On their accomplished debut album Melodic Drone, Unruly Disturbance deftly blends expansive electronic soundscapes and resonant, expressive melodies across a lengthy 16 tracks. With a run time of more than an hour and a half, there are plenty of immersive worlds in which to lose one’s self.
Hailing from Manchester, UK, Unruly Disturbance is an Ambient recording project of Tom Collingburn, also known as My Favorite Blade of Grass. Unruly Disturbance loves their Tasty Chips Electronics GR-1 (the synth featured on the cover, with two tracks dedicated to it) and has a penchant for mildly cheeky song titles like “Droning in F” and the apt “Everything’s Fine” into “Until It Isn’t”.
The story of Unruly Disturbance’s name might be a cagey lark in their bio, but it’s apropos for the various textures poking out on this debut. Things rattle and shake, seeming at times like they’re going to launch into the stratosphere - and yes, we are talking about Ambient music here, though perhaps (like much of the music being produced in the ever evolving genre) Unruly Disturbance does not rigidly adhere to the strictures of “background” or “furniture” music that is often associated with some of the bigger names in the space. It is indeed unruly at times, especially the first half, and that is where much of the album’s charm and beauty spring from - those moments when Collingburn defies dogma and forges his own path.
On the album’s bucolic opener, “On This Sunny Sunday”, a gentle piano plods into a deepening landscape hung from orchestral string sweeps. One imagines peering across a foggy moor in the English countryside, puffy white clouds in the distance, sun beams cascading down.
Warm and warbly bass throbs start “The Slow Decay of Something Beautiful”, while a celestial synth melody rides atop the percolations, ultimately dissolving into a sort of glitchy goodness permeated with tape noise.
Featuring a massive and evocative lead (reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, but from a more melancholy, parallel universe), the album’s longest track, “Everything’s Fine”, commences with an otherworldly firmament followed by arpeggiated bleeps and bloops that bubble underneath until they take over and are then subsumed again in a triumphant cacophony of feedback and distortion. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so much like a description of Ambient music, but it is.
The record takes a turn to the dark side for “Until It Isn’t” as an alien synth stab pierces the fog and we momentarily forget the heights of the previous track as the darkness closes in.
“Alone In The Stark” forlornly steps back into the light with an icy intro full of zephyr-like static hiss and a mellow bass drone - perfect walking music for a snowy winter morning.
Glassy piano and harp meanderings pierce the low murmurs and radio static on “An Improvisation in B”, creating a haunting effect, backed by plaintive pulses from vocal-sounding drone. The main improvisation, at turns, sounds like piano and then a harp, maybe even a harpsichord, and I suspect it’s a combined sound that oscillates around a mix of those instruments - a marvel of how far electronics for music making have progressed.
The tranquil drones on “An Arrangement With No Orchestra” morph across a range of textural elements, rising and falling through the misty ether.
Opening with an oscillating sea-sick line and a sub-bass rumble, “Extract From The Seaboard-Valhalla Tapes” once again takes us to a different, darker universe. The evolving aural vista seems at once to be lifting off into space and descending further into the underworld.
Like an alien transmission directly into one’s brain, “Time For A Short Intermission” divides the record neatly in half. At under two minutes, it is indeed the shortest track on the record.
A swirling distorted murmur with an almost vocal-like atmosphere starts “I Love My GR-1 (Side A)” - a tongue-in-cheek nod to the instrument presumably used in its creation. Thus we enter the second, more contemplative half of the album.
“I Love My GR-1 (Side B)” begins with a somewhat traditional drone fade in - a breezy, gentle organ awash in tape hiss and reverb. The track matures into a widening, dreamlike scene, with a “breathy” effect tying everything together.
The dramatic and uplifting melody on “We’ve Reached The Third Act” evokes an oft used descriptor in the Ambient genre: cinematic. This track lives up to such a description - a grandiose panorama emerges from the depths of the cosmos as we land our craft on the alien terrain and step out onto a new world.
Coming back to Earth on a rainy day, “Droning in F” builds a sort of tension between the vaguely Eastern arpeggiated plucks and a slowly pulsing, intensely suspenseful bass hum.
With another cheeky title, “Winging It To Cassette” is one of the longer tracks on the record at nearly 8 minutes. It’s well worth the time, as various instruments rise and fall, chirping resonances twist and trill, steeped in delicious tape saturation, and as the track progresses, we’re dutifully reminded that, indeed, this is an Ambient record.
Night descends through “One Take Recording in E” with its cello-inspired sonic architecture and reverberating emanations. As one of the longer pieces on the album, Collingburn uses that length to delve further into the melancholy richness of the Ambient genre.
“Another Ending (Homage to Brian)” sweetly chirruping arpeggios give rise to vinyl crackle glitches, likely homage to Brian Eno (whose 1983 track “An Ending (Ascent)” appeared on Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks).
Melodic Drone is a sweeping collection of songs by an artist fully inhabiting their own unique place in Ambient and Electronic music. Its commanding run time might seem daunting, but the richness of each song makes for compelling and rewarding repeat listens. There are entire worlds to discover here.
If you like “Melodic Drone,” be sure to check out Unruly Disturbance’s companion EP, “Bonus Drones 01.” https://unrulydisturbance.bandcamp.com/album/bonus-drones-01