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Barn Owl
Lost In The Glare Brad Sanders , October 7th, 2011 13:26

The barn owl has long been a source for homespun mythology. The nocturnal bird of prey is one of the most widespread species of owl and yet one of the most mysterious. It doesn’t hoot but screeches. Its heart-shaped visage differentiates it from much of its more sinister-looking brethren, but it retains a pervasive eeriness. Its wingspan can stretch beyond 100 centimeters, but its flight is perfectly silent. Local folklorists from every holler of North America and Europe have given it a hundred nicknames; Ghost Owl, Death Owl, Demon Owl, and Hobgoblin ring the darkest tones. The owl’s mysterious and haunting nature makes it the perfect moniker for the San Francisco duo behind Lost in the Glare, one of the most darkly enthralling instrumental records of the year.

Flanked by a small supporting cast of guest musicians, Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras have released the tightest, most focused Barn Owl album yet. Where last year’s drone-informed Ancestral Star saw a 10-minute title track and a total running length of almost an hour spread across 11 songs, Lost in the Glare is an eight-track, 40-minute burst of dynamic desert rock, with only the brilliantly titled ‘The Darkest Night Since 1683’ exceeding the seven-minute mark.

Instrumental rock works best when it doesn’t demand vocals, and Barn Owl comes awfully close to achieving this consistently on Lost in the Glare. Often sounding like the logical midpoint on a continuum between the earthen soundscapes of Earth circa The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull and the Morricone-influenced electronics of Blanck Mass, the band’s take on desert rock never feels backward-looking as so much of the genre inherently does. Imagery from the American West is certainly conjured, but it’s a sort of alternate West where distortion pedals and EBows sit comfortably next to the ubiquitous spittoons and six-shooters.

It’s when Barn Owl take those anachronistic moments and runs with them that the material is at its strongest. ‘The Darkest Night Since 1683’ buries its eerie first half in feedback, loops, and single-note drone, sounding more like a marriage between This Will Destroy You’s experimental side and the epic rumble of Sunn O))) more than conventional instrumental desert rock. The shimmering shoegaze that coats the guitar and organ of 'Midnight Tide' deepens its feeling of isolation; opener 'Pale Star' similarly drowns its instruments in gorgeous, harrowing effects alien to the deserts it evokes.

Lost in the Glare is certainly mood music – try listening to it when you need a pick-me- up and see how that goes – but when that particular itch scratched only by vast, beautiful instrumental rock arises, look no further than Barn Owl. Its talons will scratch it.