In a semi-recent review posted on his Heritage Head web site, rock icon/author/critic Julian Cope envisioned the latest work by San Francisco duo Barn Owl as a kind of time traveller’s palantir, a sort of seer’s stone for gazing into America’s colonial past. He notes, “It’s as though the first layer of American settlers has been reactivated through the music and Barn Owl are transmitters.” As overzealous as his piece gets, Cope nears an important specificity in his description. The songs on From Our Mouths a Perpetual Light do evoke the foreboding ecstasy of discovery, the brooding anxiety of reaching into a new frontier. However, the rich psychic wilderness that they probe isn’t from the past, but from our very own time.
With this first non CD-R, formal LP, John Porras, Evan Caminiti and drummer Mike Bailey have created a purposeful, expansive drone music to soundtrack the forgotten dimensions of our postmodern consciousness. Using heavily effected guitars, ebbing harmonium and sparse percussion, the trio spins out eight compositions that slow time to a veritable halt, stopping our hyper-accelerated reality dead in its tracks. Almost fully instrumental and unbreaking in its mournful demeanor, the album goes a step further than much experimental music that aims to shake people from staid mindsets or inspire with challenging sonic abrasion. Instead, it locates buried outposts of meditative consciousness, delivering the listener into realms of time and space frequently ignored.
A significant part of what makes this record such a marked departure from other currents of contemporary music is its use of stark aural minimalism. The album was recorded analog on an old reel-to-reel and is devoid of ornamentation. Barn Owl uses the basic tools of rock and roll (and a slew of worthy effects pedals) to illuminate a world just beneath our plane of immediate perception, perhaps most poignantly illustrated by the short, enthralling vistas of “The Stones Speak Through the Fire.” In the echoed cries we hear a wilderness churning in isolation. This could be the soundtrack to a ritual being performed somewhere in expansive pristine America, but is more likely the distant sound of smelting ore, of free land being transformed into the cold dominion of man.