Once upon a time, there was a dynamic in pop music in which loud and quiet sections alternated within a given song. That scenario is often tracked back to the Pixies (and, a little later, Nirvana). In contemporary electronic music, there is a scenario in which a drone changes amplitude — or volume, that is — as if following the contours of a slowly undulating sine wave, moving up and down in a manner that from a distance might appear mechanical, but that retains a lilting feel. The end effect is more rocking chair than industrial churn.
This music, the rich and complex tone that generally goes by the name “drone,” moves from near-silence to an immersive breadth and back again, over and over, like clockwork, yes, but like a clock wrapped in something gauze-soft. Take “Before I Let the Sunshine Rot,” the opening, and arguably the best, track off Ian Hawgood‘s recent Phantom Channel album, with which it shares its title (MP3). While not all the music on the record adheres to this pattern as concertedly as does its title cut, the lilt does make itself felt throughout — in “The Latin Quarter,” there’s a tremulous reverberation (MP3) that’s far more aggressive than anything in “Before I Let the Sunshine Rot,” and crowd voices are mixed in, but the overall effect is the same. One other favorite, among the album’s eight tracks, is “Pirouette of Cotton 1,” which adds a thin female vocal, a light harmonic contribution, less a lead vocal than another ingredient in the drone recipe (MP3).