Rounding the Fringes - November 18

Wolfgang Merx - Drone Storm

Released: November 5

While Merx has been known to branch out in his sonic explorations, albums such as Drone Storm seem to be the defining sound of his work. Solidly in the realm of drone music, this album is incredibly cohesive. So much so that it can be difficult to really tell when one track ends and the next begins unless you are listening extremely closely. If you read the credits for any of his works, you'll see that he credits himself with "fairy dusting" in his process and every track here represents that. Though much of drone music can come across as indistinguishable from any other piece, there is a certain quality to the album as a whole. It is as if it seems to sit in a world outside of this one, one perpetually locked in a haze that you honestly don't want to leave.

Utilizing droning synths that are not quite heavy nor exactly light, Merx creates a backdrop for further synth exploration that borders on melodic but never quite gets there. On "Undercurrent" we hear the long droning sound first and then are treated to a strange oscillating sound that goes up and down in pitch, seemingly at random intervals and driving the composition forward in a way that makes for an exaggeration of that otherworldly quality. "Choral I" seems to possess a similar motif while its counterpart "Choral II" subdued this motif in favor of a dark drone focus. This is similar to the opening track "Dawn Secrets" which is a bit heavier than some of the other tracks here due to utilizing a fair amount of distortion that seems to produce some eerie low tones. However, taken all together, the album is a seamless meditative experience that seems not of this world.

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Phillip Dolan - Chapel

Released: November 5

Despite what you may think at first listen, there is absolutely no synthesis involved in this album. Dolan exclusively used nothing but a guitar, amp, series of pedals, and the natural space of an abandoned church to create what you hear. Even with this limitation, the end result is nothing short of incredible with it variations in sound style. Dolan is able to create everything ranging from large orchestral-sounding atmospheres to various harsh noises and even some barely audible ambiances that tie in with the other styles. Overall, there is a sense of progression to the album as it begins with softer and more ambient tones then moving towards the harsher side of things until eventually returning to a more ambient sound for its conclusion.

Opening with "Herald," Dolan gives us a beautiful reverb and delay soaked introduction to this isolated world. Utilizing feedback from the guitar to create pad-like sounds, creates a strangely peaceful atmosphere that is later joined by more upfront harmonics of the guitar. This atmosphere continues halfway through "Vision" until we are given the first indications of harsher noise. By the fifth track "Descent" we are firmly in the realm of noisy distortions with the previous track "Vows' giving some small reprieve. It is only with the final track "Heal" that we are back to the ambient side of things. However, even with this one, we still have some percussive noise that appears intermittently throughout the track to provide something akin to a drum track. How this was created with the limitations Dolan was under is something that I would love to know more about.

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Grey Frequency - Essentia

Released: October 25

Described as an exploration of connections and conflicts between the internal and external world, Grey Frequency's latest release seems to sit somewhere in between a light and a dark

album - grey, if you will (please forgive the bad pun). Throughout the album, dark background textures permeate the atmosphere while surprisingly bright instrumentation sits atop all of this darkness to give some sense of light to each. The exceptions to this seem to take us further into the darkness with much more textural content rather than melodic. However, this is tapered by the track that follows brings us back to some sense of light. It is almost like being submerged only to be brought back to the surface shortly after.

The opening track "What We Become" is a fantastic example of this motif and effectively sets the mood for the entire album. Starting with dark and echoing textures, we are suddenly awakened by the sound of a bright piano playing only a single note at first, but then quickly evolves into a beautiful, if not slightly broken, melody. In stark contrast, "Void" gives us the cerebral textural darkness that submerges us in sound. There is nothing really to latch on to in this track. No melody, no harmony, just eerie soundscapes that threaten to drown us. "Cosmos" seems to reverse this entirely with an animated arpeggio that provides energy not previously heard here with an almost uplighting quality until eventually subsumed by a sound similar to pneumatic hissing, once again leaving us drowning in the atmospherics. As an exploration, the listener should be prepared to dive deep.

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Chelidon Frame - Mental Static

Released: October 21

The ways in which we store data have shifted wildly in recent decades. At this point, CDs are sometimes even seen as archaic though still in use. But it is this concept of dead or dying media formats the Chelidon Frame explores in this recent release. Utilizing only software instruments, this album is actually just one nearly ten minute-long track broken up into byte-sized (If you'll forgive another bad pun) that attempts to capture the aesthetic of the old days of programming with green text on black screens and command-line interfaces that seemed daunting to the uninitiated. This track was then squashed to an archaic 8kbps bit rate and put on a short run of floppy disks for distribution, as well as digital. When I heard floppy disks, I screamed with joy internally as these are by far my favorite obsolete media.

The actual composition of the track is quite varied, especially considering it is meant to be listened to as one continuous track from what I can tell. Tracks such as "circle-elipse" give us light ambient textures that are taken over at the end by loud mechanical-sounding noises that are reminiscent of a long outdated and obsolete hard drive reading data for the millionth time, in high danger of failing completely. This noise brings into the next track "kludge-balanced," which is even more of this same noise that grows exponentially until morphing into a sound that is similar although much more degraded in a way that makes me think that the hard drive finally failed completely. While the sounds vary wildly, they all seem to be unified by the overarching motif of digital imperfection imparted by the use of antiquated media in a way that provides the sweetest ear candy ever to grace the 3.5" diskette.

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Everything - Stasis

Released: October 12

This recent single focuses entirely on the earth's various cycles that create the world that is currently habitable to us. Interestingly, it uses a sample of the actual sun to create a persistent hum that starts at the beginning of the song, though Larkin Dawson (a.k.a. Everything) had to do quite a bit of alteration to the sample in order to be audible. The track utilizes a series of repeating cycles including a short four-note melody that seems to speed up as it continues. This builds up along with other elements including the sound of many conversations occurring all at once in a busy place until it hits a stunning crescendo and stops suddenly, only to give us a short bit of release at the very end. It is quite an interesting track sonically with a message very much grounded in the real world today.

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