Shortly after I met Greg, Lou released Emoh and Greg the ‘Band Evangelist‘ went about formally introducing me to the Gospel of Lou Barlow. Since then, Lou’s various incarnations—Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh (and Sentridoh to a lesser extent), The Folk Implosion, solo Lou Barlow—have occupied a place both deep in my heart and oft played in my music library. Lou Barlow, on top of the whole lo-fi signature, is a great songwriter. His music is intensely personal and honest in a Neil Young and Elliott Smith sort of way. On top of both the lo-fi signature and the songwriting, Lou is extremely musically creative – his recent use of more complex musical arrangements always catches me off-guard. So if I could add another album to my list of favourite albums of the first decade of the 21st century I would most certainly add Emoh (and it would occupy a spot in the top ten). I mean, who else could cover Ratt so well?
Some of my favourite Barlow-related material to listen to if you have yet to do so:
- Dinosaur (1985) Dinosaur Jr. – This was Dinosaur Jr.’s first album. It’s very hardcore/protogrunge/all over the place and that’s probably why I’m in love with it. Essentialness: 9
- You’re Living All Over Me (1987) Dinosaur Jr. – This album is a lot more coherent with itself and more obviously an album as a whole while retaining some of the edginess of Dinosaur. Essentialness: 8.5
- III (1991) Sebadoh – As one can deduce from the title, this was Sebadoh’s third album and like the reissue of their first record, 1989’s The Freed Man, the reissue has a second CD-worth of additional tracks, some good, some meh. Still, there are enough gems on this lo-fi masterpiece to consider it such. Essentialness: 9.5
- Bubble and Scrape (1993) Sebadoh – This album marks a turning point in Lou’s musical career. The excessively lo-fi and haphazard style for which he was known was traded for a more refined and musically complex (and longer) songs. Essentialness: 10
- Bakesake (1994) Sebadoh – This album, along with 1996’s Harmacy, is worth owning, especially if the earlier lo-fi material is too inaccessible for one’s taste. These records contain plenty of catchy choruses and guitar riffs to make good mainstream records while remaining unique and unconventional thanks to Lou’s songwriting. Essentialness: 8.5
- Emoh (2005) Lou Barlow – This album is Lou’s first solo album. Each track is incredibly well written and as a whole represent a synthesis of everything that makes Lou Barlow amazing, some of which include his songwriting, engaging arrangements, noise/screwing around on a 4-track between songs. The second track on the record is entitled ‘Home’, which spelled backwards is Emoh – I see a connection! Essentialness: 9.5
- Farm (2009) Dinosaur Jr – In 2005, the three original members of Dinosaur Jr. (J Mascis, Murph and Lou Barlow) regrouped and recorded their ‘comeback’ Beyond in 2007. Farm ended up the better record of the two, though I prefer more Lou and less J Mascis. Essentialness: 8.5
- Goodnight Unknown (2009) Lou Barlow – This album was on Greg’s Best of 2009 and my honourable mentions for Best of 2009, but the more I listen the more I hear how incredible a follow-up to Emoh this record truly is. Essentialness: 9.5
As a added bonus, because his [early] albums are oftentimes inconsistent, here are Greg & my Top 30 Lou Barlow Tracks (in alphabetical order):
- ‘Back To Your Heart’ – Dinosaur Jr. (Beyond)
- ‘Brand New Love’ – Sebadoh (The Freed Weed, 1990)
- ‘Caterpillar Girl’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘Cats in a Bowl’ – Dinosaur Jr. (Dinosaur, written by J Mascias, vocals by Lou)
- ‘Flame’ – Sebadoh (The Sebadoh)
- ‘Free To Go’ – The Folk Implosion (One Part Lullaby, 1999; American Beauty: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1999)
- ‘The Freed Pig’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Goodnight Unknown’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Home’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘Homemade’ – Sebadoh (Bubble and Scrape)
- ‘I Can’t See’ – Sebadoh (The Freed Weed)
- ‘Kath’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Magnet’s Coil’ – Sebadoh (Bakesale)
- ‘Mary’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘Modesty’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Monkey Begun’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘None of Your Goddam Bizness’ – Sentridoh (Free Sentridoh: Songs from Loobiecore, 2002)
- ‘Not A Friend’ – Sebadoh (Bakesale)
- ‘Not Nice to Be Nice’ – Lou Barlow (Winning Losers: A Collection of Home Recordings 89-93, 1994)
- ‘One Machine, One Long Fight’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Paradise’ – Lou Barlow (Loobiecore MP3s)
- ‘Poledo’ – Dinosaur Jr. (You’re Living All Over Me)
- ‘Spoiled’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Strange Love’ – Sentridoh (The Original Losing Losers, 1995)
- ‘Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)’ – Sebadoh (Bubble and Scrape)
- ‘Too Much Freedom’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Total Peace’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Truly Great Thing’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Willing to Wait’ – Sebadoh (Harmacy)
- ‘Your Weather’ – Dinosaur Jr. (Farm)
And here’s Lou Barlow’s ‘vast and confusing website‘ to keep yourself well-occupied for 30-120 minutes.
Yesterday I was in H&M—guilty—and a familiar tune came through the sound system. It was obviously a holiday-themed lineup and what to my wondering eyes ears should appear, but Starflyer 59’s “A Holiday Song (Happy Holidays)” to bring me great cheer. This track is rather an oddball off of 1998’s The Fashion Focus and what struck me most about hearing this song in public is that Starflyer really hasn’t gained much notoriety over the past fifteen years that they (or rather “he,” referring to Jason Martin, the only consistent member of the group) have been making music.
Starflyer is fairly prolific, having released eleven albums to date, and even with that under their belt, they remain under the radar. They’ve a sound somewhat difficult to pin down (what if Galaxie 500, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., New Order, and David Bazan produced magical offspring…), though characteristically shoegazing indie rock. Maybe I’m a sucker for music that requires patience, but if you’ve not given Starflyer 59 a significant listen I’d encourage you to change that. To perhaps help change that, here is a quick guide I’ve made to briefly describe each of their studio albums:
Silver (1994) – Shoegaze/dream pop, highly-distorted/effected, rock.
Gold (1995) – Slightly more pop than Silver.
Americana (1997) – More of the same shoegazing rock, though less engaging than Gold and Silver.
The Fashion Focus (1998) – Less My Bloody Valentine-esque, more keys.
Everybody Makes Mistakes (1999) – Moving in the same direction as The Fashion Focus, (except “A Dethroned King,” perhaps the thickest track on the album). Excellent songwriting.
Leave Here A Stranger (2001) – Similar to Everybody Makes Mistakes, though a little darker (lyrically) and recorded in mono (as opposed to stereo).
Old (2003) – Back to the harder rock/shoegaze style. Perhaps their best release to date.
I Am the Portuguese Blues (2004) – Loud guitars, straightforward rock n’ roll. Jason Martin is Portuguese.
Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice (2005) – Resembles a lot of 80s pop and new wave music (even some synth bass), with some very dancy/catchy tracks. A very fun listen.
Dial M (2008) – I also don’t own this album, but it just came out this past October and from what I’ve heard it’s pretty fun rock. There are currently a few tracks from the album on Starflyer’s Myspace page. The album artwork is pretty bitchen’ too.
[The Changing of the Guard (2010)]