Album Reviews

Barn Owl – V – Album Review (Thrill Jockey)

Barn Owl

‘V’ is a 6 track instrumental work from San Francisco based ‘Barn Owl’. Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti met at college where a shared interest in music spurred them to write and record together.

While much of the duo’s output has been guitar based; ‘V’ is something of an evolution, a lush tapestry of electronics, distortion and synth loops.

‘Void Redux’ sounds initially John Carpenteresque; heavily distorted guitar lines build over a slow swinging bass. The pace is underlined by low drums. Whirling arpeggios come in occasional busts – bright flashes of sunlight through the forest canopy.

‘The Long Shadow’, opens with a rumble of distortion and low booming percussion. A counterpoint melody of languid guitar and keyboard float above. They seem at first to converse, next to talk over each other and finally to drift off into the rhetorical, reminiscent of the voices in Charles Ives’ ‘Unanswered Question’. This segment succumbs to swelling feedback and a dirge motif; the parts compete for attention until all are finally quelled in hushed waves.

In ‘Against the Night’ – a simple guitar riff sounds a distress call across an ocean of organ. Loops and mere shades of sound add texture; we might be listening to propellers through the night air.

Following a slow cymbal crash ‘Blood echo’ opens with overwhelming sustained chords. It’s like holding your hands pressed against your ears, and hearing your blood rush in your veins. A two note motif is repeated and imitated by organ and effect laden guitar. Knowing the composers hail from San Francisco it’s easy to let this music paint a picture of cargo liners forging homeward through the pre-dawn bay, fog horns sounding in the distance.

‘Pacific Isolation’ is possibly the most conventional piece in terms of structure. Once the atmosphere is set with some hazy electronics we hear more of ‘The long Shadow’s’ simply executed, haunting guitar. Rich and satisfying chords add harmony and weight.

Porras says; “It was our goal to harness the fluidity and unpredictability of improvisation within considered arrangements. Special care was taken to convey the ever-changing flow through each piece, a continually shifting set of colors and textures and atmospheres.” This is never more evident than in the sprawling closer ‘The Opulent Decline’. Running to over 17 minutes we are told this track began as a 30 minute improvisation. A distinct opening movement lasting about 3 minutes of contrasting arpeggios yields to soft percussion. Gradually voices enter the fray, and the piece moves fluidly and slowly to a crescendo around the 15 minute mark, before a coda section where the various parts evaporate.

Porras and Caminiti attribute “minimal techno, library music and musique concrète” as influences. Certainly in the case of the latter, whether or not we are actually hearing ‘found’ sounds or synthetic approximations is unclear but the entire work is infused with an elusive but familiar soundscape. Repeat listening pays off handsomely as new discoveries abound. Tracks like ‘The Long Shadow’ and ‘Blood Echo’ are impressive in their complexity and balance, the duo managing the rich layers of instrumentation with deftness and skill. Credit must also go to producer Phil Manley as the music, while often busy and textured, is never muddy or confused.

‘Barn Owl’ tour parts of Europe this April and May – (inexplicably there are no Irish dates!)

Buy ‘V’ here:

Band Site is here.

Porras quoted from:

Barn Owl

Categories: Album Reviews, Music

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