Daniel Patrick Quinn
Ridin' the Stang
I Have Nothing
One of the first songs The Fall ever dropped to tape was "We Dig Repetition" which turns out to be a thesis statement for the next thirty years of music that strives to straddle the hidden fence separating the simultaneous hippy-drippy and academic world of drone music, one where icy idealism about static texture and placidity meet the bong hit fueled drum circle, and the scrappy sexy DIY punk rock world, where once the Sex Pistols made it OK to "suck" on record (I say "suck" because they don't Suck in a cosmic sense, just in a traditional skill sense, and that is arguable), people realized that you could follow your ramshackle muse without burdening yourself with those pesky basics that you are supposed to override to get back at yourself.
Personally, homespun drone music is the thing that scratches my peculiar itchy spots the best. There are reams of drivel associating the drone with religious conviction, allowing twinkling meditation to take sonic form, so the homespun drone revolution, to me, lets you make contact with your Big Man In The Sky within. And since the target of this arrow is Infinity, its hard to judge the wheat from the chaff, so here are a couple recent releases that get my third eye a-quivering.
Daniel Patrick Quinn, kickin it straight outta East Lothian with ...idin' The Stang, mixes some Cornelius Cardew string sublimity with scratchy hand percussion and enthralling thick accented storytelling from him and most noticeably, a security guard from the National Gallery of Scotland fed with a couple pints to deliver the riveting story "The Burryman" over Quinn's fiddle, bass and accordion moeibus strip. Quinn is no slouch in the narration department - his staccato personal force takes on a Mark E Smith-like punch on "Northern" and "Channelkirk and the Surrounding Area" replacing the Mighty Fall's garage stomp with extended string expannses and maracas. Its really beautiful stuff. Elsewhere on the disc he creates huge arcs of simple interweaving melodies like on "Make Hay!" or emotion-laden string and bass guitar workouts like the hypnotic "Clock House" and "Over and Over" and combining the whole in a strange off-putting and disturbing piece "Rough Music." This is one of those CD's that I hesitate to share with people, since its odd little mechanism gears in with my brain in just the right way, I think its coming from inside. Maybe that's inherent in the hypnotic nature of repetitive music, which I think is a cosmic thing, but this one one hits just right. When I'm receptive to it, this music is perfect in its scale, scope and humanity.
Another grandaddy of modern drone worship was John Fahey, and his implausible meeting of ragtime and raga in the auspices of his battered guitar and ridiculous shops that spawned a whole supernova of artists that to this day creates universes with their hand. One notable disciple is Ben Chasny of indie folk favorite Six Organs of Admittance, who tempers his Fahey worship with a lifetime of New Wave orchestration, recombining it into truly haunting meditative music. A recent duo project August Born with Japanese kindred spirit Hiroyuki Usui creates a truly spiritual space in your headphones on their self-titled debut. The opening Track "Blues To Begin" is a ramshackle psychedelic thing, sounding for all the world like a band consisting of ghosts, with weird crackles and thumpy acoustic guitar pushing against a haze of memory and distance, while "Dead Bird Blues" juxtaposes some old time folk strumming with Usui's vocal intonations. But the real meat of this sammich is found on the third track "A Thousand Butterflies" whose tumbling melodies weave in and out with sitar buzzes and clatter of cymbals and snare hits that sound like they are being triggered by your nervous system. It circles around you like Calder mobile caught in pre-storm gust. "More Dead Bird Blues" creates a bluesy-gothy headspace, punctuates by field recordings of birds, temple bells and their harmonized chanting, while "Last Breath of the Bird" is a rising triumphant passage of idle fingerpicking and buzzing solar flares. The rest of the album traverses similar shifting ground, creating an uneasy calm like that of The Dirty Three without their Baltic sorrow overcasting it. "Providence" sounds like you are ensconced in Chasny's guitar along with Usui who is trying to relay something to you, and though you don't understand his language, you are still listening closely. That sums up how this kind of stuff works for me. I'm not sure what I'm hearing, but I know I need to listen closely.
The third and perhaps purest form of drone worship comes with artists that don't float any boats on their mountain lakes, plop any Joshua trees in their Dead Valleys and instead let the texture of the sound tell the story. recent things operating in this arena that have grabbed me are Sunn O)))'s consistent distillation of Black Metal into its base ink form, Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening Band, who enters actual subterranean chambers to explore the psych-physical properties of natural reverb, and projects like If Thousands, who could be one person, could be a whole team, that point their efforts in one common direction,or to put it in Ghostbusters terms, letting the beams cross to see what happens. Their album I Have Nothing takes the still orbital throb of Eno's earlier work and adds a heavier, more human weight to it. Tracks like "Marianas" sound as if you are projected in the trench of its name, slight echoey throbs popping in to disturb the pitch-black stillness. Oddly enough, this album also has a track named "Providence" but this one takes on a darker tinge, like the sound of the gathering storm of an angry, vengeful god, while the ironically named "Caterwaul" is a more pastoral thing with slow moving guitars and sweeping lights bleeding through the piece. A great thing about this record is that the drones are long enough to get their own little macrocosms going without overstaying their welcomes. Drone artists are usually in it for the looooooong haul, and the listener generally have to be as well. But the phase shifting that makes "Children with Horns" percolate for four minutes is perfect. Any longer and it either takes on its own vision quest or become simply tedious. Most of the tracks on I Have Nothing shake the foundation like whalesongs, but there are a couple like "Crispin Glover" and "Stella and Me" accomplish the same efect with a simple pulsing melody, but the crowing drone achievement here is the cataclysmic "Alpha" that takes slowly bowed strings and ambient screeches ans squeals to create an evergrowing bubble of sound, that eventually fills up every inch of space in the room, absorbing everything in its path. Its less song-like than the previous two albums, but this is an excellent gateway drug to the world of drone music, that once it hooks into you and realigns your DNA, makes all other music seem fussy and superfluous.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com