loubarlow_coverIt’s quite easy to dismiss Lou Barlow’s “side projects”. His output is so prolific, and so ranging in quality, that any fan who accidentally dips his toe into the water of the wrong album - say, for example, The New Folk Implosion - would doubtless remain in the safe comforts of Barlow’s canonical works with Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh.So the timing of Goodnight Unknown, Barlow’s second proper solo album, in the same year as Dinosaur Jr’s best album in years, is kinda worrying. Like fellow lo-fi innovator Robert Pollard, Barlow seems uncomfortable when he’s not releasing a record, and I’ll be damned if it’s possible to tell if either of those two is releasing an album they really believe in, or if they’re just getting off on filling more record store shelf space with their CDs. Or, y’know, the modern equivalent of that, like getting some more weekly listens on Last.fm. If he’s been spending time writing/rehearsing/gigging/making friends with J. Mascis, when did this get written and recorded? The terrifying thought creeps over everyone that it’s pulled from some old tapes Barlow’s had in his attic since that weird Sentridoh-Folk Implosion phase.Track one, ‘Sharing’, alleviates some of the fear. It’s immediate and compelling, and it’s different from his earlier work in a way that nothing else on the album really is. Like the opening number from Stephen Malkmus’ Face the Truth, when you wondered if the guy had really changed style, and then, oh no, it’s just Pavement but not as good. And if that reference resonates with you, I expect you’ll like this album.So after the first track, it definitely sounds like a Lou Barlow album - it has the scuzzy rock moments, of which the title track is the pick of the bunch, and Barlow’s tender moments - how’s “you’re the one I call for / the only one I fall apart for” sound? Like a typical Barlow ballad? Well, if that’s not good enough, he offers up “take apart a rainbow, and feed it to a sunrise” later on, on the tweedly-sweet ‘Take Advantage’. Which almost sounds like it could be by Lou’s namesake Gary, if Take That had songs about sexual abuse in dysfunctional relationships.The best thing about this album, though, is that it’s really, really good. 2005’s Emoh left me feeling needing more, and though it’s taken four years to get here, this is definitely the sequel that album needed. It has a consistency that Barlow hasn’t found in a long, long time, perhaps because of it’s length - it clocks in at under forty minutes, and only four of the fourteen tracks break three-minutes. It’s satisfying and solid, it’s obviously not the early Sebadoh stuff, but I’d confidently say it’s Barlow’s best since Harmacy - that is taking “Lou Barlow Album” as one where he is the primary songwriter. For anyone who’s a fan of Barlow at all, it’s one of his side-projects that’s definitely worth checking out. Anyone who’s not a fan of Barlow needs to shut the hell up and go listen to III.

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