The Bark Haze is an experimental guitar duo comprised of Andrew MacGregor (who records under the name Gown) and Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth). Total Joke Era is actually two different albums: the limited-edition LP version and the CD version contain completely different recordings. On the CD, you get two long tracks (the first just over 11 minutes long, the second twenty-four-and-a-half), both recorded live in someone's basement in Northampton, MA. Neither of these guys is really a noise-for-noise's-sake kind of guitarist, so while the music here isn't exactly lyrical, it's really quite listenable in spots. The first track has some especially lovely sections, particularly near the middle when dubby-sounding chimes float in and out of the sonic mix while a long bass pedal point thrums comfortingly below. The second track starts out very dour and brooding, with sounds like low-flying airplanes and anguished wails crowding each other in the mix. Things mellow out a bit near the middle, then the sound gradually builds in intensity before tapering off again and ending on a mournful (but perhaps hopeful) note. Just goes to show that instrumental prowess really does count for something, even when you're making noise.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson