Review: Barn Owl - Shadowland EP

An intelligent, challenging drone and ambient recording.
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Barn Owl - Shadowland EPBarn Owl, comprised of Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti, soared into existence in 2006 with two guitars and a whole whack of gear. Their drone/ambient/Americana/black metal vibe is hard to quantify in words, but their influences and imaginations wisely coalesce into something remarkable each time these cats put sound to tape.

Their first release for Thrill Jockey was 2010’s Ancestral Star, a challenging but rewarding recording that drew comparisons to the likes of drone masters Sunn O))) and composer Ennio Morricone. Such a broad base had me convinced that their new EP, Shadowland, would be something to tune in and tune out for.

Shadowland, comprised of three movements, takes its cues from the music of German electronic act Popol Vuh, among others, and is a wandering but direct encounter with broad landscapes and moving materials.

Recorded by Phil Manley in San Francisco, Shadowland is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a multifaceted work, both in instrumentation and in production. Barn Owl used giant stacks of tube amps and sent their instruments, guitars and synths, coursing through them with intense amounts of stereo delay.

“Void and Devotion” kicks off the recording with a cosmic sound that grows as it passes through the speakers. It becomes a rather expansive piece at times, but something about it is eerily insular. A guitar arpeggio underpins the movement and fuzz coats the rest, creating a magical and mystical effect that doesn’t sink in fully until repeat listens.

The second piece, “Shadowland,” is a more organic piece of music. The guitar lends it a pastoral feel, as though we’re observing a march of the trees through open passages of land. They’re going somewhere and the guitars, tracked live with no loops, offer them a march to move onward with.

Finally, “Infinite Reach,” clocking in at just over ten minutes, is a sparse composition shattered by sudden feedback. It builds to a pace that could be considered “chugging,” I suppose, but every movement Barn Owl makes is careful.

Shadowland is an intelligent, challenging EP, one that serves as a nice introduction to these masters of sound and magic. Barn Owl will be releasing a full-length record in September.