Friday, October 23, 2009

Lou Barlow's "Goodnight Unknown"

Lou Barlow has released his new album, “Goodnight Unknown,” only a matter of weeks after “Farm,” Dinosaur Jr’s latest effort, on which he played bass. You have to wonder, given this proximity, how the two projects fit together, and I’m happy to report the answer is ‘not well at all.’ While I have already written about the incredibly complacency of those involved in phoning it in on “Farm,” it appears Lou has used the funds from that debacle to produce, in “Goodnight,” his most interesting work in some years.

There is a short film about the making of the album available here. I’ve tried not to let this documentary color my perspectives on the project. I think I’ve failed. Listening to Lou narrate images of his life working on “Goodnight” – setting-up and then re-configuring his home ‘studio;’ recording the sounds of child’s toys to make ambient sounds; working 9-5 on the album and then returning emoh to play with his 4yr-old daughter – I am left feeling jealous of the resources being a member of Dinosaur Jr has offered him to work, and intimidated by the snatches of music that have been born of it. When I turn back to the album itself, the final product is not quite so overwhelming an experience as his hard work on the film might suggest, but it’s not far off.

Why am I not as head-over-heels in love as I was about “The Freed Man” or “Bakesale?” Lou seems to move frustratingly on and off the target at some points on this album, as if he didn’t know himself what sometimes makes him truly one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard. Above all for me, those other albums set the standard for intimacy in music in two ways: they are musically more slight and simple than almost anything else ever recorded, and lyrically they are as open and candid as you might hope to confess on your deathbed.

Not to all tastes, this kind of songwriting (and not even to Lou’s at times it seems), but when it’s done well it’s a consummate enactment of connection between songwriter and listener. And there are moments of this king of bond on “Goodnight,” which is quite an achievement for someone writing their 20th or perhaps 30th album. “One Note Tone” is a song that could stand pretty well with ‘classics’ of his own genre like “Mystery Man,” “Two Years Two Days” or “Poledo.” “Too Much Freedom” is also poignant like tunes of old.

All in all, how much can we ask of Lou – That he matches or betters his best at every turn? Hardly likely, and hardly fair. He has written an album in which he digs once more into his own deep life, and we can enjoy hearing the sometimes stumbling results.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ART BRUT, tonight at Middle East Downstairs!

Going to a show in this day and age should not be a maudlin affair where we all commune over our sorry lives, our deep angst at the world and our lost loves – it should be FUN! This Friday night at Middle East Downstairs you can join a real musical party, when London’s Art Brut headline a night of breakneck punk with plenty of humor in the mix.

The last time Art Brut came to Middle East, singer Eddie Argos was nearly thrown out of the show, mistaken by security for a drunken fan who was dancing on the bar, chanting, with an ecstatic audience, that “MODERN ART… MAKES ME… WANT TO ROCK OUT!” It was a great night of entertainment, and now Art Brut return with a new album, “Art Brut vs. Satan,” and a hilarious new single to head it up, called, appropriately enough for them, “Alcoholics Unanimous.” How can you resist a title like that!

Art Brut are supported by some interesting up-and-comers from California. “Princeton” are a four-piece who mix shoegazing with airy-pop to create tunes which lighten our spirits. They are touring to support their brand new debut album, “Cocoon of Love,” and are well worth getting there early for. The opening act, Tab the Band, have been creating some buzz lately on the local scene (not to mention some nationally too, getting a Rolling Stone review into the bargain!). They should get things going for us very well indeed. See you down there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tom Thumb's "We never die"

Tom Thumb was already a favorite at RSL when I joined the crew a year ago. I had some catching up to do. On the night I first met Ryan, he led me over to Great Scott’s to see Andy Arch (the solo name behind the Tom Thumb project) play songs from his 2008 “The Taxidermist” album. It didn’t take much to be convinced. After that show, I listened to his new CD, “We never die,” with some trepidation – could he perform the acrobatics of building a whole second album to similar effect?

“We never die” comes stutteringly to life with a lone mandolin. It is a very human sound, unpolished to the point where it belies Arch’s mastery of his instrument(s). I’m pleased to say that this slight introduction to opening track “Olivia” sets the tone for a very intimate journey that is at least as moving and euphoric in turns as anything on “The Taxidermist.”

Arch’s lyrics are intricate, leaping from compacted image to image, sometimes amusing, often touching, and never prosaic. Though there is poignancy, my overriding emotional response is simply to revel in Arch’s complex play between the celebratory and sad.

All this joyous music builds, like any really great album, to a delicate crescendo in “Acid Rain.” Playing this song, among several from the last album, at a show in Boston some months ago, this was immediately a stand out. Here on the CD it makes clear that Arch knows not just how to write a lyric, or just how to write a song, but the dying art of how to write an album. “Acid Rain” caps off a project that seals Tom Thumb’s place as the best solo artist to come out of Boston in some years.

You are lucky this week, because not only can you pick up this great new Tom Thumb album (, but you can also see the start of his fall tour begin, this Friday at the whitehaus in Jamaica Plain. If you live outside Boston, make sure you catch him at one of the following shows across America:

10.10.09 - Biddeford, ME @ the hfs annex

10.11.09 - Keene, NH @ Toadstool Bookshop

10.13.09 - Jamestown, NY @ Labyrinth Press Co.

10.16.09 - Brooklyn, NY@ Sycamore

10.20.09 - Penland, NC @ Penland School of Crafts Coffeehouse

10.21.09 - Chapel Hill, NC @ Caffe Driade

10.23.09 - Atlanta, GA @ Star Bar

10.24.09 - Athens, GA @ 2nd Annual Southern Celebration of Life

10.28.09 - Indianapolis, IN

10.29.09 - Urbana, IL

10.30.09 - Chicago, IL

10.31.09 - Lincoln, NE @ Clawfoot House

11.2.09 - Denver, CO

11.5.09 - Boulder, CO

11.7.09 - Las Vegas, NV @ the Cloud Hidden House

11.10.09 - San Luis Obispo, CA @ the Clubhouse

11.28.09 - Port Townsend, WA @ the Boiler Room

12.5.09 - Madison, WI @ the project lounge

12.6.09 - Chicago, IL @ the Orphanage

12.10.09 - Rochester, NY @ Boulder Coffee Co

12.14.09 - Portsmouth, NH @ the Red Door