Barn Owl & The Infinite Strings Ensemble - Headlands [Important Records - 2011]Strolling down the pleasantly empty, picturesque streets of my suburban neighborhood, which on of my initial listening was blanketed in patchy shifting sunlight, "The Headlands" by Barn Owl & The Infinite Strings Ensemble had an immediate, soul stirring effect on me.
The feeling of timeless, all-encompassing peace and calm communicated to me by the fluid washes of kaleidoscopic, metallic tonality found on this disk was so profound that, in my dilated third eye, I clearly saw the trajectory of my life splayed out in darkened neon symbols. Though similar in many ways to the work of classic ambient musicians and various forms of ancient drone music, it's a recording with enough immersive power that, throughout the listening experience, my inner critical monologue falls silent in favor of intense and emotional introspection.
The title of the first piece, "Levitation", aptly describes the feeling of the whole album. This record is a harmonious acoustic soup that protracts time through its blurred arrhythmic stillness, like an eternal tuning pitch from a celestial orchestra diffusing through the corridors of dream. The sounds of a warm, mindfully bowed cello seamlessly blend with consciouness focusing singing bowls and a bed of unchanging raga inspired drones, sparsely punctuated with the hollow, glassy chiming of bells. Gooey, gently distorted e-bowed guitars wax mournful, occasionally resembling voices, channeling the haunting lap-steel work of Robert Rich. Whimsical scraps of resonance shriek out restlessly at random, as if the environment created by the disk were possessed of denizens of its own.
Throughout each of the 4 songs' 8-10 minute length, various harmonic pitches ease gradually in and out of the overall chord, gently pushing the tracks from enveloping, womb-like welcoming spaces into colder shaded planes from which the hugeness of mathematically interrelated universe is clearly perceptible. When each track nears its end, the musicians do not cease to play, rather the sounds recede further and further from the listener until inaudible, creating the impression that this sonic activity continues somewhere within the cosmos; we have simply left the scene.
The high point here is the siren-call laden closer, "Condensation", which achieves the primordial sunset eerieness of the aforementioned Robert Rich, leaving the listener to ponder the mysteries of nature and irretrievable ages past. The hand percussion, didjeridoos and other obvious ethnic allusions of early 90's "tribal ambient" are not present here, and yet somehow the 'tribal' feeling is totally intact, which in my mind is evidence of true finesse.
Conclusively, "The Headlands" is among the most beautiful, well-paced and spiritually centered slices of drone I've ever heard. Barn Owl & The Infinite Strings Ensemble marry the compositional and emotional sophistication of Robert Rich with a simplicity of intent and structure which makes their recording an effortless joy to absorb and listen to, not to mention a powerful tool of healing. Fans of other purveyors of processed acoustic drone (such as Troum) should be especially delighted to hear this album, though really I'd recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed an ambient recording.Josh Landry