Album Reviews Features

Cosmic Cowboy: The Month with Droneroom

We unravel Blake Conley’s epic month of new music.

Those who frequent these parts will have a rough idea about Blake Conley’s droneroom project.

Earlier this year, having featured alongside Cincinnati experimental guitarist Pete Fosco as Rabbit Hash, the pair gave us their stunning debut LP, Don’t Mistake my Enthusiasm for Impatience. From a personal point of view, during one of the more harrowing periods post-COVID, this album proved to be one that will stay with me forever. We all have these moments with artists and certain records, and Don’t Mistake my Enthusiasm for Impatience is among the few for me which occupy this space.

Having recently moved from Las Vegas to Tacoma, Washington, the Certified Kentucky Colonel (no bullshit, I’ve seen the documentation) has always operated outside the scope of conventionality. After all, this is an artist who released a Valentine’s Day cassette the day after the event (the fantastic You Drown Out the Crowd via Histamine Tapes). Yes, one doesn’t need a specific day of the year to profess love to their significant other, and regardless of the day, it’s evident that Conley will keep on droning, whatever the day or occasion may be.

Roll the calendar forward six weeks, and April doesn’t just greet us with one new droneroom release, but three – all of which land in the space of a week. Conley and I communicate randomly over email, and as I was thinking of reviewing the three albums together, in the midst of composing a missive outlining this proposal, Conley had beat me to the punch, suggesting exactly the same thing. An unspoken telepathy of sorts that generally shakes out over time the more you communicate with someone, I guess.

The droneroom story is one of the most fascinating since we opened the doors here at Sun 13. Cosmic wanderings induced with acidic tonality, this is drone for drinking spirits alone in the corner of smoke-filled bars. It’s a vibe, but there is a method to the madness.

Conley’s song titles mirror the story of his bruising compositions. Cinematic curls of smoke as Americana meanderings and the celestial rush of tonality combine as drone like no other. Gun-slinging, outhouse, cowboy drone. Drama. Intricacy. Aggression wrestling with tenderness in a strange juxtaposition, which ultimately illuminates the realities of life.

And that’s the thing about this project. Conley creates earthy textures that aren’t just on the street level. This is music that’s born from the scars of moments lived. From every riff that rings off his guitar to every drone oozing out of the speaker like a weeping wound, you can simply feel the weight moving through you at speed.

The three albums released in quick succession this month, Life Ain’t Worth the Drown, Secondhand Failures and Rusted Lung, arrive more by coincidence than design. That may change over time, of course, as we find the undulating effects of a nomadic marksman drifting through life in search of those endless possibilities.

We all have our ways of doing this, of course. But Conley’s is simple: plug in and drone.

Droneroom Interview: “I prefer it if someone else tells me what they hear and see”

Life Ain’t Worth the Drown
Imploding Sounds

With a nihilism that matches its title, in many ways Life Ain’t Worth the Drown ties together all the elements of the droneroom experience.

A Time Where Peace Had Horrors of Its Own begins like a mess of tangled barbed-wire, and while this knotty sequence reoccurs throughout the song, it suddenly unfolds with a withering drone that would overpower a chapter of Hells Angels. And while Conley claims this is post-biker metal, it’s an interesting take which is later revisited of the grossly hypnotic The Most Magnificent Building in the World.

Dominated by a series of voiceovers by people set out to make your life a living hell, the aptly titled Heaven is a Circle captures the torment from your waking hours in your dreams. And it continues on Love Got With Money. An eerie sequences that unravels into a searing hell storm of drone and distortion that fees like the walls are closing in. A Comparatively Rare Bird finds the tiny cracks in those walls that imbues hope. As they say, though – it’s the hope that kills you, even for those bird watchers out there…

This is the droneroom release that takes a while to sink into the bones, but that’s kind of the point. In all its unsettling sequences, there’s a nervous energy that filters through the cracks, and while different in tone and feel in comparison with many other droneroom releases, Life Ain’t Worth the Drown still projects the kind of morbid reality people are faced with from time to time.

Secondhand Failures
Marginal Glitch Records

Recorded during a roadtrip “somewhere on Red Rock Canyon Road in Nevada”, Secondhand Failures is droneroom like never before. Stripped back with the distortion pedals stowed away in the back of the truck, Secondhand Failures consists of a series of lonely field recordings that drip with the kind of uncertainly one has when trying untwist the knots in their head in a fight to take control. Not exactly like the walls closing in, but a hopeless abandonment in search of some answers on that lonely open road.  

And here Conley finds it. Through sparse, finger-picked guitars, the loose form of Americana drifts through The Dreams of Horses (For Nicole) and We’re All Just Collecting Ghosts, which are both drowned out by the wind blowing through a moving car. Third track, The World Breaks Everyone Where, captures Conley making a pit stop to light a cigarette, bringing to life the true essence of the field recording and its unique qualities. From here, Conley guides us further down this route while his finger-picked meanderings hover in the background of this journey into the unknown.

While some may see these recordings as cavalier and superfluous, in actual fact they reveal the droneroom story as good as any, acting as a circuit breaker from the abrasive tones and textures Conley employs more often. It’s yet another unlikely combination in a catalogue that boasts many.

Rusted Lung
Echodelick Records/Ramble Records

His first vinyl release via Atlanta label, Echodelick with Melbourne’s Ramble Records also along for the ride, releasing their second droneroom LP (the first being last year’s The Most Gorgeous Sleep), from the opening metallic echo of Blood Goes Warm, you get the sense that Rusted Lung is one of Conley’s finest moments caught on tape. Just the feel of it embodies the spirit of the droneroom story. Thankfully, there is no let up, as the rest of the album unravels in similar, striking fashion.

The Distance From Myself is droneroom at its most malevolent and visceral. Dark curls and fizzy slabs of noise that strike with devastating effect. It’s the kind of track you feel that Dylan Carlson never made. The volume was never quite loud enough, even during Earth’s hallmark moments.

Signing off with the epic title track, Conley captures that tranquil, sun-baked desert vibe. All the feelings that open spaces bring; clarity, peace and quiet, and while there are similarities to Sunn O)))’s Novae, like the amplifier overlords, Conley doesn’t keep things calm for too long, unloading the kind of drone that isn’t post-biker: it’s biker drone. The noise dispensed towards the backend of this composition would have the most hardened chapter member cowering behind the bar in utter fright and despair.

With ceaseless waves of militant drones that buckle the mind and draw a tear from the eye, Rusted Lung is a tableau of pain and ecstasy. Again, those juxtapositions that are indicative of life, and that’s what the droneroom experience is all about. A tainted soul trying to find solace, and with Rusted Lung Conley finds his place on this earth. Or, indeed, at the summit of it.

Life Ain’t Worth the Drown is out now via Imploding Sounds. Purchase here.

Secondhand Failures is out tomorrow via Marginal Glitch Records. Purchase here.

Rusted Lung is out tomorrow via Echodelick Records/Ramble Records. Purchase from Bandcamp here (Vinyl) and here (CD).

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

5 replies on “Cosmic Cowboy: The Month with Droneroom”

[…] Over the last few weeks, the excellent avant-jazz leanings of Xylouris White have been hard to shift from the playlist (read all about it in our recent catch up with the duo via the link below). So too the swathe of new releases from droneroom, who takes country and drone to wonderful new places over three albums released over the past seven days (full round-up here). […]


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