It is no secret that the world is suffering. Many bands in many genres have drawn attention to this. Adding their name to this growing roster is Some Became Hollow Tubes, an instrumental drone duo, with their newest album Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.
The duo itself is comprised of drummer Aidan Girt, most notably a co-founder of famous post-rock pioneers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Eric Quach, whose drone compositions are crafted under the moniker thisquietarmy. Sonically, the album comes off as you might expect: a mix of both their bands and more besides. Quach’s background in thisquietarmy, which mixes drone loops with shoegaze-y fuzz and reverb, is on fine display, his guitar work forming hazy soundscapes over Girt’s careful, restrained drumming. I say “careful” and “restrained” because in instrumental music like this, drums can often overpower the melodies. But, while they are prominent here, Girt’s drums do not distract the listener’s attention. The melodies are reminiscent of those on Unconquered, a thisquietarmy release from 2008, but the album as a whole is unique to this group. It doesn’t slot neatly in with either band’s oeuvre, carving out its own little niche instead.
The soundscapes the duo have created here are magnificent. Bleak, but beautiful; like looking out over scrub and wasteland and empty spaces in industrial settings and fields of dead grass after drought. This, I believe, is by design. From first impressions – the album’s artwork depicts a dead sea-creature – this is not an album for those who do not want to think about the impending climate disaster our world is facing. It is, as the title suggests, not healthy for sensitive groups. Though one hazards that the sensitive groups referred to are not those who care for the environment. More likely these groups are the rich financiers and oil and coal barons who bathe in money while the world burns.
In many ways, this subject matter is perfect for a drone album. Drone music tends not to grab the listener’s immediate attention. Drone is pensive, contemplative, meditative. Drone asks the audience to think and reflect on the sounds they are hearing, even as those sounds wash over and embrace them. So it is, to a large degree, with Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. The song titles – “All I Can Think About Is The Earth On Fire And The Smoky Skies,” “No One Is OK,” and “My Eyes Are Itchy And I Can Barely Breathe” – are mental prompts to inform the listeners’ thoughts on their aural journey through the album’s soundscapes. If nothing else, these titles do not make for a light-hearted listening experience.
The fuzz and reverb in which Quach’s loops are soaked quite literally sound like you are listening to music through the opening track’s titular smoky skies. It’s as if he has distilled that idea into music. It makes for a very unsettling sound. Indeed, “unsettling” is probably the best word with which to sum up the whole album. Art should disturb the comfortable, and that’s exactly what Quach and Girt are doing here. The attention of a given listener may waver, and I won’t pretend mine didn’t at times. But in pushing the audience to think about the world being on fire – without any lyrics to mold those thoughts – the duo gives them a choice. Either stick on something else as an aural palate cleanser and move on with your life, or do something about it.
In short, it would be criminal if Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups went overlooked as a drone side-project, when it is a profound work that deserves to be listened to and thought over by everyone who cares about the world we call home.
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups is out on April 22 via Ripcord Records and can be purchased here.
Words: Nick Dunn