Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: Barn Owl - Ancestral Star

I would like to clarify something: many people claim that Barn Owl, the duo of Evan Paminiti and Jon Porras, create soundtracks for Western Skies, the age-old 'scores for films that don't exist,'. I think it is more apt to say that Paminiti and Porras CREATE WORLDS, whole geological strata; flora and fauna; weather systems and patterns. There is no sense of human drama, no fleeting flitting narrative. The 10 tracks that comprise the duo's 3rd full-length EP conjure vast landscapes; where the listener can park the car, get out, stretch the legs, explore.
Clearly in the drone/raga-rock tradition, they are more indebted to the guitar flailings of John Fahey and the Tacoma camp, as well as other mystics of the wide-open spaces, than Dylan Carlson and the like. However, there is a smidgen of Black Sabbath dirge, alongside pulsing harmoniums and bowed guitars, chanting, hypnotic violin, temple bells and throbbing synthesizer. The best thing about The Owl is they seem to encompass the strengths of all manner of ritualistic, droning music: the tone, the attitude, the volume, the sheer physicality of sounds eeked out from fingers on wood and string. I've heard it said that they create 'Elemental Music', as in music created from the elements, and i'll go along with that. It is of the Earth, their music has the power of tribal ritual. It will take you places, if you let it.
I've heard others say that this album drags, that it is excessive. I think it is a matter of taste, and what you look for in a listening experience. The thing that i like the best about this album, and their entire back-catalog, (of which i am a slavering devotee), is its infinite properties. Like the 10-minute title track, the guitars and synths seem endless, unwavering, and it really gives an active listener to dive into the nuances of sound, to really feel it in yr bones.
Barn Owl is at the top of their game, and i think this is a landmark of so-called 'drone music'. Much experimental music is excessive and noodly, odd gems emerging from muck, moments of unexpected grandeur amidst chaos and confusion. This is the first time the band had a chance to take their time in a studio, and the song-writing and album sequencing seem taut and focused. They embody all the strengths of a wide-range of ritualistic styles: the burning, sludgy electric guitar of Nadja or the solo work of Aidan Baker; the beautiful, acoustic guitar and wheezing harmonium of Six Organs of Admittance or Sir Richard Bishop; the Americana minimalism of Henry Flynt and Angus MacLise. Its got the power and presence, the interesting textures of post-rock, but stripped of its cliche. Its got the smoky, ceremonial demeanour of a psych-folk collective. Its pretty much got it all.
Barn Owl have raised the bar, and created a world, that i hope to get lost in, over and over. For fans and n00bs alike. Someone said, 'Barn Owl carves epics out of ash,' and i couldn't agree more. It is out today, courtesy of Thrill Jockey.

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