Lou Barlow’s been making music for just shy of 35 years. With somewhere close to 30 albums between all the bands and projects he’s been involved in, it’s a bit surprising that he’s only released 2 albums so far as just ‘Lou Barlow’. However this year he’s adding another to that list.
If you’ve only heard Sebadoh, you’ll understand that the sound is indie-rock with a lot of folk influence. On Brace the Wave, Barlow sounds primarily like folk-musician with an indie-rock influence. Some of songs are reminiscent of his earlier work, featuring songs written in the spur of the moment on a down tuned ukulele. Although Barlow spent 6 days in the studio recording, a lot of the tracks sound very intimate as if they are were recorded on a 4-track in his basement, like the early Sentridoh tracks, with many of them featuring just vocals, acoustic guitar and a hint of some electric guitar plucking to accent some moments
The album opens up with ‘Redeemed’ a track that starts rather dreamily before slowly building up into a flourish. ‘Nerve’ follows with a trace like feel and a marching beat, the instrumentation sounds somewhere between a medieval bard’s song and some of the more modern folk. After that is ‘Moving’, a track true to it’s title, it brings up images running through a forest, with this dreamy sci-fi riff that occasionally rises up without changing its momentum
‘Pulse’ is softer more lonely song with just Barlow with his guitar singing about inner conflict and the difficulty of growing older. ‘Wave’ features Barlow on his down-tuned ukulele again, the song ranges from soft summery sounding sections to down almost down trodden parts. ‘Lazy’ is a simple track featuring some bluesy sounding riffs, and Barlow with a melancholic tone.
‘Boundaries’ hums along as a cheery little track, until being punctuated by the addition of some very distorted guitar, but as the two blend this song picks up into a flourish producing one of the most layered songs on the album. ‘C + E’ follows, this gentle acoustic track sees Barlow touching on heartbreak and his divorce, with the guitar taking backseat to his anguished vocals. ‘Repeat’ closes the album and sees Barlow march along to a gentle rhythm while moving the song along to its almost astral conclusion.
My overall take is that if you like Sebadoh, Sentridoh, Folk Implosion or Lou Barlow, then you’ll enjoy this album. Barlow has a knack for harmonies, and his vulnerable, signature multi-tracked vocals sound really great on this album. And while the instrumentals are kept simple the album sounds fresh the whole way through. I don’t think this will be a Lou Barlow game-changer, but I think it’s a great addition to an impressive catalogue.
Review by Kristian Johnson