One of the best shows I saw in 2015 was one of the most under the radar. During Make Music Day at Balboa Park, Esteban Flores, better known as Monochromacy, performed a set of abstract ambient guitar drones inside a small chapel adjacent to the Museum of Man. And though I'm not a religious person, the experience nonetheless felt spiritual in a kind of intangible way. It was an intimate performance, the room small enough that it held only a couple dozen people, yet it was also overwhelming. Flores creates some truly intense sounds from little more than a guitar and pedalboard, and inside this small, sacred space, he treated us to something intense and beautiful—the kind of experience that rarely happens inside your average rock club.
Flores' new cassette release Live Isolated, recorded in a single take in a room filled with microphones (or so the Bandcamp description states), doesn't allow the listener to repeat that in-person, physical, multi-sensory experience. Yet the music itself is nonetheless breathtaking. Compared to Flores' Cement Cathedrals EP from 2013, Live Isolated covers a broader set of extremes. The seven-minute opening track "Slave Wisdom," for instance, is more power electronics than drone, comprising a lengthy sequence of chaotic noise and static that sets the listener up for a much more abrasive set. Over time, however, it transforms into a heavier, ominous piece that leans a little less on noise and more on low-end drone. It's terrifying. It's also amazing.
Live Isolated grows stronger as it continues, reaching an early peak with the 12-minute "With a Squalid Heart." It's far more sedate and restrained, but carries a heavy dose of eerie terror in its gloomy atmosphere, not unlike Stars of the Lid's great 1997 album The Ballasted Orchestra. The music moves slowly, almost suspended in place, but it's graceful and beautiful, if in an unconventional manner. "A Man of Progress" makes a return to some less immediately harmonious territory, with vocal loops that sound a bit like Gregorian chants or Himalayan throat singing, but it gradually evolves into a more menacing set of vocal sounds. And "Who I Was/Shouting in the Dark" sounds legitimately haunted. Everything on Live Isolated will likely take a little getting used to for those not already familiar with drone, noise or ambient music, but it's also some of the best music in any of those styles I've heard this year. Better yet, it's a fresh 45 minutes of darkness, just in time for Halloween.