This image is the official album artwork for "An Insult to the Sport."

The split record feels like a bit of a lost art at this point. The idea itself seems fairly straightforward: Instead of a project with songs by a single artist, make a project with songs by several artists. The artists who benefit the most from this kind of project are often more underground, which might explain the apparent lack of split records in mainstream music. In an article by Jhoni Jackson, she lists off several reasons for the benefit of releasing in this way. For one thing, a split can be more financially pragmatic for smaller bands, with components like production cost being effectively halved. Additionally, opportunities for joint concerts and live shows are now much more justifiable, which extends to scheduling larger tours which might not have been tenable if either artist were to do so on their own. But perhaps most important is the fact that a split record allows for intense cross contamination between respective fans, which, for smaller acts, could potentially double their bases. It’s impossible to know whether these factors played a role in alternative shoegaze and slacker rock outfits They Are Gutting a Body of Water and A Country Western teaming up for a split EP. But what’s certain is that the outcome, An Insult to the Sport, single-handedly makes the argument that the split album can be an effective form of music distribution.

With the knowledge that both bands hail from Philadelphia, as well as the context of their musical styles, it may not be surprising that these two groups came together for a collaboration. While both They Are Gutting a Body of Water and A Country Western embrace an approach that emphasizes homogenous sound infiltrating the auditory space, the former does so through a pummeling wall of texture while the latter does so through passages of mellow guitar riffs flowing seamlessly into each other. That said, An Insult to the Sport demonstrates how perfectly the two variations complement each other while also showcasing a significant departure stylistically for both bands. 

In particular, the tracks that They Are Gutting a Body of Water contributed present a sort of manic effect that goes beyond anything they have attempted before. The band is truly locked and loaded as the first track, “Elephant,” shoots out the gate and doesn’t look back. Packed into a blistering two minutes, blown out distorted guitars and reverb-drenched vocals form a barrier that enshrouds the listener. This is just a teaser for the true mania that is the next track. Easily the most ambitious and inspired rock song of the year, “The Brazil” takes from so many disparate influences that the shoegaze label almost feels like an ancillary component. One moment will take from the oddball electronic wizardry of The Books, another will take from the frantic breakbeat of Venetian Snares. The song is the definition of a genre gauntlet, yet the band still manages to give each one its due diligence. It’s hard to ignore the mastery on display here.

Not to be one-upped, A Country Western also comes out swinging, continuing the breakbeat element on the track “Lung” but dialing it up even further. Even as a brief interlude, “Lung” has a notable progression to it, taking the frenetic quality of the drum machine and pairing it with maxed-out guitars that sound more akin to a metalcore piece. For the rest of the EP, A Country Western takes a slightly more familiar approach to their sound and song structure, which provides a well needed respite from the overwhelming quality of the rest of the project. It’s the relative easygoingness of the back half that gives so much of the front half its incredible weight, but even at its most accessible, the EP finds ways to twist the expectation.

As the title suggests, An Insult to the Sport is all about breaking from tradition. Both bands pay incredible homage to the genre of shoegaze despite breaking nearly every convention in the process. Nothing ever feels truly standardized. Comparisons to other contemporaries often fall flat in the mind and, even when they exist, they only characterize brief moments in the music. Beyond their music, They Are Gutting a Body of Water and A Country Western break the conventions of the medium, opting to take their respective creativity and pool it into something collaborative. And in doing so, they have crafted one of the most thrilling and unique EPs of the year.

Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at