The best thing, by far, about the ubiquity of the internet is that genre doesn’t really exist anymore. Sure, there will always be people (mostly with guitars) who close themselves off to anything outside of what they refer to as real music, but there’s so much happening everywhere, all of it immediately accessible, that it’s mostly impossible to remain so stubborn. If you’re under 20 years old, in a band and not spending every second taking advantage of this then you should just give it up, because you’re obviously a moron. Just take whatever you want, from wherever you want, and keep building. It’s so exciting that it borders on terrifying.
Barlow are from Erie, Pennsylvania, and have exactly the right attitude towards creating an identity. They’re ostensibly an indie rock band, but see absolutely no reason why that can’t incorporate surf, shoegaze, noise, 60s pop, 80s goth, drone, lo-fi, punk, grunge and rock and roll. So you’ll get bits that sound like Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, REM, The Cure and the Jesus and Mary Chain crushed together and forced to coexist over the course of about two minutes. I’m making it sound incoherent and unfocused, but it really isn’t. It’s actually a giant, sparkly tower of joy that stands proudly apart from the constraints of genre.
What is immediately apparent across the band’s discography is that every note feels genuine. It's thrown together in the best possible way, stubbornly lo-fi and with the easy sincerity that comes with standing with your friends and doing something you believe in. It’s impossible to fake and easy to spot when it’s phoned in. From the opening chords of 2012’s Saturday EP to the crashing fuzz that closes this September’s Barlow full-length, the band charges headlong at everything they undertake. Even the slow songs are jittery, caffeinated pauses that contain a little more nervousness than they should. I mentioned joy earlier, but it’s an uneasy feeling, like whistling in the dark. Something is wrong somewhere, but with enough noise it can probably be drowned out.
Usually I’m all for bands stretching and exploring their songs over much more time than the standard pop song length, which I alluded to in my Slow Hollows spotlight, but I actually really enjoy how Barlow put together excellent ideas and then throw them away after a minute and a half. Everything on the self-titled record could be twice as long and not overstay its welcome, but instead they get discarded, as if each song is drowned out by the anticipation of the next one. Remember when Noel Gallagher tossed off all his best songs as b-sides because he felt like there was no way that anything he produced in the future wouldn’t be as good? Without actually sounding anything like Oasis, that’s how Barlow appear. They’re probably doing less cocaine, though.
This is typically the point where I’d pick highlights and offer up reasons why they’re better than the rest or why the band should explore this direction in the future. But in the nicest possible way, I don’t give a shit where Barlow go next. I won’t be disappointed in any of it. If I really had to choose, I probably get the most out of the ones where they ramp up the big shoegazey fuzz, like ‘Old House’ on the self-titled release, or the big Hüsker Dü vibes on Four Castles’ ‘Pink Room,’ but I’m a sucker for all that stuff anyway.
There’s 30 songs up on Barlow’s Bandcamp, all with a slightly different stylistic bent, and there’s not a bad one among them. What’s more, you can have them all for free if you’re that way inclined. Don’t, though. At the very least, pick up the Four Castles and Barlow cassettes. They’re only six dollars each and both offer more moments of happiness than you should legally be able to obtain for that sort of money.