Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Imperfect Space of the Waking Dream

Barn Owl - Devotion II

Some days I don’t really wake up at all. Not completely. Basic motor functions are intact, but in general it’s a fudge. Reality refuses to manifest completely – a confusion of barely understood stimuli with the singular intent of distracting and bewildering me. Inanimate objects are weirdly mobile, scuttling in and out of my path, and light itself is a vast, monochrome edifice, creating terrible waves at the corners of vision.

You’re the same as me, so you know what I’m talking about. You’re probably having a day like that today, stabbing dumbly at technology and failing to spell primary school-level words. Your shoes are in the fridge, and you’ve no recollection of placing them there. You’re an idiot in need of rest, but there’s a whole day to battle through.

It’s the ambivalence that’s the worst thing – the will to operate without the means to achieve. Somewhere, though, in that struggle, great things can happen. Ideas fuse with disparate thoughts in a way you otherwise can’t encourage, and the dimness of perception can create momentary, terrifying fantasy out of everyday objects. The befuddled trudge can, for short periods, coalesce into something interesting, even useful, if you enjoy being trapped in a netherworld between the real and imagined.

Lost In The Glare testifies that Barn Owl know this, and suggests they are perpetually trapped in that netherworld, probably by choice, working on their sound unnoticed in some low-watt cellar. Spacious and graceful, you might file this under ambient drone, but I think that does a disservice to the slow-burning intensity of this record, and the range of influences absorbed into the whole. There’s no infinite drifting here, always a build to something fierce yet indistinct. Something is always about to happen, often a plaintive picking of an old-English folk melody merges, incongruous against the dust-blown Eastern backdrops dragged from indistinguishable instruments. Even as they emerge and build, the hooks recede again, a shifting mirage in twilight. In and out weave the thumbprints of early Velvet Underground, the stripped-down Mogwai of Come On Die Young, the rain wet moors of Further-era Flying Saucer Attack and the slo-mo fuzz of latter-day drone metal.

The tension and release is best experienced by taking the album as whole. Devotion I and The Darkest Night Since 1683 combine to create a space as cavernous and forbidding as Light Echoes and Devotion II are searing and direct. It comes together in the imperfect space of the waking dream. Slow dancing tunes come on like ghosts, disperse and drift in the campfire space.

Barn Owl create dialogue between imagination and reality, making taut forest pathways from vapour trails in the eye of your mangled, sleep-deprived mind. Dislocated and engrossing, Lost In The Glare is a rich tale about nothing in particular – a train moving slowly through the desert night, getting nowhere slowly, shining hot white light and making malevolent fun with the shadows. It’s the ideal soundtrack for a journey around your somnambulant world.

Graham White Noise

Lost in the Glare is out now on Thrill Jockey

Buy Lost in the Glare by Barn Owl from Norman Records
Barn Owl discography
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