Its been a long time coming, but nobody cuts to the chase quite like Hanni El Khatib. The San Francisco native of Palestinian descent unveils his second album with the assistance of Dan Auerbach’s production. On El Khatib’s previous release, he promptly made a name for himself; as the retro garage rock go to, back alley knife fight soundtrack for a punk with a broken heart. The album entitled Will The Guns Come Out rolls over you like a freight train and leaves you like a right handed jab covered in broken glass.
Songs like “Come Alive”, “Fuck It, You Win” and the blues driven cover of the Fats Waller original “You Rascal You” all prove that Hanni clearly is the real deal and no hipster bullshit poser ‘wannabe’. So for the doubters and the haters out there … wake up and do yourselves a solid favour and purchase on vinyl, Head In The Dirt.
This new album of Khatib’s goes to prove he has and is able to stretch out his sound. Bringing in a second guitar player, sometimes even a third. No over dubbing wanker bullshit here. Solidified a drummer and followed his heart and allowed his new found kinship with Auerbach to lead this album in the direction it needed to go. Given Hanni El Khatib’s bluesy garage sound, it was only a matter of time before El Khatib and Dan Auerbach met.
They did so at a bar in Paris. A couple of whiskey drinks later and the two decided to collaborate. El Khatib says he wants to create the music that would be playing if you were stuck in the desert with $5, a knife, and a muscle car. In the album he succeeds in leaving you to the vultures, snakes, oil, fires, pick-up trucks, desert sand, revenge, and heartbreak. All and all, Hanni El Katib designed a pretty good album, and a damn near perfect one for those (insert your town name here) summer nights at your favorite dive bar, with a beer in your hand, and a fire in your heart.
So, even though garage rock has seen a massive resurgence in recent months and years, it may be easy to over look The Shivas and dispel them as just another loose knit psyche band. But when a dear friend of mine, whose taste in music and the finer things in life I trust inexplicably recommended The Shivas, I discover Whiteout would offer some intriguing stylistic approaches that set the album apart from recent similar efforts by other bands.
Whiteout boasts lo-fi indie-rock and garage pop not unlike a good number of bands such as Tamaryn, DIIV, or Night Beats, all of which performed at Austin Psyche Fest alongside The Shivas. However, The Shivas provide greater dexterity in balancing their arrangements, delivering plenty of buzzing guitars and gritty vocals while integrating undeniably infectious early 60s pop influences.
It’s that pop that makes them feel right at home on Krecords, and their fun-loving guitar tones and tom-centered drums even recall early K band Beat Happening, especially on “Gun In My Pocket” and “Living and Dying Like Horatio Alger.” After some meandering beachy vibes in the record’s middle, late album cuts unfurl more blistering and jammy psychedelic swirls of instrumentation on “Kissed in the Face” and “Manimal.” Whiteout concludes with the swaying pop of “Paradise,” a perfect soundtrack to drifting to sleep near a Northwestern beach bonfire. Sometimes aggressively immediate and at others drifting by in gentle waves, Whiteout is a record that’s easy to play from start to finish, offering variety and depth that not present in like-minded records out at the moment. By creating a solid album that’s bolstered by an amazing live show, The Shivas are a band that has the raw materials for the making of something magical.
Jose Gonzalez’ three-piece rock band Junip, since forming 15 years ago the trio finally release their second album. You read that correctly; The band were somewhat forced to take a indefinite hiatus due to Jose’s solo success in the mid 2000’s. They were only ever able to squeeze out two EP’s before offering up 2010 full length debut Fields.
