Jon Porras draws a staggering array of atmospheres out of even the simplest instrumentation. Across his work as one-half of psych-drone duo Barn Owl and his solo releases, Porras welds monoliths and ether into propulsive music that is deeply felt. Arroyo, named for the Spanish word for “stream” in a nod to Porras’ heritage as a first generation Colombian-Japanese American, drifts gently from one tributary to the next in unhurried contemplation and euphoria. The portentous weight and abrasive textures of Porras’ previous work give way to the trickle of richly detailed acoustic instruments slipping in and out of the fold. On Arroyo, Jon Porras evokes a distinct sense of resplendent anticipation and calm with a fathomless flow and softly gorgeous colors.
For Porras, Arroyo became a rumination on simplicity and simple truths, a work of complete immersion and continuous motion where separate elements coalesce into an ever-changing whole. Porras spent the year leading up to 2020 living nomadically across Europe where he was able to soak in a deep appreciation for the effortless beauty of overgrown gardens, the basic principles of classical architecture and a more transient sensibility. The album was written and recorded in a time of even more change for Porras: after the birth of his daughter. Like a stream’s steady glide across bedrock that waxes and wanes with each gradual turn, the music of Arroyo exhibits a transportive stillness. The compositions take on a light, gaseous buoyancy as discreet drones swell with measured fluctuations and ripples of piano rest atop the surface. Waves of breezy static wash back and forth across the stereo field on opener “Flower in Hand” while acoustic piano figures scatter like falling leaves. Porras’ guitar on “Woven Landscapes” acts as a welcome summer breeze rolling in from a nearby plain in a stately call and response with his keyboard’s delicate chords.
Arroyo borrows harmonic concepts from modal jazz to create a unique sense of ease and endlessness. Each of the four pieces on the album centers around a single suspended chord, a chord most commonly associated with devotional music which embodies a space between harmonic tension and resolution. Porras embellishes that liminality with arrangements that feel less like distinguishable layers of instruments and more like one undulating nebula of sound. In the past decade of Porras’ solo work, his music has grown increasingly engaged with elaborate synth textures and detailed processing. With Arroyo, Porras consciously takes a step back from those more intricate compositions and focuses on more organic, unadorned textures and places each sound with the same precision. Stark piano and guitar patiently hover over modest currents of Hammond organ and Yamaha DX7 with the sustain of each chord and phrase acting as a natural guide to the album’s subtle rhythm.
The four pieces that comprise Arroyo each encompass their own idyllic channel, slowly weaving their way in and out of the album’s elegant stir. Porras’ reflections on simplified elements take shape in gorgeous arrangements that impart clarity amidst a tranquil mist. Arroyo is an album that unearths splendor in a unified feeling of space, serenity in perpetual renewal.