It’s not always easy to predict what an artist’s solo career will be upon postponing, parting ways with, or just taking a brief detour from his or her famed group. In the case of Barn Owl’s Evan Caminiti, mind, it’s safe to say that a sudden departure into electro-pop or country-rock was unlikely to be on the cards, and his solo output since 2008 has consistently delivered the kind of spacious drone that was the hallmark of his aforementioned duo with Jon Porras. In such circumstances, picking out where he diverts from familiar territory is almost as interesting as the music itself. He may not have bounded into new worlds as enthusiastically as, say, ex-Yellow Swan Pete Swanson did on Man With Potential last year (man, that was an ace record), but the divergences are there, nestled deep within the layers of sound that adorn Dreamless Sleep. Equally, and probably more importantly, there’s a challenge in identifying why Caminiti felt the need to release this album so short on the heels of April’s Night Dust.
That question may be a tough one to answer, such are the similarities between both releases. The man must have a lot to express, and he does so with familiar tools: guitar and synth, layered on top of one another in something approaching an “orchestral” style. Where Barn Owl have developed a widescreen, countrified form of guitar-based drone post-metal, heavily indebted to Earth, the music on Dreamless Sleep initially seems centred on the tonality and notes of the synth, even when Caminiti use only guitar, and is infinitely more restrained than that of Barn Owl’s epic last album Lost In The Glare, so much so that it feels almost like a reaction to and diversion away from that record. ‘Leaving the Island’ seeps out of the speakers on ghostly ambient guitar textures which are gradually joined by slender arpeggios that loop around one another in a patient, ghostly dance that is suddenly pierced by a vicious curtain of malevolent feedback. Caminiti’s approach may be based on repetition and stasis, but his gradual juxtapositions lend a certain inchoate forward motion, not to mention unexpected dissonance, to the dreamlike soundscapes.
Never is this more potent than on ‘Bright Midnight’, where a soothing synth backdrop serves as a platform, maybe even a dancefloor, for a wondrous guitar solo lifted straight out of the Paul Kossoff book of aching guitar mastery. For a while this blissful serenade drifts back and forth over discrete loops, before the guitar recedes like a whale sinking under the oceans of gossamer synth and crackling tape hiss which, through the album, he manipulates and adds to the melodies as if it were a malleable instrumental device. As much as with his excellent guitar-playing, Evan Caminiti shines as a producer.
With a title like Dreamless Sleep to guide him, Caminiti anchors the motifs of his music in fractured reality and liminal states, equating it with similar thought-processes to those that percolate the “hypnagogic pop” scene, notably Motion Sickness of Time Travel and Emeralds (indeed, ‘Symmetry’ could be an outtake from an album by either of those two, such is the way it is dominated by New Age-y synths and echo-laden guitar). His embrace of synths, from the pertinent bubbles that swirl through ‘Bright Midnight’ to the moody late-night washes and sampled phantom choir on ‘Absteigend’ only emphasises the connection, even if sudden rupture from slumber into shocked wakefulness is ever around the corner, generally in the form of some molten guitar mauling. Closing piece ‘Becoming Pure Light’ bursts with such barely-restrained choler, with Caminiti’s clear notes sandwiched between raw feedback, fuzzed-out solos and chuntering reverb, coming surprisingly close to the kind of whacked out guitar brutalism of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, only played at the pace of the Canadian’s Dead Man soundtrack. Unexpectedly muscular and pleasantly hazy, Dreamless Sleep doesn’t really match its title, for there is too much going on under these expertly-applied sonic throbs, screes, surges and drones that you can’t not come up with the word “dreamlike”.
Evan Caminiti’s evolution as a solo artist alongside his work with Barn Owl is clear in that he takes forms he knows and has mastered and deconstructs them to rebuild a sonic tapestry more ethereal and abstract than that of his parent outfit. It is clear that he has long listened to both the German kosmische school of drone and more recent electronic artists, with both Manuel Gottsching and GAS getting their signposts along the meandering road that runs through these seven tracks. Ghosts, memories and blurred horizons hover over his crystalline finger-picked motifs, raw feedback groans, looped choir and shimmering keyboard lines, making Dreamless Sleep, like Night Dust before it, somewhat intangible (I generally find tracks like these work best when deployed over more time than Caminiti allows himself), though not always in a bad way. However, unlike the self-evident distinction from Barn Owl, it’s harder to see why Night Dust and Dreamless Sleep couldn’t have been condensed into one album. Despite this quibble, there is much to savour in Caminiti’s enthusiastic and emotional attempts to expand on his own musical lexicon.