Coming down off the summer high a little bit and getting ready to sit down with some of the stellar music that's come my way as of late. On another note I've been working on a new piece of my own, two actually, more in the drifting ambient vein and I'd say quite a bit more nuanced than Orbital Decay (Still have plenty of copies of that by the way, email me if you'd like one). As of now wonderful music fills my living room and another glorious sun sets behind the mountains as I look out over the harbour.
Undercurrent is the latest album by Jon Porras, who is one half of the droned-out psych duo Barn Owl. In their own right Barn Owl are quickly becoming a household name and given all the high quality albums that they've produced – not to mention works by Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras as Elm (see below) – I had none other than high expectations for this. My expectations were met on first listen, and then blown apart by the second spin. Undercurrent is an exceptional effort that exceeds any Barn Owl affiliated release to date.
Porras's distinctive finger-picking-to-drone-wash style is back for this album, but because of the way it's been produced, (credit due, at least in part to the Normal Conquest) the melodies feel all the more subdued, the notes and guitar tones all the more bathed in glorious reverb, as if snaking along the bottom of an ocean or deep within a cave. At times the plucked guitar is reminiscent of Andrew Chalk's piano work on Blue Eyes of the March, both lush and elegant. Elegance quickly transforms into a languid prettiness on Chalk albums but in Porras's hands it turns sinister, transforming into distortion and foreboding stretched-out melodies.
The appropriately titled Calm provides a brief parting of clouds, with its slightly less harrowing though still melancholic melody, before the undercurrent grabs hold again. To these ears this album is a boiled down version of all the best Barn Owl/Elm moments to date, then filtered in a way to make the movements even more mysterious and effervescent. Adorned with a chillingly accurate washed-out-at-sea cover photo and limited to 500 copies. My record of the year thus far. Simply excellent.
Nice to see this reissued on record seeing as how I missed out on the original cd on Digitalis in 2009. To start off, the clear vinyl is a nice touch, and the cover is spot on, as with all the Elm, Barn Owl and Evan Caminiti releases, the art always seems to work as a perfect match to the music within. This release by Porras, had I heard it around the original release date would have meshed nicely with Bxogonoas and Woven into Light, both limited edition cdrs released in 2008.
Elm - Three Rings Drawn in Sand (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast
Nemcatacoa, released a year later, doesn't feel at all estranged from those discs but likewise doesn't feel as evolved as Undercurrent (released this year). The individual tracks, composed of Porras's familiar sullen string plucks and heavy tones, are just that: individual(istic). As Barn Owl have progressed and as Porras's own music has progressed, the notion of holism when it comes to making an album has also progressed. This is not to say that this album feels rushed or even inconsistent for that matter, because all of these songs are good enough to stand on their own two feet – take for example the closer, Three Rings Drawn in Sand, with its bleary guitar wash and immaculately executed looped melody that eventually gives way to a crystalline ambience – it's just that they feel somewhat separated from each other, and the transitions between tracks aren't as polished. Truly, this is my only critique, and it's a minor one at that for an album that is completely worthy of this reissue and still feels refreshing after everything
that Porras has released since 2009. Recommended.
As a little bonus, I just discovered a free download of Elm playing live at WFMU/aQ for SXSW 2009. Available through the Free Music Archive website: Elm Live.