absolutely gorgeous work.
This almost made it to the number one spot because it’s Midwife (her Like Author, Like Daughter debut is maybe my all time favorite record?). But regardless of its ranking, Prayer Hands is a stunning EP that does everything her debut did, just less of it. Four long-ish songs (by traditional standards) that take her delayed guitar and reverb’ed angel voice and wraps it all up in a deeply personal atmosphere, rich and tender and everything that’s perfect about music. I have a really hard time putting into words why I love Midwife so much and these few sentences are fucking garbage compared to her music and my feelings for it. Just listen.
Kontrapoetik is Maria’s solo full length debut and holy fuck it’s impossibly good. There’s a huge amount of history and story about how and why it got made that I won’t even begin to get into because that’s a book’s worth of material in and of itself. But the music is fucking outrageous, it’s dark, heavy, and harmonic, bringing organs, synths, field recordings, mellotrons, and who knows what other sound sources together in an impenetrable gloomy cloud of melancholic bliss. Unlike anything else I’ve heard in a while. “Ångermanländska Bilder” is so evocative and emotional, it’s almost painful to listen to, and I fucking love it.