The progress of Junip is tedious and finally comes to a head on this current self titled release. A gorgeous exercise in teamwork and restraint: In the album’s strongest moments, Junip treat their songs like jenga, not to be built too fast or aggressively lest one over-eager misstep ruin the whole thing. As musicians, Gonzalez, Elias Araya, and Tobias Winkerton have a limitless arsenal, but Junip mainly flexes three things throughout: Krautrock-derived rhythms, pitch-perfect harmonies, and Gonzalez’ mumble, never at odds with the sonic feel of any moment. Gonzalez offers much more as lead instrument here than as lyricist. On “Your Life Your Call”, he directs a rousing, bass- and handclap-driven call to arms, even when chanting a hook that reads more or less like a failed draft of “Get Up Stand Up” (“It’s your life, it’s your call / Stand up or enjoy your fall / Pull yourself together and draw the line”). Later, on centerpiece “Walking Lightly”, his voice briefly mimics a didgeridoo as the song maintains one groove for six minutes, not so much intensifying along the way as expanding, continuously growing wider and brighter as its details patiently accumulate.
Junip is a band that excels by focusing on one tone at a time, injecting each with a level of attention worthy of a mural. Gonzalez is too zoned-in here to let his lyrics distract, but more often than not, Junip can essentially be heard as an instrumental pop album with the music feeding and building off itself. After seeing parts of three separate decades together, Junip have finally worked up to what they can be at their best.
Sam Beam, the man behind the name Iron & Wine is an artist who comes fully equipped with hushed vocals, gorgeous finger picking and guitar arrangements and an imitation worthy beard. The early albums from I&W were stripped down primarily acoustic offerings with accentuating percussion and lush backing vocals. But after a couple of albums, Beam began to show his hand and started experimenting with arrangements and styles pushing him well past the acoustic troubadour trappings.
From the pure sentiments whispered intimately on 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days to the Mediterranean sprawl and psychedelic tension of 2007’s follow up The Shepherd’s Dog, Beam seems inherently Nordic in style and sound. 2011 indicated a further shift in direction for Beam, the pop-focused Kiss Each Other Clean – a record that emanates Beach Boys harmony and carefreeness and most closely resembles Beam’s latest offering Ghost on Ghost . From album opener ‘Caught in the Briars’, it seems a weight has been lifted from Beam’s shoulders.
The tension found on The Shephard’s Dog seems to be a thing of the past. Relaxed and whimsical, the tune recalls a very effervescent Cat Stevens. A vast array of instrumentation adding to the merriment. Woodwind and brass sections flank Beam’s acoustic riffs, providing the backbone for what sounds like a holiday-revived Beam – an optimistic Iron & Wine sound we may not be very accustomed to as of yet, but enjoyable nonetheless. After a brief, double time jazz outro, the good vibes continue on following track ‘The Desert Babbler’ in which Beam shows off his smooth falsetto in a mid-tempo, almost disco-esque ballad. Backed by a layered bed of oohs and ahhs, the track winds back the clocks and resonates 70’s heartthrobs Bread. It’s a far cry from the intimacy of early Iron and Wine LPs but the direction is fully embraced and realised with genuine flair. If you were drawn in by Iron and Wine’s first albums, you find yourself taking the time to find your footing with Beam’s pop-driven direction. It’s almost as though Beam has spent too long in the city after leaving a humble country life. While Ghost on Ghost is a wonderfully produced album, cohesive and very listenable.
In saying that, itchy feet are an admirable trait in any musician and Beam has definitely dipped his toes in more genres than many, proving his versatility more than once and with bated breath, I will eagerly await his next journey.
It’s never to surprising when a band almost ten years into their career mellow out a little. Even hardcore punk bands can recall owning acoustic guitars. But with Tunng, the freak – folk/folktronica outfit, how much could they really mellow ? There is a touch less energy here and the solemnity is made apparent by the lack of percussion in the arrangements and overall mixes. With Turbines being their fifth full length release, this may be when the band has come across a collective shift in mood.
There’s a deceptive warmth to Tunng’s Turbines, exemplified both by the description, in “Trip Trap”, of a woman as “sweet and sour, a poisonous flower”, and musically by the blend of wispy analogue synth and tingling acoustic guitar in “Heavy Rock Warning”. Cyclical guitar figures set up a delicate momentum, only to be washed away by waves of synth noise and simple acoustic arrangements expand into folk-rockers. It’s Tunng’s most direct effort yet, eschewing the “folktronic” bricolage of albums like Good Arrows; but there’s plenty happening beneath the surface. The first two releases by Tunng, Mothers Daughters and Other Songs along with Comments of the Inner Chorus delivered the original experimentation the band was working through. Samples of found sounds and electronic add ons danced between the three acoustic guitars and multi vocal harmonies.
