Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Barn Owl / Tom Carter | Split LP

By their very nature, the words drone and noise have negative connotations. I mean, have you ever heard anybody say, "boy, I love that drone coming from that broken AC unit in the apartment next door", or "wow, don't you just love that noise coming from the construction site across the street." Further contemplation on the subject, with a focus on the proliferation of drone and noise musics over the past few years, may lead one to immediately marginalize the movement due to the sheer negativity associated with it.

In many cases the marginalization of noise would be validated by the numbers of groups/individuals simply stringing together affects pedals or plucking a detuned guitar string while repeatedly singing the same monotonous note and never developing an unique identity or furthering the cause. Homogeneity is never good, but all forms of music are susceptible to the trap of sameness that can stultify creativy, with the drone and noise movments perhaps more susceptible to this than other styles/genres due to the ease of entry into the club (your mind and some cheap equipment). However, one must be careful not to sublimate craft and virtuosity over exploration and independence.

With last years Split LP, Barn Owl and Tom Carter have found a good symbiosis between the nobility of skill and talent and the credibility of experimentation and improvisation, a progression which sculpts and works toward a mastery of noise, taming it with well chosen tools of the trade and awareness of history, while also letting it run free with an adventuresome spirit when need be. Barn Owl fills the A side with 3 tracks of medium length (5-9 minutes). This gives them just enough time to create energy and build their sound without losing the listener. It is a strategy that works well here, which is not to say they aren't capable of pulling off longer songs.

Track 1, Flight Of Annhinga, glides across a barren landscape before entering a dark chamber where fluted echos dance between walls in a sublime ritual, trancelike at first, then finding its way back out into the open. Reflective and anxious drum beats help expand the ever-growing sound as borders are crossed and new lands are explored, finally drifting back to the nest of silence. Track 2, Burning Dunes In Moonlight, the shortest on the disc, introduces a subtle metallic chaos which transforms into a parched plane of guitar austerity (it is apparent that Mr. Carter worked with Barn Owl on this track and on track 3) that plays out as a bright orange sun sets. Uluru picks up where Burning Dunes left off, only now the sun is rising, and it burns a little cooler than before, but still creates enough heat within it's core to finish the A side with some free-flowing, slow-burning guitar work that injects a little bad-ass into the mix.

Side B consists of Tom Carter's contribution to the disc, the long-player, Train Kept, which takes on a more chaotic tone than Side A, as it begins restless with feedback sculptures and lead guitar scorchers. On a somewhat diminished level it retains, for a few moments, an atmosphere of doom and ominousness, until preparation is supplanted by destruction, and the bomb is finally dropped. Crunching the pedal to the metal, probing dangerously, and speeding recklessly, Train Kept careens along a winding road, but never goes over the edge.

All things considered, this album dissolves enough expectation to keep on a forward thinking path, while also adding the right amount of tradition to avoid floating aimless off into space. The fact that complacency and cliche' are never flirted with here evinces a devotion to form without sacrificing content, a balance that these two artists most probably learned through not only practice, but also trial and error. This album is pure proof that writing off all drone or noise as mere obstreperous sound could lead to some serious missing out.

ear and mind maintenance

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