The Austerity Program guitarist J. Foley departs sonically from his pseudo-full-time noise-rock/art-metal gig with a new four-composition EP of drone loops titled, yep, you’re a smart one, Drone Loops. (It came out May 5 on Controlled Burn.) But, while the constructions – he recorded 20 in all – have a smoldering industrial tenacity to them, it’s the the art of composing them that will give fans of ambient music, home recording, and, y’know, Earth, real thrills. For that, we turn to Foley himself to explain.
“What if I tuned all of the strings on a guitar to the same note, only across three or four different octaves?” he said aloud to the press release. “The result: that sounds cool. This lead to more questions all with the same result: yes, do it, sounds really good. ‘What if I strapped that guitar down to its own cabinet and then turned it up loud?’ ‘What if I recorded that roaring drone onto a tape loop?’ ‘What if I changed the notes and recorded those different notes onto different tracks on the loop?’ ‘What if started to create a melody out of those tracks by punching them in and out?’ ‘What if I added in a beat by spacing out the tape edits on the loop to create rhythms from clicks and pops?’
It’s an ingenious conceit for anyone who ever has lost themselves in a sea of guitar feedback or an epic drone, and the sorta-mid-fi way Foley initiates it is astounding stuff. The recording acumen here – i.e. the ability to capture slices of drones on tape in such a manner – is impressive but tracks like the opener, “Loop 019” (all titles are pretty cold and clinical) have a real compositional depth and sense of scope to them. That’s no minor accomplishment. I know it sounds nutty for the Sunn 0)))-afflicted among us, but this guy is either brilliant or a lucky fool because he, at times, sounds like he’s operating on Tony Conrad’s wave length circa his Dream Syndicate stuff: micro-tonal compositions don’t generate this kind of heat on their own.
That praise espoused, it was wise for Foley to keep this to four tracks. Drone Loops whets the appetite, gives a glimpse of the promise of the project, but doesn’t bore you with what, inevitably, are the sonic limitations (I use that word very hesitantly) of a single droning guitar in space. Foley occasionally anchors things with simple percussion (laid bare at the end of the menacing “Loop 005”) and that gives the mélange a sense of syncopation and pace, for sure. But, man, listen to “Loop 019” again, the way Foley constructs flights and bridges from interjected drone-sound, and you’ll be as taken with it as I am. We must canvass the ambient fans among us and petition for a second installment!