The subtle art of drone often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Operating under the assumption that simplicity negates any possible attention to detail, many push drone to the side as a gimmicky or silly genre. It’s practically a guarantee at this point that in any conversation about drone music – especially bands like Sunn O))) and artists like Sachiko M, who strip drone down to its most basic essence – there will be those who decry the genre as “boring,” or, worse, “not real music.” This isn’t to admonish or scold these folks, just to say that as a musical form, drone often is relegated to a form of music that most don’t “get,” which is a shame, because people don’t know what they’re missing.
When executed properly, as is the case with bands like Nadja, Boris, and Earth, drone is lush, beautiful, and evocative; the repetitions and crawling, monolithic progressions create soundscapes of immense beauty that flow into each other in what’s possibly the closest one can musically get to a purely meditative state. Enjoying drone is an exercise of patience, in giving yourself over to the music and letting the ebb and flow dictate your mood, your thoughts, your overall being. A good drone album is like nothing else: it’s transcendental in nature, and it brings the listener to a concentrated, higher state of mind.
With Dead Ringers, Horseback have created one such drone album. Whirring, ethereal synths, pulsing krautrock rhythms, and washed-out, distorted guitars combine into a slurry of hypnotic sound that carries the listener across vast, peacefully post-apocalyptic landscapes, sometimes crawling, sometimes flying, always moving. Taking melodic inspiration from the aforementioned Earth in the vaguely Western-soundtrack vibe of the album, fusing it with the moments of tension that have brought Swans their fame (and often using similar melodic phrasing to the band’s frontman Michael Gira), but throwing in a hugely increased usage (and variety) of synthesizers, organs, pianos, and even xylophones, the majority of Dead Ringers is built off of many interconnected parts, all of which move on their own while lining up into passages that sparkle and shimmer with a sort of sublime, placid beauty.
In the charged, unrested quiet when each track is at its lowest, it can be easy to lose track of the music, not in the sense of too much going on, but in that once the repetition sinks into your brain, it’s easy to stop registering anything as playing, until more of the track begins to come in and the familiar pleasant swells return. These are the weakest moments of Dead Ringers – that point where one’s attention is forfeit as the music loses the fight for it – but in each track’s apotheosis lies a stunning sort of catharsis by way of many layers of sound, all unique, working together like an ever-shifting puzzle or a multi-part optical illusion that enraptures the audience’s attention and brings their mind to a higher place of being.
Dead Ringers is part of a rare breed of drone albums: the sort that make one forget they’re listening to something made by other humans, and not some natural collection of sounds torn from some far away place and arranged by some being beyond comprehension. Songs progress by way of evolution, starting out as a speck of pulsing light and changing slowly over the course of the track into something resplendent, beautiful, and wholly its own. Meditative, ambitious, and beautiful, Dead Ringers is an example of drone music operating at its zenith.