FOREWORD: Considering the popularity of Emo bands ‘round the time Lou Barlow released his belated ’05 solo debut, Emoh (a supposed backward term for home), its nice to realize his down home sentimentality shamed all the suburban white boy self-pitying heard on the radio at that time. Speaking of being on the air, Barlow actually did have a freak pop hit in lo-fi side project, Folk Implosion – the drowsily penetrating meditation, “Natural One.” Despite his much-publicized ‘rocky’ stint in Dinosaur Jr. (back before Nirvana existed), Barlow returned to the fold for a series of club dates in 2005, but the reunion album, Beyond, received little fanfare. An ’08 reunion tour with Sebadoh followed. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Lou Barlow found notoriety in DIY lo-fi forerunners, Sebadoh, after a frustrated stint as bassist for Boston guitarist J Mascis’ distorto-rockers Dinosaur Jr.
Unguardedly secure in his position as reluctant indie rock elder statesman, Lou Barlow’s overdue solo entrée, Emoh, takes a wholly acoustical detour away from New Folk Implosion’s abstract leanings and Sebadoh’s schizoid pragmatism, detailing homeward bound vignettes with the sharp-eyed confidence and relished composure of a well-traveled bard. Living in the thriving art community of Silver Lake for the past six years, Barlow still strives to find contentment on the outskirts of the City of Angels.
“That’s the perspective. When I finished the record, I realized it was about making L.A. my home,” he shares with cautious optimism. “It’s a beautiful place. I’ve got a great house but being comfortable has been a struggle. Tumultuous changes in my life accompanied the move. With this record, and my wife due to give birth in days, I’m entering a different realm.”
In the past, Barlow’s most convincing decrees sometimes evaded perceptual closure, but inside Emoh’s concise ravine, he opens up a treasure trove of candid postulations. Capturing the same exquisite sentimentalism and pastoral brilliance tragic ‘70s cult artist Nick Drake once did, the desirous commencement “Holding Back The Year,” subsequent elegy “Home,” and ardent covenant “Legendary” hauntingly murmur.
Barlow contends, “I’d written Emoh’s songs during the last five years. I’ve been waiting to make a more acoustic based record and when Folk Implosion dissolved, it felt like the perfect time. I hear it as upbeat. That’s because it’s straightforward. I have no one like Jake (Sebadoh partner, Jason Lowenstein, who contributes some guitar) to play off of for the heavier stuff. There’s no band dynamic.”
Crisply produced by Mark Nevers (Lambchop/ Will Oldham), Emoh maintains a singular docile mood, mirroring the circumspect reservation underlying the overall essence. Anglo-folk chant “Royalty” and spindly cello-backed “Puzzle” retain a rustic Rocky Top purity Nevers may’ve helped expose.
He recounts, “Mark lives in Nashville so I recorded in his house. I slept upstairs and we did two sessions in a week and a half. It was real homey. He’s a mix of punk and traditional Country. When he started out, he recorded straight up Nashville stuff by George Jones, then found his way into the Lambchop crew.”
Arguably the most striking track, “Caterpillar Girl” adequately retrieves Folk Implosion’s hazy Pro Tools-derived execution, reliant on Barlow’s towering somnolent wail, meticulous fretwork, and dark piano undertow.
“I’d never expressed a sustained exclusive vision of what I wanted. I needed to bear down on my songs, do what I wanted instead of by committee. If I can get a little success and enough money to travel, I’d love to put together another electric-based Sebadoh record. Now that I’ve finally done this totally solo record, I’m starting to think about louder music again,” he shares.
Surprisingly, Barlow revisits, of all things, Ratt’s hair metal classic “Round & Round,” turning the arena rock staple into an intriguingly steely-eyed omen.
He concedes, “I always had an affinity for Ratt, Cinderella, and Motley Cure when I was a teenager. I was in Dinosaur Jr. immersed in the early grunge scene and noisy rock. But when we practiced, we’d watch MTV. When Ratt came on we’d un-mute the television and listen. We loved it. In concert, it gives people a break from hearing my life – breaking out a goofy cover. It’s good power pop influenced by Van Halen. I’d like to think I’m musically open-minded.”
But the biggest scoop is Barlow and J Mascis, not on speaking terms for a decade, may soon re-ignite their once-thriving band much like fellow Bostonians the Pixies recently did.
“J and I were talking about a Dinosaur Jr. reunion. Considering my relationship with J blossomed and died by age 22, that’s a long time ago. He greatly influenced me and I took a lot from him, but I would’ve been miserable if I stayed in that band.”