Brace the Wave
3 out of 5 stars
It would take someone days if not weeks to sort out and chart the extensive and twisted musical career of Lou Barlow. From his first band Deep Wound in 1983 to his work with Dinosaur, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, the Folk Implosion and various solo projects under his own name and assumed ones, his catalog of lo-fi cassettes, one off singles, EPs and albums is so sprawling, erratic and confusing, it’s likely he can’t keep track of it himself.
Through it all, he’s pretty much adhered to a DIY, almost primal home brewed aesthetic that, like his material, was hit and miss. That hasn’t changed on this first batch of new tunes under his own name since 2009. Barlow plays all the instruments (percussion is supplied by a drum machine), most of it was recorded at various homes and all the songs have one word names. In other words, it’s another Lou Barlow album, not significantly better, worse or different than previous ones. That’s either a modest recommendation to existing fans or a tentative warning to those not yet in the know who are advised to check out older music before springing for this short, 9 track, 30 minute set.
Barlow — who on the appropriately blurry cover looks oddly like Jeff Lynne in the ’70s — has a subdued, not particularly distinctive voice put to good use on lyrics that, as usual, explore the darker side of life and especially love. Many of these pieces seem concerned with a broken relationship, made even more somber by the stark recording. In his self-deprecating notes he says “… here it is, ‘Lou’s Anxiety Song’ versions 740-749” and that neatly encapsulates both this album and most of his output to date.
Occasionally, as on the closing “Repeat,” scruffy choruses emerge from the raw, often ragged strumming and some tracks such as “Moving” add synthesizer to enhance the mood. But most tunes come off like demos waiting for a full-blown treatment once a good band and producer gets hold of them. Still, there is rough-around-the-edges allure to Barlow and you have sympathy for a guy who clearly isn’t very happy. After a few spins, some melodies seem a little less meandering. That’s part of the charm for this predominantly acoustic indie folk that feels as honest and truthful as it sounds.