Back in October I saw Claire M Singer opening for Stars of the Lid at the Barbican, and though a short set, her organ based ambient drone music filled the room with gorgeous sound for half an hour, and I knew I’d have to check out more of her music after this. I was pleasantly surprised to find that her debut album Solas released a few months previously was a double disc release, the first featuring more expansive modern classical with cello and electronics in addition to the organ, the second featuring the sole track The Molendicular, the organ piece performed that night. The two approaches are distinct enough to warrant two discs (at seventy minutes it could all fit on the one CD) but also both work as a whole album of fantastic ambient drone.
As mentioned above, the first disc is a quite expansive and varied take on ambient music with classical instrumentation. A Different Place opens the album with layers of strings woven together to create a beautiful blanket of sound, but with dramatic low cello driving the track along in a piece that evokes an autumnal feeling of forests and rain – the music on Solas feels very warm, organic and cinematic throughout. Diobaig is more bleak, high pitched synth droning away before fading into the background slightly as more layers of synth and cello introduce themselves in a quieter, thoughtful piece.
I’ve always loved the organ when used in drone music – the massive sound of the low end, the grandiose tone of the higher register and the way the held notes reverberate powerfully make it an instrument that you don’t hear enough of in drone music, in comparison to guitar, strings and synthesizer. On the title track Solas the organ takes the lead and it’s a very warm piece of drone where the organ melody evolves slowly and beautifully over the course of the track, with cello dipping in and out, taking more of a role as the track goes on, all surrounded in an electronic haze. It’s minimalist, but as it moves slowly toward it’s gorgeous climax, it rewards active listening with shut eyes and could’ve easily lasted more than its eleven minute length. Eilean even manages to one-up this great piece though, with synth, organ and cello all ebbing and flowing over each other in a gorgeously layered conglomeration of textures to get lost in. The Molendicular makes up the whole of the second disc, a twenty five minute piece for solo organ, with huge stacks of reverberation filling your headphones with powerful droning bliss. The first eight minutes has Singer playing organ drones, before she starts playing a slow melody, each note reverberating around for full effect. It’s really well done, evolving in such a manner, and she could have made a whole album purely out of this track. You can just imagine the feeling of the notes reverberating against the walls of the Union Chapel where it was recorded. It’s both heavy and awe-inspiringly beautiful and should appeal to any fans of drone, whether the doom metal end of Sunn O))) or the minimal ambience of Stars of the Lid.
Overall, it’s a great drone album that deserves to be listened to on quality headphones, the three longer pieces here are absolutely sublime pieces of organ based drone, with Diobaig and A Different Place also providing beautiful modern classical.