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.

No comments: