Essential New Music: Lou Barlow’s “Brace The Wave”


Lou Barlow is a legit legend—if, as he’d probably prefer it, of the little-“l” variety—and every bit as much an old-guard indie-rock lifer as Malkmus, Pollard or, say, his old nemesis Mascis. If he lacks much of those dudes’ cachet and practically any of their mystique, put it down to his unassuming, emphatically casual persona, as reflected by his preferred aesthetic modes, both aural and visual: low-key, low-strung, lowercase and lo-fi. Historically speaking, at least. Brace The Wave, like the two previous Barlow LPs, is a notably more polished and considered affair than his erstwhile Sentridoh offerings, though it captures a comparable sense of intimacy and immediacy. (Elliott Smith’s Either/Or is a decent reference point, sonically and otherwise.) Given the prolificacy (and, you know, lenient self-editing) of Barlow’s home-taping decades, it’s telling that, even trailing his last album by six years (which saw the continuation of successful reunions for both Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr), this outing contains a mere nine songs. Frill-free cover on down, this is a deliberately small record: trim, but hardly slight. Each song boasts a strong, memorable melody, buoyed as always by Barlow’s familiarly resonant, expressive, pliable voice, and there’s an appreciable dynamic range within its generally understated, drum-free palette—from poppy, burnished near-rocker “Boundaries” to the sweet, gentle acoustic picking of “Repeat.” Standout “Nerve” builds from a gruff, jagged off-kilter march into an unexpectedly lush, harmonized chorus: “What’s wrong with wanting more than I deserve?” As usual, he’s selling himself short. Go get it, Lou!

—K. Ross Hoffman