Even backwoods mystics like to rock out once in a while. With
Barn Nova, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder move further away from the
Basho/Fahey axis of finger-picked primitivism, closer to Neil Young’s amplified
guitar anarchy. They get a boost, on “Summer Magic,” from J. Mascis, his guitar
wheeling and spiraling against slow, shuffling blues and incense-scented chants.
Dropping Frampton-esque bends and pull-offs, cranking Crazy Horse-ish turmoil,
Mascis puts the “wild” back in this duo’s imagined wilderness. But even without
Mascis, as on epic “Bedroom Eyes,” Valentine approximates the heat and ferocity
of Young’s fiery dirges, carving arcs of distortion not unlike those on “Down
By the River” or “Southern Man.”
Still, while Young the guitarist is much in evidence here,
Young the craftsman and songwriter is less so. Barn Nova‘s tunes are
loosely strung and a little formless. “Snapperhead” coalesces out of tremulous,
shimmery chords and whispery choruses sung in unison, but just out of phase.
“Fully Tanked” embellishes monotone verses with dreamy tone washes, picked
guitar and harmonica. Only “Get
(borrowing a melodic line from ZZ Top’s “I Thank You”) has anything like a hook.
Its sly, boogying swagger is only blurred, not obscured by the duo’s trademark
shimmer. Up to this point, MV + EE’s songs have always been too dankly
spiritual to do more than smoulder. With this one, they pretty nearly catch
fire. And, fittingly for one of freak folk’s longest running partnerships,
Valentine and Elder eschew politics, history and social commentary for
meditations on enduring love. “The moon it wanes, but my love stays/ Overflowing
in the grass,” croons Valentine on next-to-closing track “Fully Tanked.”
Even a rocking MV+EE effort remains, fundamentally, a slow
burner. Don’t expect to be knocked over right away, but rather won gradually,
through indefinite, hazy repetition.
Standout Tracks: “Bedroom Eyes,” “Summer Magic” “Get Right
Church” JENNIFER KELLY