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Welcome to the Terrordrone

Dreary tunes cure cloudy noons

December 15, 2008, 12:00 am
Maybe it was the crisp fall air, or the family emergency that took me out of my everyday and threw me into Denver suburbs and hospital waiting rooms, or the pre-election fear that seemed to seep into my soul. Whatever it was, I got hooked. I rediscovered drone and have been freebasing it ever since.

The quest for more started on a cold late-September night at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colo. where I saw Sigur Rós. It has taken me to both The Stove in Albuquerque and the Santa Fe Complex, just a few weeks later, for Santa Fe’s The Late Severa Wires and cost me hundreds of dollars for vinyl at The Candyman. But what benefit comes out of this insatiable need?

My relationship with post-rock began years ago. I discovered The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” before I could drive. I remember with joy the night that Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval threw a temper tantrum on stage because the audience wasn’t giving her its full attention. But the black clothes and purple hair of high school are long gone and, I thought, this music was buried with it.

But, years after we first broke up, drone and I are hanging out again, a lot.

Bands such as The Late Severa Wires, Austin’s Explosions in the Sky or Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor build wall upon wall of sound to encase the listener with the aural journey on which the bands sail. These walls create a kind of white noise that allows the distinctness of the accompanying instruments to stand out more than if the sounds they made came from silence. At live performances, The Late Severa Wires tends to hypnotize half the audience, while it sends the other half running for the door.

Similarly, on its 2007 album Swimming with Orange, Santa Fe’s We Drew Lightning harnesses the emotion of the listener and creates an atmosphere with its sound that reaches well through to the other senses. It brings to life the smell of a foggy morning or the pain of pedaling a bike up a steep hill. The repetitiveness of the music matches that of the day to day, while it adds gentle waves of color to the monotony.

While many droney post-rock bands put out purely instrumental albums, some of the most exciting work includes vocals. Sigur Rós, for example, uses a mixture of Icelandic and gibberish to create a sound in which the context of the lyrics is less meaningful than the sound of language as instrument. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, on the other hand, focuses the listener on the meaning while it also uses vocals as a percussive element. Its song “Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns,” from the 2005 album Horses in the Sky, plays on the Canadian national anthem and turns joyful patriotism into an attack on the corruption and violence of politics.

Somewhat less aggressive, but equally steeped in tradition, is The Raveonettes, which mixes drone with a doo-wop-esque aesthetic to emphasize the musical past from which post-rock comes.

That this drone is somewhat inaccessible is part of its appeal. It works best on vinyl where the pops and disintegration of the album only add to the oddities of the music. For every long dissonant phrase a post-rock band carries out, often for minutes at a time, there is a crash that takes it all away.

The joy comes from the heart-wrenching emotion that is finally released. By making and listening to music that comes from loneliness, both listener and band are together in isolation. To be utterly alone and completely surrounded by an outside entity that is in complete synchronicity completes the cycle. And it has been through this binge, wherein I’ve found myself drowning in drone for months on end, that the emotional catharsis of autumn was allowed to be born, sustained and released all in the same moment, over and over again.

 

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