Barrow - Though I'm Alone
Record Label: Mayfly
Release Date: March 19, 2013
I constantly find myself debating in my head just how important vocals should be on an album. On the one hand, I almost never dive into a band’s lyrics if I don’t like how their music sounds. Words often seem like an afterthought to me, merely written to accompany the band’s true star—the music. Still, every now and then, a band like Barrow comes along just to prove that I really need to give vocals more credit.
Though I’m Alone, Barrow’s second full-length release, is a lyrical juggernaut of an album, with dense, heavy paragraphs of meticulous (but beautiful) poetry constructed for every single one of their nine epic songs. Fans of SAT vocabulary words (“antipathy,” “contrition,” and “espouse,” to name a few) will have a field day dissecting these wonderfully written, complex lines. Even with an English degree, I still somewhat shamefully admit that I had to pull out a dictionary here and there to clarify some of the stranger words sprinkled throughout this massive album.
Impressively, the elevated language rarely lets up in Though I’m Alone, and both vocalists Travis Schuster and Zach Tobin consistently deliver equally powerful and emotional screams to accompany the eloquent lines. The dual singing/screaming harmonies that dominated much of the Barrow’s first LP, Being Without, are mostly absent on Though I’m Alone (save for some welcomed harmonies at the conclusion of “Dogwood”), and are instead replaced with constant back-and-forth trading off between lines. During some of the faster tracks, like the berserk opener “Fox Ears and Silence,” this frantic back-and-forth can become quite overwhelming if you don’t have a lyric sheet in front of you, but the pure intricacy is still quite commendable and is sure to be powerful live.
With such a heavy emphasis placed upon the lyrics, one would assume that the quality of the music must suffer in favor of the vocals, but as they’ve done time and time again, Barrow continues to prove us wrong. Though I’m Alone offers some of the Greensboro, NC band’s most impressive instrumentals to date, with the aforementioned “Fox Ears and Silence” being the heaviest song they’ve ever recorded, and “Clawhold” showing them at their most fragile. Wonderfully arranged post-rock, delay-driven sections are still found in many of the songs, such as the eerily soothing bridge in “You Can Probably Find It in Norfolk,” and we even hear some ghostly slide guitar in my personal favorite track: behemoth album closer “God’s in His Heaven—All is Well.”
Though I’m Alone is exceedingly diverse, thought-provoking, and well-executed, so there is very little to fault with this heavy contender for many “Album of the Year” lists. Barrow’s only misstep is that, at times, their music can be a bit too melancholy. Let it be known: this is not an album for the weak of heart. These songs will dig their sharp nails into your flesh. They will squeeze and wrench your malleable being until you can barely take it anymore. I’m nearly on my fifteenth listen of the album and the desolate conclusion of “Wither” still puts a lump in my throat. There are plenty of other moments of sorrowful greatness throughout the album, but with such a consistently emotionally heavy backdrop, lines like “We are raised to give all that we have and then we die” and the constant refrain of “You just keep draining my blood” seem a bit over the top in the end when compared to some of the other sections.
To be fair, though, when you hit an emotional rock bottom, these overly dark lines can sometimes be your only true source of comfort, and I commend Barrow for saying things that far too many of us are all too often afraid to address. The thoughts, feelings, and ideas expressed in Though I’m Alone deserve to be heard by willing ears and read with open eyes, so if you think you’re emotionally hardened enough to take a dive into the melancholy ether, then I could not recommend this album more. And don’t forget to appreciate the lyrics—the music’s worth increases exponentially when paired with such beautiful, delicate words.