The phrase “beautiful desolation” isn’t often associated with barn owls. For that matter, neither are sci-fi-apocalypses — and you certainly wouldn’t catch someone referring to an owl as both “mystical” and “doomy”. Am I wrong on this last point? And yet, here’s a band named after the barn owl that exemplifies all the characteristics I just mentioned. What a world! Eh?
Barn Owl (the band) are interesting in that they’re able to craft grand, sonic-portraits that mine both dark and light territory — sometimes all at once, and always with the grace of someone who knows less is more. Or at least someone that knows how to get much more out of way less… The duo often entwines drone-y, textural landscapes — both broad in scope and singular in their seemingly base-sense of Eastern-leaning spiritualism. With stacked harmoniums slammed against distant guitars, and little jangles of things in the distance, the music can indeed border on the meditative (See: From Our Mouths a Perpetual Light) — though never without a nod to the darker layers resting just beneath the surface. After (kind of) re-inventing themselves as a sludge-rock band on 2011’s Lost in the Glare, the two have once again receded their acoustics, opting instead for broad swathes of electronic atmosphere. In that respect, their new album V marks yet another phase for the band, merging the overarching vibe of their earlier works within the confines of an even more expansive and distinctive medium.
Though only six tracks in length, V has all the makings of a Sci-fi epic. Sounding at once ancient & futuristic (“Pale Star”) or reminiscent of the super intense, nature-as-all-encompassing mystical-entity experiences one might encounter on psychedelics (“Blood Echo”) — Barn Owl reach to the core. Impressive, considering the majority of artists in/around their genre tend to sink under the weight of their own crudeness. These two certainly don’t have that problem, demonstrating a seasoned production-sense (alongside producer Phil Manley) by placing special care on texture, synth-arrangement and clever use of the overarching stereo image. Take the opener, “Void Redux”, which marries a dark, restless synth and a series of staggering, monotonous single-strummed notes — all of it held together by a just-barely-there percussion pattern. Notice the sonic build of “Pacific Isolation”, which ebbs and flows in lonesome static-darkness, only to pour over in a wave of almost, triumphant resolution. And that is only one minute in! Even when hanging on too long (damn kids and their ADD!), as they do with the 17 minute epic, “The Opulent Decline” — as purveyors of desolation and doom, Barn Owl are still no less impressive.
V really feels like a natural, (if not enjoyably predictable) extension of the Barn Owl canon, showing a tight control of artistic craft, delivered gracefully. Acoustical preferences aside, their exploration into electronic realms should only help to widen their appeal — and I’d be damned if they don’t start scoring for film (Danny Boyle, where are you?). Undoubtedly, it’s all about layers on V, pull enough back and you will find the most complex Barn Owl album to date; a full sonic-cleanse of what remains within the dark, and what remains without.