Top 20 Drone Records Of 2013

December 9, 2013

TWENTY!! Goddamn right. The Top Drone list could no longer be contained by the traditional 10. I’m not doing 20 because there was just too much awesome drone this year. While that’s true, it’s also true every year. No, I’m doing it because there were so few standout albums. Everything was so fucking awesome it’s like everyone juiced their skills but were all stopped by a glass ceiling or something. I mean my Top 5 are almost interchangeable. Well, not really, but sort of.

So, as usual, this list is about my personal favorite droners. Nothing objective going on. And, like AGB in general, I tend to favor the under-represented. And I don’t usually allow reissues, but I had to bend the rules a bit for no other reason than that one reissue is so, so fucking good and I didn’t know it was a reissue until I started making this list.

And you know I only write about the highest quality shit. So anything that was posted this year and tagged as Drone is basically just as good as everything you’ll see on this list. So browse that genre if you’re still jonesing for some more drone.

Onto the list!

Jasper tx - an index of failure album cover
20. Jasper TXAn Index Of Failure (Handmade Birds)

“…blissful drone that makes its home in the empty cavity in your chest, attempting to fill a void that can’t be filled, taking you down a dark path of sweeping glitchy static waves…”

This is Dag Rosenqvist’s mic-drop of a record. We’re all just sitting here slack-jawed and holding back the tears knowing he left at the height of his game. Farewell, Jasper TX. You will be sorely missed. May your talent rise up in newer & better forms.


secret pyramid - movements of night album cover
19. Secret PyramidMovements Of Night (Students Of Decay)

“…the embodiment of softness, no hard edges or jagged angles to be found, the stark sphere of a billiard ball obscured behind a gauzy veil, taking clips of melodies and stretching them out, looped on themselves and buried under a thick Basinskian blanket…’

Bittersweet drone has been makin the rounds lately (or maybe that’s just what I gravitate to) and this is some of the most nebulous to get pressed to wax. Truly fantastic stuff.


total life - bender drifter album cover
18. Total LifeBender/Drifter (Debacle)

“This is drone lovers’ drone, a pulsing electronic raga sounding like Dan Friel if he studied under Pandit Pran Nath, like watching a monk meditate in a strobe light, taking a few tones and pushing them until they smear together, indistinguishable from everything else…”

Tough call deciding which Total Life record to put on here between this, Radiator, and the split with Deceh, but since I already have a couple other Important records on this list and since Bender/Drifter was the first I heard, it gets the glory. Plus, Debacle is still way underrated, yall need to wake up.


olan mill - hiraeth album cover
17. Olan MillHiraeth (Preservation)

“…lush pastoral beauty, blooming with otherworldly sweetness and as tender as can be. The drone comes in all forms, from resonant angelic choirs and sweeping cinematic strings, to buried sustained tones and delicate piano keys, all layered in a harmonic perfection…”

I’ve heard a bit of Olan Mill before this record, but for some reason never really picked up on him. This one is impossible to ignore though. It opens up the sky & shines on you forever.


mohammad - som sakrifis album cover
16. MohammadSom Sakrifis (PAN)

“…like Sunn O))) on a string binge, no stacks of deafening amps or demonic vocals, this trio is minimal in the best way, moving together in subtle harmony creating dense shifting walls of the deepest fucking drone, no rumble to be found, just pure smooth tones…”

Probably the only 100% acoustic record on this list (maybe? I don’t really know), which gives it extra cool points. The world could definitely stand to have more of this classical doom shit.


culver - gateshead graves album cover
15. CulverGateshead Graves (Fabrica)

“…the roar of a monolith mixed with the mind bending bleakness found in the endless stretch of wastelands, static & near motionless crumbling of pure black minimalism…”

This is some massively minimal drone that is as impenetrable as it is bleak. The sound of a thousand demons breathing.


be honest - Tea Sugar Soda Soap album cover
14. Be HonestTea, Sugar, Soda, Soap (Fallow Field)

“…starting out with a soft & bright drone that quickly turns into an overwhelming dense dark static, snarling & growling but never actually biting, subtly beautiful with melodies buried in the noise…”

Not too often that an album is a band’s debut and the inaugural release of a new label aaand is this fucking good. Kinda stunning, actually. Everyone involved should be getting awards or something because goddamn this is just too awesome.


lawrence english - lonely women's club album cover
13. Lawrence EnglishLonely Women’s Club (Important)

“…just him and his Elka 30 organ billowing out the most beautiful minimal drone, with a touch of post processing to blur the edges a bit, this becomes a fucking masterpiece of warmth, the very core of life, the bright glimmer that shines even on the darkest days…”

I really fucking love Lawrence English. Everything he does is magic, but hearing him do something this minimal is always breathtaking. The kind of drone that bends space/time and you just lose yourself in.


roly porter - life cylce of a massive star album cover
12. Roly PorterLife Cycle Of A Massive Star (Subtext)

“Starts off with a genius track of locked arpeggiated intensity and morphs into an enormous static drone masterpiece that’s downright flawless. Nonstop beauty showing you the micro dust and macro magnificence of the universe.”

