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Northumbria – Bring Down The Sky

Sonically, drone hangs close on the family tree to music created for spiritual aims, such as chants and drumming. There’s something in that repetition that slows our cognitive gears and allows us to access other areas of the mind. Successful drone trades in subtlety, taking you under while keeping you aware of the journey. When it fails, it’s little more than wallpaper; your attention wanders and you can’t recall later what you heard.

Since 2011, Toronto’s Northumbria has been producing exceptional drone from an austere blend of improvised guitar and bass fed through an array of effects. On Northumbria’s new album, Bring Down The Sky, Jim Field and Dorian Williamson open up new, expansive landscapes that, without the signposts of melody or rhythm, manage to avoid making the listener feel lost. While other drone artists—Locrian in particular—inject disorientation and terror into their work, Northumbria’s is more like stepping onto a vast plain where there’s no separation between the traveler and the massive sky for which the album is named. Whether such limitlessness is comforting or frightening is up to the listener.

Northumbria released its self-titled debut on Montreal-based label TQA, fostered by fellow drone lord Eric Quach of thisquietarmy. Bring Down The Sky, out today on Consouling Sounds, offers four lingering tracks plus a four-minute opener, “Transcendance,” to usher you in. Three of the pieces here—“The Ocean Calls Us Home,” “The Silver Forest” and the title track—put nature front and center, along with all its captivating chaos. The other, “Ostara,” is named for the Germanic goddess of Easter, and the month in which she’s celebrated (in Northumbrian, she’s called Ēosturmōnaþ). All of which is to say that the expedition Field and Williamson are leading this time around is one of wilderness, of sky and sea and trees.

“Ostara” and “The Silver Forest” are lovely, but so subtle it’s easy to slip from their grasp. The real magic here is on “The Ocean Calls Us Home” and “Bring Down the Sky,” where cascades of clear and fuzzed guitar offer up vistas of open sky, crushing night, and the deep, endless ocean. The title track is an evocation voiced in layers of textured guitar, abrasive enough to leave you raw, stunning in its grace and dignity.

To outsiders, drone might sound like no more than ceaseless white noise. But among its brethren, Northumbria has distinguished itself through Field and Williamson’s ability to describe a vast spectrum of external and internal territories, on the fly, with a pair of guitars. On Bring Down The Sky, Northumbria reminds us what riches can arise from unplanned journeys.

—Beth Winegarner

Northumbria’s Bring Down The Sky is out today on Consouling Sounds, buy it here.

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