Lou Barlow has had a hard time finding his place in the post 90s world. While hes undoubtedly in the pantheon of alternative rock for Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr., his other projects, like Folk Implosion, seemed to fall by the wayside leaving him in a musicians limbo. Even though his first official solo record, 2005’s Emoh, received some acclaim, it wasnt until J Mascis invited him back (remember, they kicked him out) that things for him started to pick back up. On the other end, the solo effort fell flat due to the fact that not may people wanted to hear a pioneer of grunge sing something that was closer to contemporary folk songs.
Earlier this fall, Barlow took another stab at a solo outing with Goodnight Unknown. When laid against his first effort, this is the record you would have expected from the beginning, and little on here disappoints. I guess all that recent time with his old band mates did some good for his writing. Not only is it more abrasive, it seems to fit together everything hes done over the past several decades into a solid lo-fi, Barlow-folk rock package.
Unknown starts things off with something closer to Barlows Sebadoh side. Opener Sharing launches the album out the gates with its driving drums and heavy, fuzzy guitars. Its the clear signal that hes starting his solo career over again, and this time it will be much more fulfilling. Goodnight Unknown follows suit with chugging distortion giving us some of the best material to come from the man all decade.
The quieter side of Barlow is quick to come back out to make up the bulk of the record. The difference however is that these songs feel more like acoustic versions of the above instead of what they were on Emoh. While the previous poppier-with-bite style lingers on tracks like Too Much Freedom and The One I Call, the rest of the toned down tracks show that Barlow has stretched his song writing skills, craftily blending in the alt-rock he pioneered.
The Right and Im Thinking are more of the alienated and revealing dark humor he does best. The music matches the wit giving us the instant classic Gravitate which find Barlow hammering at the guitar, letting every imperfection ring. That accordion accent is just icing on the cake for a track thats near perfection. These are the kind of songs that stick with you long after youve worn the record out, the stuff that reinvigorates the man behind the legend.
As the record progresses, it builds. Soon after “Gravitate”, youre hit again with the raw emotion of One Machine, One Long Flight and Praise. These two again utilize that bare bones, heavy ass guitar sound that punches you in the head in a way you never knew an acoustic guitar could. Things are then toned town to the lo-fi acoustics with Modesty, and guitar only closer One Note Tone optimistically sends you out.
In or out of the limelight, Barlows songbook is endless. Dig a little bit and youll find a vast sea of early solo material that are still gems, but were left to float by the wayside. With these new additions, Barlows music just got a major lift from what we had to lean on from 2005. Not only that, but once over, youd be hard pressed not to keep it on repeat. Its a good thing Barlow figured out his solo career, and after this offering, youll hope he keeps it up.