As one half of California noise masters Barn Owl, Evan Caminiti is best known for crafting abrasively unsettling drone; the kind of slow burning noise which could soundtrack the most macabre of nightmares. However he is also something of a one man guitar drone institution away from his usual partner in crime, having already released four solo albums to date under his own name as well as more under his Painted Caves guise and then plenty of collaborative works as Higuma. Across all monikers though his work is rarely anything other than bleak and nightmarish in tone, so I had expected to maybe find him embracing a more peaceful sound here on a record titled Dreamless Sleep.
If anything though these seven tracks play out like a struggle towards light, which frequently slips back into murky territory and ultimately ends up mired in the darkness. Opener ‘Leaving The Island’ sails in on a swell of fuzzy guitar drone, with small shafts of light breaking through the mist for a relatively bright opening. This is followed by ‘Bright Midnight’, which slowly slips into a vortex of reverberating drones and lashes of more distorted prog-like waves, before the pulsating bass tones of ‘Absteigend’ draws out an even more menacing undercurrent to the record.
Individual tracks are too removed from any common mould of song structure to offer much meaning here. Instead it’s the cumulative effect of continuous static distortion which builds a foreboding atmosphere. In that sense, this album has more in common with Caminiti’s work as Painted Caves than it does with his day job: it’s all twisted nocturnal rhythms colliding with the distinctive scratched aesthetics of Night Dust, the other solo album he released earlier this year.
Caminiti seems to be tirelessly invested in pursuing the ends of his instrument’s capabilities, and in large sections this doesn’t really sound all that much like a guitar record, or at least not in the sense you would traditionally imagine. He spends relatively little time picking or plucking, preferring instead to treat the notes until they become something else, something indistinguishable from his only other tools of manipulated vocals and analogue synthesizers. He strives to create sounds which are unrecognisable, and that strike you purely for their visceral emotionality. This does mean that it’s not always a comforting listen, but when he strikes the mood just right it is undoubtedly captivating.
This visceral nature is most telling on final track ‘Becoming Pure Light’, which has a cathartic, almost metamorphic, feel about it and seems to typify the struggle between dark and light. Notes elongate and flower into sprawling sounds and razor sharp riffs clash with manipulated choral voices as they enter the mix, and the whole thing ends with a sense of comforting finality, stranded in pitch black darkness but for a glimmer of light trapped in the distance.
Whilst it might seem at times to be simply a vast wall of sound, and certainly won’t be to everyones tastes, Dreamless Sleep is a dense and paranoid but ultimately quite soothing record. Again Caminiti has demonstrated his nimble control over atmospherics and underlined his position as one of the most interesting artists currently exploring the possibilities of recording and manipulating guitar sounds.