May 6th, 2011
A review of Barn Owl at The Hope, 2/5/11.
By Adam Bambury
For a couple of bearded guitarists specializing in droning instrumental soundscapes, Barn Owl have a pretty high profile.
Previous releases have been put out by likes of hip noiseniks Not Not Fun. Their most recent release, the brooding and revelatory Ancestral Star, came out on Thrill Jockey.
Simultaneously otherworldly and grounded firmly in the grit and molecules of physical existence, the album evokes a singular, enveloping headspace. One which caused listeners who like guitars that go twwwwannnnnng to drop their bongs in sheer astonishment last year.
Such a unique sound world is surely difficult to recreate live. And as duo settle themselves on stage behind two separate arcs of knob-laden effects pedals, a momentary fear arises that we’re to be treated to an hour of either indulgent new age noodling or sparse, grating textures.
Neither occurs. They begin with a mighty rumble of distortion and end with the same, as if opening and closing an ancient portal to a visionary soundscape discovered after years of meditative discipline.
Sure the modern ego, used to the continual electronic stimulus of our age, may take a few moments to adjust to the band’s measured pace and hushed interludes. But this is just travel sickness, soon dispelled as the hypnotic grandeur of Barn Owl’s realm sets in.
Gentle Americana-tinged repetitive ragas harmonize and fall away. Buzzy, fuzzy sunlit harmonics on a broad dusty plane. No duelling guitar gods, these guys step back and let the scenery, the space they create, simply be.
Slowly, clouds gather and darken. The vast expanse of desert around us grows ominous and threatening. Dust storms whip up, the sky cracks and the guitars growl and hum.
They remain intensely focused throughout. Jon Porras twists and contorts on his stool, wrestling feedback from the amp behind him. Evan Caminiti lays down his e-bow for a moment and layers up a dark wordless chant with a loop pedal. Time seems to slow down.
They’re in the moment, and they’re bringing us the moment. Forty minutes later the moment ends. It was a good one.