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Barn Owl - Lost in the Glare

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Artist: Barn Owl

Album: Lost in the Glare

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Sep. 1, 2011

Of all the candid cosmological images evoked in Barn Owl’s album and song titles (Ancestral Star, In the Red Horizon, Bridge to the Clouds, Burning Dunes in Moonlight, etc…), one might suspect, prior to initially hearing the band, that their sensibilities would align with acts like Portland’s Pulse Emitter and Chicago’s Caboladies, or any of the other projects indebted to their Krautrock and Kosmishe predecessors.

One quickly realizes that Barn Owl is a different beast all together, who over the short span of a couple years have managed to make as much of an impact as some of the heavier hitters in the flourishing synth scene. The band deserves credit for not trading in their guitars and pedals for electronics with auto-pilot settings, and for creating music that — although not without its own obvious crumb trail of influences (for starters, Pandit Pran Nath and Tony Conrad) — explores an alternate definition of contemporary minimalism.

Lost in the Glare, Barn Owl’s seventh album proper and second since they’ve signed with Thrill Jockey, is the culmination of a sound that the core members of the band, Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti, have stuck to since the beginning. Delicately thrummed and confidently plucked guitars, raga-infused tonalities and vocal drones make up the core of this sound. From album to album the band have built on its foundation, incorporating percussion, harmonium, bells and gongs and some synthesizer as a back drop, creating an ever shifting blend of Appalachian-flecked drone music.

That doesn’t begin to describe the diversity of Lost in the Glare, which starts off on a familiar note but then gives way to “Turiya,” the excellent second cut that sounds like Japanese rockers Boris at half speed, thanks to some slow and heavy drumming by Jacob Felix Heule. “Devotion I” finds the band’s familiar string plucking coupled with cymbal washes and a raspy tanpura drone acting as the piece’s main artery, feeding it life. The band maxes out their amps on “The Darkest Night Since 1683,” a track whose distortion soaked guitar riffs would mesh well with nearly any Southern Lord release, while “Devotion II,” the album’s closer, lays on more of the doom-laden beat before unfurling into a barrage of free drumming and low-end guitar crumble.

Unlike so many bands’ failed attempts in trying to be five acts at once, Barn Owl pull it off here unintentionally. Lost in the Glare leaves the impression of an album whose sum is half amassed from the experience gained in making a half-dozen albums, while the other half borrows from doom metal, Japanese psychedelia and Hindustani classical music to complete the picture. Ultimately, this album manages to sound like all and none of these, making Barn Owl a band that’s becoming harder to pin down and easier to appreciate.

By Adrian Dziewanski

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