Tested, Rested & Ready To Go!

Lou Barlow

Brace the Wave

Joyful Noise Records, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie                                                        brace the wave cover

For a longtime fan of Lou Barlow’s to be able to write a review for his new solo album, Brace the Wave, I feel kind of honored; either that or really, really lucky! I’ve been a huge Sebadoh fan ever since I first heard “Soul and Fire”, right after Bubble and Scrape came out. I also think the best Dinosaur, Jr. albums are the first three or so, especially You’re Living All Over Me, in other words, when he was still their bass player. I thought Folk Implosion was all right. Not as good as Sebadoh, but Lou and John Davis had their moments (besides seeing Sebadoh live three times, I also got a chance to see Folk Implosion play a show at the small, intimate Troubadour, in West Hollywood, on Santa Monica Blvd, right by the Whisky, the Roxy and the other famous Sunset Strip venues. As for live shows, I just missed his most recent, solo show, one that was part of a tour in support of this new album, he played in San Diego here some time within the last month or so; unfortunately for me, I couldn’t make it to the show which I really regret.

Oh well. I have here, a copy of the new Lou CD, Brace the Wave, which is a nine-song, acoustic, no-drums, album. It’s simple, but not simplistic. Its lyrics run the gamut from apathy to anger, but without being shrill or bombastic. Basically, the songs are classic Lou Barlow.

For those who are huge fans of the Sebadoh “lo-fi” sound which albums like their earliest full-lengths like The Freed Man, III, Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock and so on, Brace the Wave differs from that era in that it doesn’t have that electric/acoustic fuzziness and analogue surrealism to it, which was a different kind of surrealism than, say, Stereolab or Tortoise, more of a LSD-with-a-bottle-of-gin kind of trip: great melodies but purposefully done with that “recorded-in-a-bedroom” with only a 4-track mixer (The Freed Man, I believe, actually was recorded in the rooms where Lou and Eric were living at the time: their girlfriends’ apartment on the campus of the all-girls Smith College. Those of you who may have a hard time finding the original Freed Man can find it in a repackaged album, Weed For Sale, which combined both The Freed Man and their next effort, Weed Foresting. Instead, Lou has put out a record which combines his great songwriting skills that have been obvious since the good ol’ days in Sebadoh, with a confidence that seemed to be lacking in the earlier days, purposefully or unconsciously, and which was smeared over with the haze of the lo-fi recording buzz, but which, on Brace the Wave as with more recent work of his, is more clearly heard. But it’s also one that is all his; no Eric Gaffney or Jason Loewenstein, who, for the most part, with a song or two here and there from Bob Fay, made up a lot of the rest of the Sebadoh catalog or the collaboration he did with John Davis in Folk Implosion. On Brace the Wave it’s all Lou and he shows that, by himself, he can hold his own quite nicely, thank you very much.

It starts out with “Redeemed”, a song that, when I heard it, redeemed my faith in Lou. “Redeemed” sounds like a somewhat polished up, maybe a little matured version of an old Sebadoh tune – not any one in particular, it just has the kind of acoustic-based (and drumless! -no drums at all on this album) mix of melancholy and angst.

Brace the Wave is, all in all, a nice album to see accomplished. It shows Lou in a better light, than, say, when he shocked the hell out of me, for one, and got back together with J Mascis to do a new Dinosaur Jr. album and even do some tour dates with Dino. I thought to myself, “this is the guy, who, after J kicked him out of Dinosaur, Jr., wrote “The Freed Pig” (which is the first song on Sebadoh’s masterpiece, III) which is, basically, a big “Fuck You” to J Mascis. (Also, in my opinion, at least, I think the best Dinosaur Jr. albums were their first three or four albums, especially You’re Living All Over Me, which contains two Lou songs: “Lose” and “Poledo”). And there was also another, relatively recent Sebadoh release. But, as much as I love listening to III over and over again or The Freed Man or the Asshole EP, etc., any good band should know when it’s time to call it quits and not keep on for the sake of “keeping on”. Anyway, so what I’m saying is that, in this format, in a solo work, I think Lou has been able to be even more free than he might’ve been in the by-now-straitjacketed expectations of either Sebadoh or Dinosaur, Jr.

On songs like “Pulse” or “Nerve”, for example, Barlow can be heard to be playing music that he has written and written to please no other bandmembers or producers, etc., but to either bare his soul and lay it all out there, for all to hear and/or exorcise the demons which have been torturing his mind in the past.

“Wave” is a song that isn’t at all foreign to Sebadoh fans – or even those who are into Folk Implosion either. It’s a catchy, upbeat tune, which has, as its chorus, the title words: “brace the wave/brace the wave/brace the wave”. Though it’s “upbeat”, it’s a Lou Barlow tune, so, you know, it’s not “upbeat” in terms of being all sweetness and light! It’s a good lighthearted tune that goes with lyrics one who is familiar with Lou’s songwriting has come to expect.

So, yeah, if you’ve been longing for the Sebadoh of old -or even the best of the Folk Implosion stuff from the mid-90s, check out Brace the Wave and, well, embrace it! Also, for those interested: you can get more information on Lou’s album as well as purchasing info, and even a self-penned piece written by Lou himself. To be transported right to it, just click right here: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com/products/brace-the-wave-KM.


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