As much as Turbines is a touch mellower than any previous effort, the sense of experimentation is definitely abound again. Perhaps due to the electronic flourishes and theremin, feeling truly integral to the song. Tunng’s notion of folk is built around song structures rather than just the use of acoustic instruments. It’s why steel drum sounds make perfect sense in a song that is in no way meant to invoke images of the Caribbean. It’s the kind of authenticity that so many bearded boys in shabby clothes wish they could achieve.
It comes without question that The National‘s escalating popularity can be attributed to their reliability. With songs written about real pressures, existential dread and the weight of others expectations of you to have your shit together. Striving seems to be a strong main theme throughout the majority of their collective catalog. On their sixth and easily most aerodynamic album to date, Trouble Will Find Me is an easily accessible and self-assured work, largely because it focuses on the visceral power of Berninger’s vocals and Bryan Devendorf’s inventive drumming. It’s a sign of trust that they can convey all of their ornate and rich melancholy without every sad note being underlined by a bassoon.
The National has a little secret on Trouble… that for all of the Dressner brothers’ orchestral ambitions, these songs are much more simple things. Instantly memorable melodies and minimal chord progressions become familiar after one listen, and then there’s a pivot, usually undetectable the first time around, that takes the National towards one of their proprietary grand finales. The greatness lies in when the listener connects the two and realizes they’re part of the same song.
There most definitely is a symmetry between Trouble and the band’s previous effort, the highly acclaimed High Violet. Both albums open with the same sort of salvo. At this point, it’s an established tenet for any National album to make a proper introduction before any listener is free to roam in its ensuing universe. On the surface it’s no secret, you know what you’re going to get with a new National album. Sad lyrics, dark humour, shimmering guitars, pensive string arrangements, an incredibly sneaky rhythm section that maintains the pulse of everything and allows for all the beautiful harmonies to exist.
This may be the only band on the planet where predictability is desired. When they do what they do so well … why change ? No bother, but somehow they seem to dig just a little bit deeper and become a little bit stronger and find all the right ways to make you love them a little bit longer. Until the next time Matt Berringer and his gang leave with your tears, a puddle of light in the palms of your hands.
If you were a product of the early nineties music scene then this clearly is an exciting reissue to get your hands on. Completely remastered, with bonus songs featuring Mark Lanegan, the voice of a thousand cigarettes. Along with a full concert from the historical April 29 1995 gig at the Moore Theatre and a full book/essay written by the remaining band memebers telling the story of Mad Season.
The time period of the early 90’s brought out a slew of bands that fought against the grain of the cock rock heavy metal glam Fabio hair scene the preceded. In fact, the ‘grunge’ scene kicked them all right in the teeth in true punk fashion yet without the intent to do so. At the top of the ranks you had Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, The Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Candlebox, Green River, Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog.
Now, most of these bands hand one thing in common aside from the flannel, ripped jeans and doc martins. Side projects. Sadly for others it became dead frontman, which is where some of the side projects would be born. But for the case of Mad Season the darker truth comes much later, 7 years to be exact. 7 Year Bitch anyone ? Bueller ?
During the production of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy, guitarist Mike McCready went into rehabilitation in Minneapolis, where he met John Baker Saunders, bassist for The Lamont Cranston Band. In 1994, when the two returned to Seattle, they formed a side band with Screeming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. Immediately the trio set up rehearsal time together and began writing material. McCready then brought in friend and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley to round out the line-up. McCready had hoped that being around sober musicians would push Staley to get himself sober.
