Lou Barlow – [EP]

Lou Barlow – [EP]

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Artist: Lou Barlow
Album: Apocalypse Fetish
Label: Joyful Noise

When Lou Barlow released his full-length solo album late last year, he ensnared the attention of even the longest-running and cynical of his fans. The reason for that was simple: when not playing sideman to J Mascis in Dinosaur Jr., Barlow had always shone brightest in the relative anonymity of putting a band name on his myriad projects (see Sebadoh, Sentridoh, Folk Implosion, et c.), even if there was no actual band in play (just the artist and a tape recorder). It’s for that reason that, in spite of the fact he’s done it before, the idea of putting little more than the name he was given at birth on a piece of music seemed particularly interesting and intimate that time. It paid off – critics were thrilled by Brace The Wave – and now Barlow has elected to think even smaller and release an acoustic EP, Apocalypse Fetish. Inspired by reverb produced by the tile walls in the Eagles Club in Milwaukee, WI., the EP makes the most of contrasting Barlow’s potentially grand and spectacular songwriting (it isn’t always that, it simply has the capacity to be) with the sound reflections produced in very small, tight spaces and the results are very reflective of that; these five songs are unavoidable, intense and intimate.

Fans who have become accustomed to Lou Barlow’s normally poetic and vocally projected type of performance will find themselves running right at “The Breeze” as it opens the EP not because it’s precisely what they always love to hear coming from the singer, but because it is so uncharacteristically muted and they’ll want to know what’s going on. With little more than an acoustic guitar played percussively for accompaniment, Barlow sounds as though he’s already right next to listeners’ collective ear as he stage whispers the lines, “You’re my excuse, stay unreliable give an empty ‘na maste,” call me brother, walk away” and hooks them with a very clear sense of muted frustration and urgency. Even when Barlow does project a little louder for the chorus of the song, listeners will find they’re still moving in because this kind of delivery is so unique and different for the singer – how could it not be attractive?

That same sense of urgency endures through the title track (although it features a little more production value than “The Breeze”), “Anniversary Song” and “Try 2 B” as the EP unfolds. In each case, Barlow really goes out of his way to let the strings on his acoustic guitar snap percussively in a manner very similar to how Ani DiFranco used to play in order to let the sound punctuate different portions of each song and so force listeners’ attention to veer in different direction at the singer’s whim. It is for that reason listeners won’t be able to miss it when Barlow advises, “Expect the fear/Don’t you ever let it go” acerbically in “Apocalypse Fetish,” the sort of call to arms typified by “Uh huh us against the world girl, had to break the cycle” in “Anniversary Song” and the weird, dismissive “You don’t shut up until you do” missive in “Try 2 B.” Each of those moments is delivered in a manner which feels both tremendous and triumphant against all odds which feels strange set largely against acoustic guitar, but listeners won’t be able to deny that each song is very engrossing; listeners will find themselves hanging on each word Barlow delivers and will find themselves sorely upset when the EP ends so quickly. That’s the only fault with Apocalypse Fetish: it’s too short. [Bill Adams]



Further Reading:

Ground Control Magazine – Lou Barlow – Brace The Wave [CD review]


The Apocalypse Fetish EP is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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