Jon Porras – Black Mesa
Posted In: Black Mesa, Charles Sage, Jon Porras, Jon Porras - Black Mesa, Thrill Jockey
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Extraordinarily difficult not to lapse into cliché, when looking for ways to describe Jon Porras’ latest album ‘Black Mesa’, as the many strands of musical DNA in it lend themselves to rich language – much of it cinematic. Described as a desert counterpart to David Lynch’s Black Lodge from ‘Twin Peaks’, the narrative arc of the music follows an “outlaw wanderer who ventures deep into the desert only to discover the Black Mesa, a bridge between worlds” and “an entrance into cavernous mystery”.
These strands are many – West Coast guitar, Americana, modern Japanese psych guitar, fuzz and feedback; Sandy Bull, Popol Vuh, and Neil Young are listed as primary influences on the press release accompanying it. Young is the one that springs foremost to mind, because the slant of the record (reverbed solo guitar, drenched in effects, played out as a languid accompaniment to a lone traveler wandering the desert) inevitably reminds the listener of a particular mid nineties cult black and white film, directed by a protégé of Wim Wenders, featuring a then lesser known actor who went on to become a tentpole fixture.
That’s not to dismiss it as derivative, but the similarity is certainly there. Where it differs is the dynamics of the music – in stepping away from the drone work he is best known for, Porras has created a dynamic and singular sound unlike his previous work – a goldmine for trainspotters; polished, menacing and textured. The landscape is laid out in long guitar picking pieces, with moody backing; composed guitar passage with layers of improvisation and additional instrumentation. The pieces are hung on phrases and melody, with definite arcs and narrative flow, a welcome diversion into different territory.
A number of reviewers on the site, myself included, are guilty of suffering from various stages and depths of “drone fatigue”, and whilst last year’s ‘Undercurrent’ on Root Strata was an excellent example of fragile distorted guitar drone, it’s a decidedly welcome change to have someone so obviously talented as a guitarist decide to embrace the melodic side of the instrument, putting his foot forward strongly with more structured and defined work. The tone is still similar – the vibe of the record is similar to “For ARH” on ‘Undercurrent’, but with a cleaner, sharper and more defined sound.
This resulting sound is hypnotic; the primary lines hover over distant white light feedback, tremolo and twang. All the pieces are long form; none less than five minutes, “Into Midnight” approaches ten minutes and “Into The Black Mesa” comes just short of touching nine. As a result, the seven tracks on the album seem longer and considerably more immersive than their combined approximate forty-five minutes would suggest. It’s also testament to the strength of the material that ambling guitar meandering can hold your attention for the best part of ten minutes. The blazing overdriven lead that open and closes “Into The Black Mesa” is an excellent case in point, a really gripping hook to grasp onto over the shimmering texture.
Black Mesa is now available for pre-order through Thrill Jockey, with a street date of April 17th. The CD version comes in a 4 panel mini-LP style gatefold jacket LP version is pressed on 150gram vinyl with a free download coupon. The first 500 LPs are pressed on limited white vinyl, remaining copies on black.
Definitely not your average run-of-the-mill guitar drone album.
- Charles Sage (@sagecharles) for Fluid Radio