Review Summary: Drone, with light, and increasingly compulsive with every listen.
Drone isn’t nearly as lifeless as the majority may perceive it. True enough, it can portray a dimly lit, grimacing face whose glass eyes appear to stare ominously through your own, merely inches away, however, it is such a disciplined genre that it commands more of an authoritative presence than simply a ‘creepy’ or ‘dark’ aura. Rather, drone is volcanic in appearance and character. Seemingly dormant, this ugly, menacing mass can blot out the sun and cast an otherwise picturesque landscape in perpetual shade without even moving. Yet, when patience and pressure reach a climax, this stubbornly immobile thing explodes, spewing forth an image of unquenchable destruction and naturalistic wonder. Darkness and destruction are often the most assimilated attributes with Drone, which is why when a band who exhibit the opposite to the genre’s common denominators materialise, they are able to rise above the void of bands sticking to the tried-and-tested formula.
Big|Brave rarely illustrates a threatening or perilous sound; their music is too warm to cast that icy and steely aesthetic associated with hostile soundscapes and they also prefer a minimalistic approach in favour of maximisation. Starting with an incredibly simple drum beat and an unobtrusive melody, this minimalism is established immediately in the opening seconds of “Muted Shifting of Space”. Similarly, “A Gaze Among Them”
is elegantly constructed whereby empty space amongst Loel Campbell’s drums are illuminated by flits of Mathieu Ball’s guitar and Robin Wattie’s gliding vocals. Due to the repetitive components in each song, an impressive way Big|Brave increases the intensity of their songs is apparent in “Holding Patterns” whereby the rhythm remains completely unchanged but the band are able to build an overwhelming tone by striking a guitar string or drum head gradually harder as the song progresses. It’s difficult to pinpoint the threshold between what is considered light and dark in this kind of music, but it certainly seems as though Big|Brave’s intentions are aimed more at comfort than discomfort.
Nonetheless, Big|Brave create a raw sound whose looming, imperious presence is as unavoidable as their counterparts. When the bass comes in a smidgen before the halfway point of “Muted Shifting of Space”, it’s like having your legs buckle under the impact of a sledgehammer slamming into the back of your knees. The guest appearances from Thierry Amar (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) on Contrabass and Seth Manchester's blanket of synth help control the tremoring level of noise at the crux of “Body Individual”. Creating a massive wall of noise is easy, but making that noise emotive is difficult and Big|Brave are able to create a wall of sound that acts like an approaching menace, be it fear, awe or doom. Although cliché, Robin Wattie’s light vocals do make the heavier background song even more cumbersome. Her beautiful ever-comprehensible voice has this kind of narrative charisma which pierces the thick textures her bandmates weave, never interferes with what’s going on with the instrumentalism and, when isolated, it almost seems like she’s not specifically intending her voice to raise or drag in places, she’s just letting it out freely.
Upon listening to Big|Brave’s latest album, the question of whether this is actually Drone at all crops up. Arguably, it’s too experimental to be considered something as latent as such. Certainly, the dull throbbing throughout “Sibling” is densely layered, weighty, ominous and repetitive, however, in the 5 tracks that “A Gaze Among Them”
contains, there are numerous tonal shifts that alter the expression of the song and they are executed by the band in a way that seems completely natural. Shadows are entirely at the mercy of light. Big | Brave has harnessed that light, manipulated it, and illuminated a genre that has stubbornly remained obscured in darkness in grand style; a gaze among them.