Since 1993, Chicago's Kranky Records has been championing sublime drone/ambient music. Wait, come back; you actually might like the latest triumvirate of Kranky releases featuring beatless space music and Eno-esque minimalist abstractions. I swear—they're not just for fun-hating introverts. These albums are like aural hot tubs in which you can immerse your overstressed bodies. Think of them also as crucial components of classical music's new generation. And you don't need to be a sexagenarian to enjoy 'em.
In cahoots with Adam Wiltzie, Brian McBride has erected much deeply moving ambience/drone for Stars of the Lid, particularly 1997's The Ballasted Orchestra and 1999's Avec Laudenum. The latter, especially, places treated guitar quivers in a holy sphere of ambrosial electronics, creating that rare and cherished "intimate immensity" effect. SOTL make music that's best heard in that netherzone between consciousness and sleep, where the slightest fluctuations in tone seem monumentally meaningful.
McBride's When the Detail Lost Its Freedom doesn't attain SOTL's (Zo)lofty heights, but at its best the disc does conjure a profoundly morose yet consoling aura akin to William Basinski's poignant Disintegration Loops series. At its worst, Detail wallows in ponderous self-pity and numbing stasis. However, McBride says this album was "therapy during a divorce and a move to a city [Los Angeles] that thrives on sucking the life out of people's souls," so let's cut him slack.
Part of Windsor, Canada's Thinkbox Collective, Christopher Bissonnette is one of those composers who turn the sound of organic instruments (piano, orchestral strings, etc.) into synthetic mosaics of finely granulated detail. The painstakingly arrayed minutiae populating Periphery vividly come alive like a sonic analog to Persian rugs. Bissonnette's whorling drones elegantly oscillate as if emanating from a seashell the size of a sperm whale. Periphery is ideal late-night/early-morning listening fodder to which you can get totally centered or contemplate infinity in tranquility. Can't say that about many other discs these days...
We now come to my favorite CD of the bunch—and one of the finest full-lengths of 2005—The Psychic Nature of Being by Lichens. The solo project of 90 Day Men/TV on the Radio bassist Robert Lowe, Lichens evokes neither the former's glammy math-rock ramblings nor the latter's post-rock/goth/doo-wop pomposity. Instead, Lichens launches skyward eerie, hymnal moans; atomized guitar chords; and meditative, Fahey-esque fingerpicking, with aid from a digital delay pedal—and the special knowledge to which only the most spiritual cats are privy. With three tracks ranging from 10 to 20 minutes long, Being recalls Kraut-rock hierophants Popol Vuh at their most kosmische or Fripp/Eno's celestial chillout classic Evening Star accompanied by a rogue Tibetan monk. Play Being and experience the peace that surpasseth understanding. DAVE SEGAL
More info: www.kranky.net.