Jon Porras frequently explored intense and intricate work as half of Barn Owl. Along with Evan Caminiti, he blended rock, drone, and doom, primarily through their guitars but with broader instrumentation. Porras’ only solo work has tended to the darker side, too. Light Divide, for example, used the idea of light only to add a little bit of space in otherwise dim basements. The title might sound like a children’s game, but the music could soundtrack a horror film. On his new release Arroyo, Porras takes a different path. He seeks tranquility amid simpler, mostly acoustic constructions, bringing an actual lightness into his music with an easy-moving flow.
That flow guides the album. Named with the Spanish word for “stream”, Arroyo moves within and across tracks, leisurely getting to its non-destination. Porras plays with time and direction, each piece given just enough propulsion to drift, but avoiding closure. He builds each of the four tracks around a single chord, usually sustained on organ or synth, while a piano or guitar adds single notes or light chording. The approach allows a piece to nearly settle into a pool before finding just enough momentum to continue forward. The “forward”, though, remains more metaphorical than actual; the idea of each track isn’t to get somewhere. Porras doesn’t so much develop each track as he circles a central mood, expanding time without promising to finish anything.
“Flower in Hand” opens Arroyo with a gradual fade-in before a few soft piano plinks. Porras feints at a melody, but he lets it float away each time he approaches one. After eight minutes, he backs away, and the track fades out. We’ve been given a meditation on a concept full of brightness and prettiness, but the thinking remains open-ended. The title track follows, picking up the approach, offering even more space and less direction, focused on a pulchritudinous dawn, the nearly perpetual setting for the album. “In a Garden” relies more on synthetic sounds and a little bit of a dimmer feel, but the same principles of composition apply. The tone new introduces a little texture without breaking the serenity of Arroyo.
Closer “Woven Landscape” introduces the guitar, but it somehow enhances the sacred feel of Arroyo. The album essentially feels like an outdoor space, but this cut sounds like a small country chapel, nearly empty in the early morning. Porras offers a slightly advanced pace here, as if able to turn his casual drift into a slow build, but he still avoids reaching a peak. This closing number might provide a sort of summation, but so much air remains that long rests lead to surprising resumptions of motion. Porras works his way around these chords without ever worrying them, always striving (without seeming to strive) to find more ways to open them up.
Fans might be accustomed to Porras working in the dark, but on Arroyo, he offers genuine light and rest throughout the trip. The loveliness suits him, as he finds imaginative spaces in which to linger without ever quite settling down.