Emerging from the heartland of America’s ‘Bible Belt’, North Carolina’s Barrow are four lads with a distinct musical vision that belies their relative youth. Though I’m Alone is an outright rejection of standardization and genre limitations which a worrying number of bands and musicians seem so keen to enforce these days. Taking to heart the “punk is freedom to play whatever you want, as sloppy as you want” mantra, the record is an aural feast for those whom ugliness is deemed a much more attractive proposition than squeaky-clean saccharine conventionality.
Upon the first play of opening track ‘Fox Ears and Silence’ I found myself checking to see if I had started playing Throbbing Gristle by accident, but no, the first thirty seconds of industrial clattering and ominous metallic scraping is indeed the work of the band. Any notion that this is a record of experimental pseudo-industrial noise is quickly dispatched by the unannounced arrival of blistering drums, thrashing guitars and to top it all off, a solid dose of disembowelling screams in an uninhibited attack on the senses. Their music is a conflict, an everlasting struggle between atonality and melody and between aggression and fragility of which the tension between these elements is unforgiving. It is the power of juxtaposition that gives Though I’m Alone its emotional power, an inventive update on the old quiet/loud trick but one deployed inventively- sometimes exploding out of nothing and other times emerging as a foreboding wave that comes looming out of the darkness. Barrow are something of a brilliant oddity in the respect that in the space of one song they subvert all expectation and any pre-conceived notion of which musical direction they are headed. This air of unpredictability results in even the most subdued and introspective of moments under constant threat of turning into a visceral attack with no warning. Tracks such as ‘Wither’ are held together by a post-rock thread, leading to moments of breathtaking expanse as the climax blends atmospherics and caustic fury with commendable finesse. ‘Old Timer’ is underpinned with a droney bass rumble as delay-infused slide guitars sculpt melodies across the soundscape, punctuated mid-song by a short blast of furious catharsis that recedes as quickly as it erupts. What remains are fragile vocals that bring to mind Jesse Lacey if he fronted noise-rock ear destroyers Swans. Meanwhile, distant vocals repeat the question “are we nothing but the same?” until the question has lost all meaning. On the opposite end of the emotional scale to the bands more attention grabbing forays into the caustic, ‘Clawhold’ is a deeply affecting and subdued affair that features quivering and delicately whispered vocals which carry as much fraught emotional pain as any of the screams on the record, no matter how guttural they may be. Bringing the album to a close in sprawling fashion is ‘God’s In His Heaven – All Is Well’. The intro is two chords of trudging post-rock, gradually accompanied by a stark, minimalist arpeggio and an equally simplistic but no less effective slide guitar. The intensity is built up with measured meticulousness into a ball of unstable energy that instead of exploding disintegrates into chaotic discordance as the drums carrying on their sultry march until the bitter end. A tremendous effort that is impossible to lazily pigeon-hole; Though I’m Alone sees the cerebral uneasily coexisting with abhorrent outbursts across a dystopic sonic landscape that feels undyingly overcast. An early contender for the angry album of the year.
5 out of 5 high fives!