Recorded in 1994 at Bad Animal Studios, released in March of ’95 Above is a tremendous and legendary album. Even garnering a radio hit with brutally honest and the addiction inflicted lyrics of ‘River of Deceit’. With a powerhouse line-up, dark morose lyrics and gritty blues trampled by raw grunge progressions Above stands to be one of the greatest of the Seattle side project releases. Charting higher than Temple of the Dog, Brad or Three Fish.
Deeply focused on Staley’s pains with addiction and other troubles, possibly his strongest lyrical accomplishment. Songs like ‘Wake Up’, ‘Long Gone Day’ & ‘River of Deceit’ all give a clear look into what Layne was conveying in AIC. McCready is able to delve deep into his bluesy SRV style and apply the swamp dirge tone for a platform Layne can deliver his heartfelt poetry from a broken soul.
Easily for many one of the most quintessential albums from that era and still a gem to this long gone day.
Eluvium‘s music is geared to fill the space in our attention we’re not actively using for anything else. There’s plenty of ambient and drone music that exists and aims to disorient the listener into alien terrain. Matthew Cooper’s Eluvium project has always valued comfort over estrangement. His 10 year catalog plays like nerve balm for the anxious. These records serve to work, sleep or act as companions for long stretches of boredom.
Nightmare Ending gives longtime followers of Cooper’s work familiar ground, gilded drone, hints of guitar, patient piano and warm organ from just over the horizon. The sounds feel detached from their sources and keep rhythm with repeated mechanical glitches and pulses. Like some sleeping giant organism. Rather than working within deliberate constraints, Cooper creates something that feels almost like two albums have been spliced together, Nightmare Ending doesn’t travel a straight path but meanders through Eluvium’s many modes of space and spectral beauty.
Nightmare Ending may be too big of an introduction to Cooper’s work as Eluvium but is a summit for anyone who has been traveling within his fog through the years. That being said, earlier work, either Talk Amongst The Trees, Lambent Material or Copia would be the perfect proposed first steps into Cooper’s work and would only make Nightmare Ending much more impressive and wonderful.
Boards of Canada‘s fourth full length release is their darkest, moodiest and most anticipated output of the career. There may not have ever been such mystery surrounding any groups upcoming release. The 8 year wait felt much like an Easter egg hunt. First there were unmarked vinyl records whose number combined with other clues to direct fans to the announcement of the new album. Then there was a broadcast of a grainy video accompanied with by hazy impending ambient music at a busy Tokyo intersection which was later revealed as the second track on Tomorrow’s Harvest, Reach For The Dead. Finally there was a playback in an abandoned leisure park in the California Desert, a locale aptly suited for BOC‘s guiding principles; nostalgia, remoteness, unease and the prospect of a dystopian future.
Whatever it all meant, Tomorrow’s Harvest does reward the 8 year wait and the Easter egg hunt. BOC maintain all their sonic signatures of old. Their out of fashion breakbeats and arpeggiating synths, redolent of 70’s film soundtracks and crackly transmissions that alternate between washes of amniotic analog sound.
Tomorrow’s Harvest is another intriguing release from a splendidly arcane group and guaranteed, it’s best left for you to reflect on your own interpretation.
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
With knotted beats akin to Four Tet, detuned smears reminiscent of Prefuse 73 and even chilly star maps parallel to Boards of Canada, Mount Kimbie share much in common with their IDM ancestors. On Cold Spring Fault Less Youth the duo focus on how genres intersect and what can be created from their collision.
Featuring vocals from 19 year old rapper King Krule, it gives the tunes a different feeling and direction but may not be the album’s strongest. Recording the vocals with live drums in the room likely gave Krule’s delivery something more than benign but the live drum takes didn’t make final recording. Both Dominic Maker and Kai Campos also make vocal cuts on CSFLY to pleasant effect. It reminds of shape note singing in its pacing and expression. It’s not pop music but it makes those tracks balance on the edges of the arrangements.
The instrumental tracks have an almost post rock feel, with their erratic splendor. CSFLY is comfortable with it’s imbalance and is a triumph in its own right. A more ambitious effort than Crooks & Lovers. Telling something true whether or not the outside worlds notices.