Doing a drone concept record about the life cycle of a star seems a little heavy-handed but holy shit Porter knocks it out of the park with this. If you’re brave enough, I’m sure you could try to imagine the sounds contained in here, but you’d only be half right. Porter’s take on the cosmos is fucking brilliant.


11. Fabio Orsi & PimmonProcrastination (Home Normal)

“…unmistakably gorgeous dreams of the Netherworld where emotions burrowed deep in your psyche are coaxed out by the bittersweet beauty, swirling & overwhelming, euphoric & cathartic…”

An absolutely killer collab between these two dudes who both already have abundant discographies, but together become more than the sum of their parts, leaping over the best of their previous works and reaching new magnificent heights.


betacicadae album cover
10. BetacicadaeMouna (Elegua)

“…the most incredible electro-acoustic ambient record that is its own separate planet of sound, there’s nothing else quite like this, it’s a microcosm of personality but the breadth is endless, breathing warmth into electronics and twisting organics beyond their limits…”

Another double whammy of new band & new (to me) label, this guy takes a kitchen sink approach to ambient, both in instruments played & emotions evoked. Spectacular drone that feels like waking up fully rested in a warm bed on your day off aka the best.


Hell On Earth Bathetic copy
9. EarnHell On Earth (Bathetic)

“I can hardly imagine a more beautifully dark record than this, channeling soft woozy bliss into a black mourning shroud, this is the ghostly stuff you see out of the corner of your eye on a sun-drenched foggy morning…”

As mentioned before, my list doesn’t concern itself with reissues. This Earn LP is the exception for a couple of reasons. 1. It was originally released in what I can only imagine was a criminally limited amount on tape by Ekhein (run by Earn aka Matthew Sullivan). 2. Sean McCann remastered it. 3. It’s fucking astounding. Seriously, this record is damn near perfect. We should all be thanking Bathetic for carving it into PVC grooves. It’s still criminally limited, only 300 LPs, but somehow it’s still available.


Federico Durand - el idioma album cover
8. Federico DurandEl Idioma De Las Luciérnagas (Desire Path)

“…a record of subtle complex sounds, finding wonder in the smallest audio spaces and turning a regular peaceful morning into a world of bright white bliss.”

TOTALLY upping his game from the last record I heard him on, the collab with Nicholas Szczepanik as Every Hidden Color, this one takes the field recording thing to heart, with crickets gently chirping under chimes, which I assume are being played intentionally, but come off as though you’ve stumbled upon one of life’s beautiful accidents. Everything is played with such grace that it seems natural & effortless, something I haven’t heard from very many artists.


aquarelle - august undone album cover
7. AquarelleAugust Undone (Students Of Decay)

“…the most blissful fucking thing I’ve ever heard, a massively dense wall of heavenly sound that’s somehow still soft & weightless, an ever-shifting crystal fog that overwhelms you but gives you moments of transcendent clarity…”

This guy, goddamn, it’s like he’s got his fingers to the pulse of my music needs, how he can continue to make overwhelming drones so fresh & involved is beyond me. Fucking kudos, man.


6. Alessandro CortiniForse Trilogy (Important)

“…incredible minimal/maximal single-Buchla-synth drone stuff that’s got the occasional rhythm and is fucking out of this world awesome.”

Ok so I haven’t heard Volume 3 in this Forse trilogy yet, but it doesn’t even matter because the first two alone are fucking insane. I have no idea what happened to Cortini between working with Reznor in NIN to these Buchla jams but I hope it happens to more people. If I had to wager, I’d bet these deceptively simple tracks probably unlock the secrets to life, the universe, and everything, but I don’t think we’ll know for a while.


raum - event of your leaving album cover
5. RaumEvent Of Your Leaving (Glass, House)

“[Liz] Harris’s ethereal vocals & hazy guitars and JC-L’s noisey droning magic that’s dialed down a bit so their sounds mesh perfectly. Fucking out of this world amazing.”

If ever there was a pairing to make me faint from joy, it might be this one right here. This had me at Tim Hecker/Aidan Baker collab levels of excitement, only this one actually followed through. These are the sounds of your best dreams where intense emotions run rampant and you’re free from all inhibitions.


ian william craig - a forgetting place album cover
4. Ian William CraigA Forgetting Place (self released)

“…drifting alone in the decayed ruins of drone, cloaked in bright white brilliance dulled from the decades hidden in shadow.”

