“Our music is kind of visual to me,” admits Evan Caminiti, one-half of San Francisco psych-rockers Barn Owl. It’s a bit of an understatement, especially considering the largeness of the music the band makes. That’s due in part to the visual associations wrapped up in Barn Owl’s instrumental epics—desolate deserts, extreme isolation, and “the powerful feeling of fog creeping along the horizon,” as fellow Barn Owl Jon Porras describes the effect the Bay Area climes have on their sounds. Since meeting in college in 2006, Caminiti and Porras have found kindred spirits in one another, uniting their love of John Fahey’s American primitivism with doom metal and minimal classical. Lost In The Glare marks the first time the two guitarists have worked with drummer Jacob Felix Heule, resulting in a heady mixture of head-in-the-clouds radiance and the more earthly power of a good solid groove.
Last year, Barn Owl invited Heule on a lengthy tour where most of the record’s compositions were tried out. As a result, Lost In The Glare feels both live and lived-in. Though it’s obvious most of the songs are largely improvised, the structures seem deliberate and carefully considered. “Turiya” shows the immediate positive effect of having a drummer like Heule in the group. He keeps a glacial pace plodding along while Caminiti and Porras turn their crunchy drone inside-out. Too many like-minded acts will chase that drone to the point of tedium. Barn Owl use it as a jumping off point before weaving in more concrete ideas.
Musically, there’s no shortage of blues and Indian riffs, but Caminiti and Porras are less interested in ripping off gnarly guitar solos than conjuring an atmosphere with dark waves of feedback. Album-closer (and emotional highpoint) “Devotion II” boasts skillful interlocking guitar lines before exploding in the coda on the back of huge chords and Heule’s pounding drums. This enormity is well-deserved: they pace the album masterfully, contrasting the harder cuts with acoustic explorations like “Temple of the Winds” and “Light Echoes.” The differing moods add up to something that’s experiential and focused. Records like this are often heralded as “sounding like a soundtrack,” but that’s a disservice here. Through their careful sonic work, Barn Owl create their own stories and mythology that can easily stand on their own.
While working on Lost In The Glare, the duo experienced the lunar eclipse that accompanied the winter solstice last December. It was a once-in-a-generation event, captured on the record as “The Darkest Night Since 1683.” The song’s crushing blackness is certainly fitting, but it’s also a testament to Barn Owl’s source of inspiration. Nature runs through the band’s very being, from their own moniker to song titles and album art. It’s also at the heart of their music—wrangling the fleeting messiness of improvisation into something cohesive and constructive. Those are some immense issues to tackle, but they’re attempting to bring this bigness down to a human level. There’s real beauty in that.