Review: Barlow/Naked Ant - Split

Barlow + Naked Ant
(2015 Self-Released)

As close to a physical manifestation of the DIY Ethos as I've ever come across, this cassette collaboration between two of my favorite garage rock outfits is a match made in post-internet heaven. Back in late 2014, Ethan Oliva - frontman of veteran shoegaze trio Barlow - dropped the titles of a few of his own songs into the Bandcamp search bar to check up on their streaming stats. Among the results lurked an impassioned cover of Barlow's "In The Air" recorded by New Jerseyan high-schooler Ben Spizuco. Though faithful to the tune from which it sprang forth, Spizuco's rendition of "In The Air" retains the signature charm that accents the entirety of his own discography - it's as raw as rock gets, unapologetically leaving splatters of sonorous mic feedback audible among a tight weave of trebly chords and a few (sometimes clumsy) lead guitar riffs. It was a perfectly punk tune made up of imperfect takes, the product of a single musician whose efforts could stand up proudly next to his those of his influencers. Impressed by the cover and flattered to witness the influence of his music firsthand, Oliva gave Spizuco a shout-out on the Barlow Facebook page.

Flash forward to November 2015: Spizuco has formed a fuzz-pop trio of his own, Naked Ant, and has joined forces with his heroes on a self-titled split tape. On the A-side of the magnetic rectangle, Barlow invites listeners to help clear out their attic, dusting off old unfinished demos. Vocals are added to instrumentals like the Hüsker Dü-esque "Ride" and "I'll See You", a brief power-pop ditty carried by hyper-melodic lead guitar that would make J Mascis proud. Alongside a handful of brand new recordings that resemble Isn't Anything-era MBV, there are a smattering of skeletal song-sketches that comprise my favorite section of Barlow's end of the split. "Down There" bobs buoyantly on the crest of a tinny guitar loop while "For All Time" coats arpeggios with warm layers of ambience that resemble the cry of a Kricketune. 

Naked Ant's side of the tape is chock-full of experimentation and infused with the fun of jamming in the garage with one's friends. "School of Thought Graduate" makes use of mistakes in mixing and mastering to maximize shifts in dynamics and texture, making for a tune that ferries listeners down into the murky depths of an ocean of reverb only to send them rocketing toward the surface on the strength of powerful cymbal crashes and muscly chords. The band ventures into a combination of blues and 70s soft rock on "Sailing On The Delaware" and even delves into some slinky free improvisation on closing cut "Lisa". My favorite Naked Ant cut from the tape, though, is perhaps its most unassuming, coyly concealing the alien timbres hidden beneath its surface. "The Wait For September" starts out as a traditional acoustic strummer that hearkens back to the early efforts of Sentridoh, but slowly morphs into a haunting piece of avant-garde wizardry: distant growls of feedback pass through the mix like transient phantoms. Beautifully spooky.

Check out Barlow's side of the tape here and Naked Ant's side here