Album Review: Lou Barlow – Goodnight Unknown

by Tony Butterworth on September 28, 2009

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Lou Barlow was a founding member of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh.  Dinosaur Jr. is another of those seminal US bands that I missed out on by growing up over the pond and my only real exposure to them has been through the songs they have on Rock Band games. Sebadoh is unknown to me, but I have some experience as a casual listener to Barlow’s previous lo- and lower-fi releases.  Goodnight Unknown is approximately, depending on what you count, Barlow’s  eleventh release.  A pioneer of the lo-fi sound is back with fourteen new songs on Goodnight Unknown.

“Sharing” – blasts straight in with no preamble.  A fantastic rousing tune, suffering only, for me, from the muted vocal mix making the lyrics tough to make out. “Goodnight Unknown” is a similar, though slower based, garage style rocker.  A good song though not as immediately catchy as the first one but as the song progresses a really engaging hook appears, it’s hard to put your finger on but it draws you in to the tune.

“Too Much Freedom” is a totally different type of song, a fast paced troubadour style tune, mostly played on acoustic with a nice clear vocal track and some really well done harmonies.  Its cowboy style rhythm carries you along, it really is a beautiful song. “Faith In Your Heartbeat” continues this acoustic vein. At less than two minutes it’s a straight up acoustic style track (admittedly with a little electric thrown in their also). “The One I Call” is another ballad played acoustically, in all honestly this and “Faith In Your Hearbeat” sound very similar and are difficult to differentiate.

“The Right” changes the direction again.  A driving train-like beat opens us up to a bit more rock to go with our roll. A simple song, again with interesting, if difficult to make out, lyrics.  If anything, it sounds like a more interesting Snow Patrol tune.  The more I listen it’s definitely a slightly edgier Snow Patrol feel I am getting.  “Gravitate” carries this on, using some non-traditional instruments and a lo-fi vibe to run us through another mid-paced rocker.

Who let this man out of his garage

Who let this man out of his garage?

“I’m Thinking …” returns to the acoustic, on the prairie, modern day Nick Drake style.  Another really enjoyable song, the changes in style really keeps this interesting.  Another short song, less than three minutes, which is OK by me. “One Machine, One Long Fight” opens with more stripped back sound but quickly blasts into another lo-fi sound that I’m going to classify as “folk-industrial.”

“Praise” is another one with a marching style beat and lots of creative instrumentation. It’s appealing but it really doesn’t lead you anywhere. “Take Advantage” and “Modest” are two more of the acoustic guitar, lyrically driven tracks, the latter making me think of Cat Stephens for some reason.

“Don’t Apologize” ups the pace again, if played by Snow Patrol or U2, this song would be called anthemic, so I guess that’s what I’ll call it.  Louis’ voice really has that Gary Lightbody timbre. I would bet the casual listener who knows Snow Patrol would think this was one of their tunes.

“One Note Tone” is not, surprisingly, a summary of my musical aspirations, it’s actually the title of the last track, another nice bouncy acoustic tune.  A lyric stood out to me in this tune: “What you’ve done is not why I’ll remember you.” I’m not a huge lyrics guy but I liked that.

Though nothing ever reaches the heights of the way the album bursts into life, this is a great set of songs, one you’d likely not stumble across, so I highly recommend you search it out and give it a try.  It’s available right now at NPR’s first listen site NPR Goodnight Unknown

Watch “Sharing” 

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marie Carney September 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm

It's nice to hear that Lou Barlow doesn't change. He's even still using 'Sentridoh' for his solo stuff.
Or maybe I'd rather say that it's kind of creepy…

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