There is a darkness throughout Night Dust that I could neither pinpoint nor deflect. Because, equally, it’s a stirring and elegiac work that seems to prowl through the shadows whilst gazing longingly and hopefully into the light. When opener “Near Dark” first surged out of my speakers, with its mournful tones, gentle electric finger-picking and bowed guitar, I thought of both Richard Skelton and, more ominously, William Fowler Collins, as the track grinds fitfully to a bleakly morose conclusion. With a title like Night Dust, of course, you’d have to expect something sombre and, crucially, elusive.
Evan Caminiti is perhaps best known as being one half of drone meisters Barn Owl, who use Earth’s recent template of country-tinged drone metal, but strip away the percussion to create widescreen sonic vistas that stretch and grind across a fantasy vision of nocturnal Americana. Think Neil Young and Crazy Horse being conducted by Klaus Schulze. Something like that… The thing with Barn Owl’s formula is that it has, much like Earth, got very clearly-defined parameters, and with Night Dust, Caminiti does a good job of moving off in new directions whilst maintaining the fulcrum of what he’s good at, particularly on electric guitar.
Like Skelton, Caminiti directs almost bloody-minded focus on his guitar, as if he were delving into the instrument’s sound to manipulate and distort from within, were such a thing possible. With such cautious intensity and immediacy, the emphasis is on the emotion created by these guitar sounds, which could almost be a voice such are their apparent deep-rooted connection to the San Francisco resident’s soul. Night Dust doesn’t share the expansive palette of Skelton’s wondrous Landings album, but Caminiti’s approach to the guitar is as restrained and deliberate as the Lancastrian’s (Night Dust was recorded on a 4-track cassette, something that enhances its sparseness), and the potency of these 11 tracks stems in great part from the resultant sentimental impact.
Equally, however, Caminiti has cited the “smoky blue hues and washed-out lights of some of the 80s best vampire movies” as being an influence on Night Dust, something that moves these oblique tunes away from Skelton’s abstract emotivity and into the bleak, nocturnal world inhabited by the aforementioned William Fowler Collins. On “Returning Spirits”, echoing percussive rumbles accompany the swirling synths and muffled guitar feedback, sounding like unidentified bumps in the proverbial night. “Star Circle” is swamped in bleak synth drones that amble in near-circular fashion under a haze of murk and later tracks see Caminiti revert to his Barn Owl roots with ragged, growling guitar solos that buck and shake with barely-controlled menace. Night Dust is an album of the shadows and darkness, and, like a stroll down a deserted country path at midnight, it may not come at you with any violence, but constantly hints that something may be waiting and watching out of sight.
With the longest tracks “only” stretching to just over five minutes, many feel like sketches almost in the style of another great “emotional” guitar band, The Durutti Column (circa LC). Night Dust is an album that drifts like, well, dust, and I imagine its elusiveness may frustrate some listeners. But as you vacillate in its grasp, buoyed gently but insistingly by tones, silences and wispy, dark melodies, you can’t help but feel touched by the manifold sensations and feelings it evokes. Night Dust is a haunted, and often haunting, album where texture, atmosphere and emotions are used to create a palpable sonic environment.