RELEASE: In A Stranger’s Car
RELEASE DATE: 25th July 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
Shoegaze is usually a genre that is defined by its sound. Or more accurately, its purity of sounds, of sound that creates pictures, that creates images, that forges soundscapes and that adds depth to the whole picture of a song. Think of how critics, how writers, describe the emotional landscpes of shoegaze; often they congratulate it on its richness and sculpting. All of this could be said, in a weird, backwards way, about ‘In A Stranger’s Car’ by Barlow, a Pittsburgh based lo-fi/shoegaze/alt-rock band. When I mention the words backwards it is because In ‘A Stranger’s Car’ is the opposing side of lushness; its dirty, lo-fi, recorded on tape sound brings forth a different kind of angle on Shoegaze. And that’s exactly why I thought, immediately after hearing the opener ‘Tirebiter’, this is something notable…. Perhaps very much so. I don’t hand out 5/5 all that often; it has to be something different, something original and (most importantly) something interesting… And I’m pretty sure this album ticks all those boxes. The band are made up of Ethan Oliva – guitars/vocals/drums/bass/keys/piano/tamborine, Andrew Yadeski – drums/guitars/bass, Jake Nowoczynski – bass & Mitch Delong – keys. ‘In A Strangers Car’ was originally self-released back in July 2017 and is now getting a rather special re-release treatment (on limited cassette format with added material that includes demos etc) through Crafted Sounds. You can get your hands on it right now on various formats via Crafted Sounds and Barlow respectfully.
As previously mentioned, ‘Tirebiter’ opens proceedings, with its noisy lo-fi based dream rock sound. Voices are hushed and dirty, instruments are crunching and pushed to the front. Emotionally, the song brings more to the table than a lot of ‘normal’ shoegaze music does. One should also mention that ‘Tirebiter’ is a definite album highlight. The sense of atmosphere (in a lo-fi way) continues on the brilliant ‘You Have To See It’, which continues things in a similar way to the album opener. The much darker and stripped back ‘East Commons’ presents a stark and more experimental song structure than previous. The vocals are more present (although fuzzy), the occasional dissonant chord or off-key scream and the crescendo like second half makes the song another album highlight. ‘False Eye’ takes things much more upbeat, and is stylistically similar to the opener, the vocals are exceptionally distant, and beside dream-pop, the song sounds like a psychedelic type of soft rock? The shoegaze tone of the guitars and the intricate bass performance also ties things together in a more alternative light. The underlying experimental tone of previous songs comes to the forefront of ‘Accosted’, somehow mixing the dirty, out of time feedback in the background of the music and the bright, jangle pop of the song mix together beautifully.
‘The Messengers’ rags along at a steady punk rate, throwing around words under distorted guitar tones… The second half, however, is where the true gold lies. Going from the aforementioned punk tune, Barlow jump straight off a preverbal cliff as the song shifts into a bizarre, noise laden sound collage soundscape. ‘In His Attic’ may be the most pleasant song on the album; the enjoyable temperature of the jangle pop sound eases slowly through the song. But yet again the second half leaps into a bizarre experimental soundscape, bouncing around with fuzz and distortion for the listener. ‘Disarming Rebels’ takes things guitar-centric, creating a layered and enjoyable alternative/garage rock feel that fits neatly as a kind of interlude on the release. ‘Highway’ sounds similar to ‘Accosted’ but even more beautifully subtle; every instrument does their best to create a textured yet enjoyably simple sound for the listener. Simiarliy is the beautiful ‘Throwing Star’ in which three or so guitars meld together to create a neat interlude like song. ‘c.o.l’ sounds like some sort of 90’s garage rock song that could have gone big if the vocals weren’t so drowned out… But maybe that’s exactly why I find it so interesting. The moments in the song where the guitars and feedback wash over the song are truly beguiling; the emotional depth of this song is fantastic. Another brilliantly weird song is the outsider/freak folk, acoustic guitar lead ballad of ‘Go For It’ which sounds inspiring and introverted all at the same time. The all out punk/noise riot that is ‘Time Man’ eventually sequences into lo-fi guitar contemplation, as if Barlow have finally began to calm down. But this jaunt into placid guitar tunes jumps straight back into the noisy lo-fi rock into the songs second half. Brilliant.
‘In a Strangers Car’ is essentially a group of experimental, lo-fi snapshots of ideas, thoughts and structures for songs… Although in a normal context this would be a criticism, here it is in fact a massive positive. The imaginative experimentation of noise laden passages of music mixed with linear jangle and enjoyably bubblegum-ish pop music makes the album extremely original. Couple this with the bands desire to present everything in the grainy, lo-fi sound that it appears, and you have something that lands somewhere between shoegaze and experimental psych. The performances are rough, the textures are beauty, but there is something truly beautiful about this sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.