Warm, charming and stripped-down folk songs from the former Sebadoh frontman and Dinosaur Jnr. bassist.
Lo-fi legend Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion) says he’s been struggling for a way to connect both his home life and his recorded life, but believes his latest album, ‘Reason To Live’ – his first in six years – manages to integrate that. In recent times, he’s moved from L.A. and back to his native Massachusetts, where he’s settled down with his wife and three kids – on the title track, he sings: “From my heart to my homegirl, talk about a reason to live.”
It’s an intimate, stripped-down, and ramshackle record – largely just his voice and an acoustic guitar, but with some occasional sparse instrumentation. Many of these shambolic songs, some of which sound like they could be demos, have a warmth and a simple charm to them.
First single, ‘Love Intervene’ is an upbeat and optimistic strummer that celebrates the power of love to carry us through the dark times. It’s very apt for now, but it actually dates back to 2018. The opener, ‘In My Arms’, is even older – starting with the sound of a tape recorder being turned on, it uses a sample of a recording Barlow made in 1982. He says the song, which has a psychedelic backwards guitar effect, is about rediscovering the initial spark to make music.
A lot of ‘Reason To Live’ sounds like Barlow hasn’t lost that enthusiasm. The indie jangle of ‘Privatize’ has echoes of both early New Order and R.E.M; the title track is lovely – folky, haunting and melancholy, with a touch of Fleet Foxes; ‘Why Can’t It Wait’ comes from a similar place, but adds some minimalist keyboard strings into the mix, and on ‘I Don’t Like Changes’, Barlow’s vocals recall Cat Stevens.
There’s a lot of self-reflection in these songs, but he still finds to time to lay into others too, albeit in a more restrained and folkier style than perhaps we’re used to – on the delicate and twangy ‘All You People Suck’ he’s bemoaning “All you people lost/ And the light that draws you in/ Be it torch or burning cross/ Your beginning and your end.”
It’s not all great – at 17 tracks long, ‘Reason To Live’ could do with a bit of pruning, and some of the songs clock in at less than two minutes, so fail to make a lasting impression, but, that aside, it’s an endearing record – rough around the edges, but all the better for it. How much more lo-fi can he go?