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Jon Porras - Black Mesa

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Artist: Jon Porras

Album: Black Mesa

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Apr. 23, 2012

Last yearís Undercurrent marked Jon Porrasís debut release under his own name, and saw a subtle, yet prominent shift from the sound that him and fellow bandmate, Evan Caminiti, spent years developing as Barn Owl. Time has seen Barn Owlís skills and influences transform their monochromatic guitars into something multifaceted. In the face of this evolution, Undercurrent feels like Porrasís enshrinement of the good old days, while also a significant step forward from his work under the Elm guise.

On Black Mesa, Porras slyly shifts his music in yet another direction. The album acts as soundtrack to an unwritten narrative, tracking the journey of a nameless vagabond through the desert. The vagabondís inevitable demise in the face of desolation is curtailed upon discovery of the Black Mesa, a gateway for interdimensional travel.

While itís a nice story, it was likely not a premeditated one, but one that arose from Porrasís reflection on the solo sessions that would become the album. Either way, these sessions saw Porras inject more melody and arrangement into his sound. The comet-tailing sustain that distinguished Undercurrent is still present on Black Mesa, albeit acting more as enrichment to the upfront guitar. Despite the added breadth, Porras still sticks to the bare necessities to get his point across, making for guitar passages that meditate on every ringing note and hazy chord.

While the west coast is hung up on the haze of beachy guitars, Porras is seeing the sand for what it really is: desert. In doing so, heís created an album whose only direct connection to the present is its commentary on the solitude thatís slipping away from us. Black Mesa is about keeping that solitude.

By Adrian Dziewanski

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