As a music fan there are few feelings that do more to validate wading and searching through the muck than a genuine breakthrough. With his fourth effort, Jon Hopkins‘ Immunity is a solid addition to an otherwise wonderful resume. Yet another release by Hopkins proving he his hell bent on creating his own luck. Has he ever, Immunity is a culmination of his earlier achievements and a progression beyond them.
Fragile and kinetic, even abrasive all the while creating an awe existing in a realm few other techno records occupy. Demanding to be listened to in its entirety thanks to its pacing, a broad sonic palette and a confident command of rhythm. Beats are being built out of everyday noises, from distant trains to the flipping of pages in a book and doors closing. Uncountable layers of slithering stutter stepping over each other while playing roulette and transitioning into the contrast between grace and snarl. Even still, finding the perfect point for meshing diaphanous piano with bubbling basslines. Immunity is an intricate engine.
All in all the road map of Immunity is splendidly plotted by Hopkins. Taking the right amount of time to show you the destinations you didn’t even know you wanted to see.
Following the release of 2012’s slow burning ambient affair Valtari, 2013 finds Sigur Ros shedding their long time keyboardist and returning to the studio for their seventh lp and deliver it in the shortest gestation period between Sigur ros albums ever. Did Kveiker develop as a companion piece to Valtari or is it a reactionary piece to the criticisms that have been buzzing since the 2012 release… that they’ve swapped their musical muscle for vapour ?
Kveiker punches at Valtari’s languor. The album bones up and jumps out of the murk, a bold stroke that turned heads even among those that had shelved the band as mere mood music past it expiration date. However for the long time Sigur Ros fan, it’s undeniable, they are still filling their own mold. Kveiker is unmistakably a Sigur Ros record.
It may be plated in new texture and snaps the band out of their sleepwalk but something new is born on Kveiker. A lack of patience. Each song plunges toward the next climax stepping through familiar rhythms at a newly brisk pace. Don’t expect to lose your way in the haunted tundra or deep in the thickets. This is dark, warm, safe space for Sigur Ros devotees.
Kveiker unsettles with new creative use of textures. Chains rattle around like ghostly prisoners, pummeling post-rock, hauntology and its concentrated heavy metal symbolism and metaphorical aspects. Possibly signifying Sigur Ros’ transformation and finally acknowledging their impact by beating all of their acolytes at their own game. It’s one thing for a complete sonic overhaul but what stands out is how natural this feels.
French drone wizard High Wolf has racked up a sizable discography, including everything from cassettes, CDs, CD-Rs, LPs and 7″s. Kairos: Chronos is only his second LP but already has made an incredible amount of progress since his early tapes. The ‘High Wolf sound’ has been concentrated into it’s essence now.
There’s much more dubwise production; the basslines are fatter, the beats thump louder and it’s easier to dance to. Yet it’s still hazy and psychedelic. “Kulti” opens the album, with some mellow guitars trickling in, along with echoed electronic percussion and fluid bass synthesizer. A big dub reggae bass guitar line and an echo-covered 4/4 beat surface, as well as softly rattling percussion and cosmic guitars. After a bit of a break from the 4/4 beat, the guitars stop to breathe while the other percussion plays, before the guitar swells back up and switches to some more distorted effects. The track seems like it’s going to end around 6 minutes, but the bassline and beat resume and there’s some shadowy, dubbed-out vocals lurking in the fog, while the guitars chance shade again.
Kairos: Chronos is a grand statement from an artist worth keeping your eye on and even worth the chance to dig into some of his back catalogue. Surely you’ll discover some gems.
Braids‘ 2011 effort ‘Native Speaker’ not only stood out as a cerebral, iventive and syncopated take on their peers but it also landed them a short list name drop on the Polaris Prize. The Montreal groups follow up finds them crystallizing their influences and thought processes into yet another accomplished collection of tracks.
