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Barn Owl - Shadowland

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Artist: Barn Owl

Album: Shadowland

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jun. 13, 2011


Barn Owl - "Shadowland" (Shadowland)


The chill-out room and the mosh pit are closer than you think. The work of Justin K. Broadrick (Jesu, Pale Sketcher, Final), dälek, and Kevin Martin (Techno Animal, King Midas Sound) alternates movements towards transcendent beauty with sections of brutal noise. Growing’s first few albums blended blissed-out drone sections with abundant shredding, and Sunn 0))) occupy an uneasy place between drone mastery and monolithic sonic sculpture. Barn Owl’s 2010 album Ancestral Star fit well into this unlikely company: over the course of 10 songs, passages of pastoral beauty gave way to feverishly distorted uprisings.

Shadowland, the duo’s new EP, splits the difference between these modes: it’s at once restrained and sinister. (It’s a mood-specific quality that Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti share with the Norwegian duo Deaf Center and the British guitarist and composer James Blackshaw.) The fact that they lead off with a number called “Void and Devotion” is telling -- they’re after almost terrifyingly monolithic subjects here, and there’s an undercurrent of terror even when they approach ambient territory. Any sleep these three songs might lull you into would be an uneasy one, in which the ominous drifts just out of sight. The title track weaves together a pair of guitar parts with a slight Sergio Leone-soundtrack twang. That said, we aren’t quite into the Monument Valley excursions of recent Earth or the giallo hat-tip of Grails’ latest -- the impression here hews closer to cinematic vision quests and flashes of the unknowable.

“Infinite Reach,” which closes out the EP, begins with the album’s boldest foray into ambient territory. Over the next seven minutes, tension slowly enters the mix: the music becomes louder, denser. And then elements of the piece’s opening re-establish themselves, ushering it back into a vaguely reassuring direction and, ultimately, drawing it to a close. The music heard here follows straightforward trajectories, but is no less effective for it, with resonant moods and lasting tension that elude pre-existing musical boundaries.

By Tobias Carroll

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