Words by Brian Salvatore
Lou Barlow continues to make personal, interesting, melodic music 30 years into his career.
Lou Barlow has long straddled lines throughout his career; lo-fi recordings rub up against big, full band affairs; ear-piercing Dinosaur Jr. shows and solo acoustic gigs often happen in the same month. Brace the Wave, his first solo record in 6 years, continues to juxtapose conflicting ideas together in interesting and satisfactory ways.
The record was made in 6 days with Barlow playing all the instruments – there are only the faintest hints of percussion, but the record is the acoustic affair that description might conjure up. Sure, there are a few stripped down solo pieces, but there are synthesizers and distorted guitars and affected vocals alongside those acoustic guitars and baritone ukuleles that populate the majority of the record.
The real star of the record is Barlow’s sense of harmony and arrangement – voices blend in unexpected ways, basses and ukuleles form unlikely partnerships, and the songs almost never wind up where you expect them. “Moving,” the third track, is the best example of what the record is in its finest moments – engaging, surprising, catchy, and challenging. The knotty instrumentation and tight harmonies demand a second listen, and when you give in to that listen, it all sounds far more straightforward than you remember. The record, in some ways, is one giant misdirect. That isn’t to say that the album isn’t cohesive, or that it doesn’t allow the listener to scratch the melodic itch; it just takes a more interesting path to those ideas.
Lyrically, the album deals with big changes in Barlow’s life – a divorce, a move across the country, letting go of people and relationships – but most importantly it deals with a man’s attempt to understand himself and adapt and grow when life gets hard. In “Pulse,” he paints the picture of a man who is afraid of what lies ahead for him, “Wave” is about anticipating change, and then trying to accept it, even when it doesn’t go the way you’d like it to – “I’ll leave you alone, but don’t go” Barlow sings in the second half of the song, and that is a beautiful, and realistic, look at the end of a loving relationship that isn’t ending because of hatred, but rather an understanding of what is truly better for all parties involved.
In many ways, the record reminds me of McCartney, and the story mirrors its creation reasonably well: a famous band’s bass player moved out to the country and made a record just for himself, playing all the instruments, and exploring some new directions his music could take. Of course, Barlow isn’t the relative kid McCartney was, nor has his band broken up, nor is this a record of liberation and love. But the sonic qualities – the homemade aesthetic, the recordings that are more concerned with capturing truth than a pristine performance – it is all there.
I can’t wait to hear his Ram.
‘Brace The Wave’
© September 4th, 2015
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