Flourish//Perish is entirely doused in interplay between voice and percussive melody. Rapaelle Standell Preston has gained a striking amount of confidence in her vocal delivery, which is a defining element of the trio’s over all sound. Woven neatly into the bands ambience is the obsession with loops. Masquerading as a grounding constant, each layer is coated with dynamic and structure that creates the DNA and draws the elements of each song together.
While ‘Native Speaker’ relied primarily on live guitar and keyboards, Flourish/Perish has a clean crisp electronic overtone. A large step forward for the groups overall dynamic. Possibly even something Preston was drawn to after working with her partner/boyfriend on their Blue Hawaii project. But the peaks and drops on this current release from Braids unveil a sonic tapestry in full detail that becomes gorgeously granular on subsequent listens while never being obscure or academic.
Blue Hawaii are an interesting case for the creeping influence on electronic music. The Montreal duo consisting of couple Andrew Cowan and Raphaelle Standell Preston (of Braids) have crafted a bewitchingly wispy and sensually stark album. One of the albums strongest attributes: looped, wordless vocals creating brand new melodies. It’s a tactic borrowed from bass music and reused here to surprisingly good effect. At its most evocative, Untogether creates the eerie feeling of being the only person in a cavernous, strobe-lit club. Take the awesome two-part highlight “In Two”– where the atmosphere’s so diffuse and desolate that even a sudden intrusion of handclaps doesn’t feel like a moment of collectivity or unity. Instead, it only emphasizes the feeling of isolation: the claps sound distant, drifted in, and possibly made by ghosts.
Volcano Choir‘s second album, Repave, is filled with memorable hooks, hummable melodies and arena sized choruses . The album is beyond cohesive, splitting the difference between the refinement of Bon Iver and rounding of the edges of the 2009 VC effort, Unmap. Repave isn’t just an album cultivated in the interim of Bon Iver releases, it’s something that has existed and evolved all along. An album that weaves something unfettered and cinematic. A genuine record that lies sonically and lyrically somewhere between the obscure and deeply personal.
The line between poetry and hard won reality is what Repave demonstrates best. The songs swell with possibilities of love and hope. However, Vernon and company genuinely bring to light different perspectives on how to deal with loss, redemption and forgiveness. Whether it be decoded in the reverb soaked vocals or the layers of pristine instrumentation, Volcano Choir have made clear that this is not just a post rock affair of Collection of Colonies of Bees featuring Justin Vernon… this is much more. A force to be reckoned with. A top contender for album of the year, right out the gates.
The upgrade over ‘Unmap’ is obvious, these songs have been poured over, without deadline. Tightly wound with mechanical precision, nothing is wasted and absolutely nothing is misplaced. Perhaps part in parcel, Unmap was sketches of songs emailed amongst its creators, where as Repave had the attention of every member in the room at the same time. A gesture and a labour of love that was able to create a masterpiece.
Artists take on pseudonyms for a multitude of reasons, but in Zach Saginaw’s case, those reasons run deeper than most. Zach records under the name Shigeto. It’s his middle name; it’s also his grandfather’s name, a tribute to the Japanese branch of Zach’s family tree. Shigeto also means “to grow bigger”.
No Better Time Than Now may sound a bit cliche for an album title but given what Saginaw went through to get here, it’s aptly named. Amidst hectic touring schedules, moving or rather returning home (Detroit) and the end of a long term relationship, the sentiment of the album’s title tells of restless character ready to dig deep into his craft. As a whole the album feels like ‘change’. The rhythms are more assertive and, crucially, more drawn out. Rather than looping a single hip-hop beat and making a song around it, these tracks luxuriate in the space they have to resonate and grow.
It should also be mentioned that Saginaw is a drummer. He does all his drums, live. He’ll be standing behind a laptop one minute punctuating the perfect loops and sequences until it’s time for the beat to kick in. He simply walks over to his kit and proceeds to deliver. This is a more interesting method of composition for Saginaw. Throughout the album his drums are beautifully mixed with their surroundings. Surely Saginaw’s most confident work yet, No Better Time Than Now shows a young artist maturing with the grace of a seasoned musician.