Out-fucking-standing record that just came out of nowhere. No idea who this guy is but he’s got some serious fuckin skills. The second track on this, “On The Reach Of Explanations (Vocal Version),” is pretty much the most overwhelming song I’ve heard all year. Honestly if this record, which is insanely good, just had that one song on it, it would probably still be sitting here at the number 4 spot. The blown out bliss is just too goddamn much, I can’t even handle it.


Bee Mask_final_cover_layout
3. Rafael Anton IrisarriThe Unintentional Sea (Room40)

No quote from an original review here because this one just dropped, in fact the physical copies are out this week, so this is the only record on this list to have its Top Drone title double as its “full” review. “But Justin,” you say, “aren’t you jumping the gun on this one a little, maybe give it some time to sink in until you see if it stands the test of time?” First off, I’ve given this pleeeenty of digi-spins to know the ins & outs. Second, NAY. This record is outright amazing. A magnum opus that expands & contracts to the subtleties of nature, impervious grit hunkered beneath heaving, swaying drones, an expansive eye-opening landscape spread out before you that’s impossible to comprehend all at once, and majestic in all the right ways. So yeah, Irisarri kinda snuck into the list with this one, but goddamn it would’ve been a fuckin travesty if he slipped by.


2. Julianna BarwickNepenthe (Dead Oceans)

“…her new record takes her layered vocal bliss to uncharted heights, sometimes venturing into pop territory, but pure fucking heaven through & through.”

I almost feel like I’m cheating putting this so high on the list. I mean yeah, it’s basically like pop, and it’s kind of playing at the universal heavenly drone that I’m sure every human loves by default. But who cares. This is the epitome of pure bliss for me, like literally about as blissful as bliss gets. And the fact that it’s primarily vocals just sends it through the roof on my “love it” meter. I’m fairly certain this is what angels get taught in choir class, the teacher is like “listen up, now this is how it’s fucking done you guys” and the angels are all pissed because it’s not fair, they’re never gonna be as good as Julianna Barwick. Lucky us, we get to listen to Nepenthe whenever our heart desires. And my heart desires this pretty much 100% of the time. Easily one of the most glorious & sublime records I’ve ever heard, let alone just in 2013.


josh mason - the symbiont album cover
1. Josh MasonThe Symbiont (Sunshine Ltd.)

“Some of the humblest drone I’ve ever heard, electroacoustic meditations on life, anxiety, and death, bringing an incredible depth to what could have been a very flat sound…”

As much as I love this record, I didn’t really expect it to be my number 1. It’s a record I listened to a lot and was absolutely enamored with it every moment I was listening, but somehow it was always better the next time I listened to it. And I’m not talking about “oh there’s so much going on, so many levels of detail that you find new things with each listen.” No, I’m saying that it’s like the quality increases, gets compounded with the previous listens, and so far I haven’t reach a quality peak. Every time is still better than the last. So I keep coming back to it, and that’s why it’s my number 1. Because there’s some delicate magic working in those grooves, such precision and thought going into each click, glitch, & wavering drone, I hear a lifetime of sounds in there, something that’s deeply intimate and astonishingly peaceful. Everything else disappears when this record is playing, the good & the bad. It’s just the best fucking thing I’ve ever heard.


you're all the fucking best album cover (medium)
0. You’re All The Fucking Best: Anti-Gravity Bunny 5 Year Anniversary Compilation

Ok so this isn’t officially part of this list but if I didn’t say that this compilation of new exclusive drone from literally my favorite artists made for AGB’s 5th year anniversary was one of the coolest raddest bestest drone records I’ve heard this year then I’d be a goddamn liar. Plus, a lot of the stuff on this list is already sold out (sorry!) but You’re All The Fucking Best is free and will remain available through the foreseeable future. So this isn’t ranked, it’s not part of the Top 20, it’s just a truly amazing record that I adore and think you should know about if you don’t already.

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5 comments on “Top 20 Drone Records Of 2013

  1. A real shame my “Grumpy Love” LP wasn’t featured…obviously I’m not good enough…yet. :)

    If you don’t know about it, full audio and download is here:

    Mick Buckingham (Foci’s Left)

  2. This list looks great, btw. Some personal favourites in there like “Movements Of Night”. And I’m yet to check Raum but anything Liz Harris is involved with is worth time.

  3. ASC’s “Time Heals All” 2CD on Silent Season would also be included if I did my own Top 20. Great album.

  4. anvilscepe Dec 10, 2013

    slow wakers, forming, and isnaj dui all come to mind too. oh well. great list. can’t wait to hunt some of this down. raum and rai are stellar and culver is just amazing. thanks.

  5. great list!!!