Summary : Barrow have created an album that is both refreshingly original yet unashamed of channelling it’s influences.
Being Without is a difficult release to pigeon-hole. Gone are the days where an album is clearly ambient drone, or clearly post-punk revival, or clearly whatever other sub genre you wish to imagine (or invent). Bands like North Carolina quartet Barrow have to make it difficult on us reviewers, taking elements from various genres and fusing them together to create something entirely different altogether. Thankfully, they make it work.
The opening track, Where Was I, gives a good indication of what awaits. Starting out with an instrumental picking melody, things quickly come alive in the form of a more traditional post-hardcore section. There are some clean & harsh vocals working together over some heavy instrumentation, then all of a sudden we’re back to another ambient passage (think Mogwai) - but wait! Screams reminiscent of Iselia’s LP (which Travis also appeared on) close out the track. By now, it’s clear this isn’t just any old screamo release.
Moving though the album, we’re met with constant changes of pace. At it’s fiercest; crushing guitar waves and soaring screams that remind you of the emotion of bands like Pianos Become The Teeth & La Dispute. At it’s most heartfelt; long, slow passages of haunting cleans and soundscapes present in An Absent Crown, My Diadem. Elsewhere, I even heard some brass and tremolo crescendos ala post-rock giants Godspeed You! Black Emporer. If this album is nothing else, it’s certainly diverse.
Halfway through the LP comes The Undertow, a track which highlights everything that Barrow do well. A sick drum fill leads you into a guitar section that wouldn’t feel out of place on an At The Drive-In release, which leads us into a heavy screamo verse that carries the punch of a CityCop or a Suis La Lune. After that, a short instrumental bridge before the albums best clean vocals kick in, which also conveniently highlights that these guys write good lyrics too.
I subsided on skin and smoke, attaching my attention to a false and fleeting feeling, seeking anything appealing for a moment’s time. And I keep slipping through every phrase, tearing through page after page, the structure has amended, but the cadence hasn’t changed.
If there was one criticism I would make, it would probably be some of the vocal dissonance that gets created by overlapping clean & harsh vocals. This is only really a small issue on one track, but it does have the tendency to throw you off.
In spite of that, what Barrow have done here is remarkable, particularly for a debut release. It carries a certain weight and authority that you don’t hear that often, and one that usually takes a band years to craft. This is not just one of the most pleasantly surprising releases of the year, it’s also one of the most accomplished.
Review by Isaac Powell.
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