Icelandic multi – instrumentalist neo classicist composer Olafur Arnalds delivers once more, the solitude and the sublime. Much a kin to Valgeir Sigurdsson’s Architecture Of Loss, For Now I Am Winter is stooped with bitterly romantic strings, morose impressive beauty full of shadowy wistful chamber music. Olafur handles the laptop and keyboard instrumentation but brings in members of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra to tackle the strings, woodwinds and brass arrangements. The orchestral direction is cautiously steered by Nico Muhly and are giving the overall pieces their mobility. The porcelain voice you hear at times is that of Anor Dan. The vocals heard on four of the tracks by Anor are so pristine it’s numbing.
For Now I Am Winter is an album to be felt more so than heard. Especially upon first listen. It’s the sort of album fit for a meandering stroll through crisp autumn air, perhaps through the woods, as the junipers bend to welcome you in. You’ll notice how the sun makes the dew drops sparkle over the ground cover while the cello keeps a warm body behind the piano notes that are floating into your ears. The elements you normally hear crunching or snapping under foot are now replaced by phasing drum parts that are lush just as much as they are gritty. It’s the sounds the soul needs once in a while.
We all need something more boisterously messy once in a while, a blaster or a groover even. I don’t blame any of you, as I am much the same. That after all is just another sonic gateway to heaven as anything else. But when all of that has died done and you’re looking to get lost for a time (as we all do) in your house of mirrors, now you know which album to turn to.
Kudos and much respect to any artist who change their game when they’re on top of it. The urge to keep doing something you know people like, and that you know you’ve done well must be hard to resist. But San Francisco duo Barn Owl consisting of Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras have not only refused to refill their glass with their favoured libation, they’ve come up with a fine new brew. V follows their previous effort, Ancestral Star, a collection of heavily toasted road tested material that blew up Barn Owl’s cosmic Americana to epic proportions. Even a hatfull of solo records by both members have extended their guitar based sound into more ambient tape loop processed and amp blown directions.
For their fifth album (V) they have set aside the big guitar sound in favour of layers of synthesizers, which provide pulsing rhythms, cirrus cloud flourishes and a stream of well upholstered melodies. The tunes insinuate themselves with confidence so that before you know it, the church organ monolith on “The Long Shadow” and the scudding puffs of sonic wool that blow through “Against The Night”. The titles may sound nocturnal but the music is even more so. These looming pieces could score a film where the sun never rises and the people never come out. The emphasis on atmosphere and the absence of lyrics maintain an unbroken tether tot he old Barn Owl, but the heavily electronic instrumentation free form dust bowl signifiers make V a very strong fresh start.
Glacial is a power trio of Lee Ranaldo (guitar) David Watson (bagpipes) and Tony Buck (drums). All have significant prior form in their chosen field, looslely put, modern approaches to experimental improvisational music. You may think you’d know what to expect from the trio – you would be right, but only to a point.
What startles initially about On Jones Beach is how hard nosed yet articulate the playing is. Ranaldo drills the guitar into submission from the get go immediately announcing a player on heightened form. Indeed the first section of the opus that makes up the entirety of the lp (and download) is positively hallucinatory, a deep murky pool of excoriating guitar buzzes and scowls. When we hit the fifteen minute mark Buck brings out the ham-fisted rock drums, this illuminates the performance to a point but not as much as the advanced manner they’ve been propelling. Less than ten minutes we are back on terra firma, Buck turns it all into a stalactite of rainfall metals,the leap is skin tingling, shocking (in a wonderful way) and welcome.
From here the trio plays out various modes of interacting, juxtaposition, droe along, by now Ranaldo’s guitar is scalding and Watson’s bagpipes are channeling a 22nd century snake charmers. The whole 48 minutes is a fairly thrilling ride and the download that comes with the lp gives three miniatures from concerts in New York and Paris. The imposing edifice of On Jones Beach, feels just right.