Prolific purveyors of independently-released psychedelic classic rock return to Ecstatic Peace! with their fourth offering on a bigger stage.
Barn Nova is something like MV + EE's eightieth collaborative effort if one were to include all of their side projects. Formed sometime in the earlier part of the decade, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder quickly became two of the most prolific rock 'n' roll songwriters to appear on the scene. There is not only the MV + EE discography to consider, but also side bands The Golden Road, The Medicine Show, and The Bummer Road, all of which carry the MV + EE moniker in front. All told, the two collaborators have around fifty releases in the past eight or nine years, which I have to admit is ridiculous. But, this level of output probably works best for them; I would not be surprised if all MV + EE need to get them through the day is sunshine and instruments.
Despite their deep catalog, like many prolific artists of the 21st century underground, MV + EE don't necessarily get their due - I fully admit I've never heard a release of theirs before, though I've heard the name through their Ecstatic Peace! association. But Barn Nova surely sounds like the result of artists that know what they're doing. Boasting Matt Valentine's unique production technique "Spectrasound", in which many sounds swirl around the stereo mix rather than stay cemented in place, Barn Nova is a compellingly dedicated take on the country rock of Grateful Dead or My Morning Jacket. The opening tracks "Feelin' Fire" and "Get Right Church" also display Valentine's Tom Verlaine influence, though his riffs definitely appear to get much rootsier as the album goes along. "Summer Magic", meanwhile, is a mountain of a brooder, taking queues from last year's Black Mountain release and demanding that classic rock retake a place in the modern music conversation.
There is, of course, one other alluring nugget to Barn Nova: who MV + EE are collaborating with. When "Summer Magic" rears its head and the guitar-duel begins to peak around three minutes in, there are surely going to be guitar geeks whose ears begin to perk up at a certain sound. With the help of liners, press kits, or good old intuition, you'd find out that war is waged between EE and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame. Like Dinosaur Jr.'s latest albums, the scent of pure, unadulterated roots rock revival is thick around Barn Nova, and it's a collaboration that pays great dividends. Other collaborators for Barn Nova includes Jeremy Earl of Woods as well as friends Doc Dunn and Mike Smith. Without that information handy the album certainly doesn't sound like a collaborative effort, though, and you've really got to admire its cohesiveness. I also really enjoy the sequencing, the rush of warm air "Wandering Nomad" keeping things light-hearted between the album's two dark centerpieces "Summer Magic" and "Bedroom Eyes".
Along with the use of Valentine's production techniques (that I admit I don't completely hear the uniqueness of), MV + EE are able to conjure up an album that brings to mind exactly what fans of My Morning Jacket's At Dawn might have expected from Z, or a Band of Horses album that does a little more than simply set the mood and run with it. As far as late-catalog introductions to a group go, I'm not sure many bands could do much better than Barn Nova. The album feels dense, but at only 42 minutes is actually blissfully brief, and I think a lot of listeners will find themselves coming back to this record for as long as they long for warm summer evenings on cold winter nights. This type of music has become more and more popular recently with the advent of Jeremy Earl's Woods Family (who have a similar recording style to MV + EE, though not as prolific) and many other lo-fi roots acts, so MV + EE's fourth major-indie label release after a decade of independent, limited release recordings comes at a good time. Albums like this and Dinosaur Jr.'s Farm are invigorating rock from the inside out.