Rank Your Records: Lou Barlow Lists His Four Favorite Solo Albums
The songwriter, who Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore claims to be the inventor of the lo-fi sound, gives some inside information on his best albums.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Lou Barlow was/is the bassist for Dinosaur Jr. Known for their melodic but crushing distortion, during the 90s the Massachusetts trio became one of indie rock's most influential bands.
But Barlow is also a lo-fi hero and through his involvement with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion as well as a solo career with Sentridoh and releases under his own name, he's built a massive body of recorded work.
Earlier this year Barlow released Brace the Wave, an intimate collection of music that he describes as, “nine songs without drums, without regrets.”
We asked Lou what some of his favorite albums have been.
Lou Barlow: Rating my solo work, myself? OK, where to begin? I chose these four records out of the ten (or so) solo LP’s I’ve made because they have a "vibe." I don't love everything I've done, but I dig these and here's why.
4. Sentridoh – Losers (1995)
I titled it Losers because these were the songs that didn’t make it to the Sebadoh releases of the time, in particular Sebadoh III. This record is a mess, I cannot lie. But I did think that every bit needed to be released.
As a songwriter, I was weaned on early 80s hardcore punk rock and the experimental music of bands like the Residents and Renaldo and the Loaf. I believed that one has to title something to make it a song. I actually believed I could undermine and redefine what is accepted as folk music (pretentious, youthful me). Ninety percent of the music here is acoustic in nature albeit guitars with less than six strings and plastic microphones jammed in them.
Tracks like “You Fell Down the Stairs” and “Pet Your Puppy” are the sound of me destroying portable cassette players by jamming pencils into them.
My voice can be grating and wilfully annoying at times but, then, there are some real attempts at singing and song craft such as “Winslow” and “Give Up." “Colix Jauntarah" is one of a few songs I sang in a made-up language (inspired by my favorite-band-in-high-school: the Cocteau Twins). My ten-year-old sister sings “Take An Aspirin” which is the phrase "take an Aspirin" repeated eight times. It’s a disaster but not as drug influenced as you might assume it was. It’s full-on post hardcore, post straight-edge madness. I think it’s hilarious.
4 stars out 6 1/2
3. Sentridoh – Songs From Loobiecore Vol. 1 (2001)
I pull this out occasionally and torture myself into thinking it’s the best thing I’ve done. Through my indie pedigree, I’d managed to convince generous souls into mass-producing my earlier work. This time I funded a run of about 1000 cds, several hundred of which are still in my attic. They bear the price tags from the now defunct stores, Tower Records in particular, that attempted to sell them and returned them.
When I put this out I knew instinctively that the world didn’t want another fucking Lou Barlow record. My career had effectively bottomed out in 1999 with the dual major label failures of The Sebadoh (released by Sire records, dropped one week after the street date) and the Folk Implosion’s One Part Lullaby (band-mate John Davis quit the day the record was released and I was dropped a year later from Interscope records). Grim times for an aging hipster.
This record chronicles the time well. I talk to myself in the songs literally. “Don’t Call Me Writer” addresses the threat of burnout and details my drug use. I gave this CD to my father when he came to visit me in my new home in Los Angeles. He called me a week later to tell me I was ruining my life and needed to move from "that shithole" as soon as possible. He heard depression and imminent collapse. Admittedly, he was right.
I was at the bottom of the well but there’s a song called "Up From the Well!" How bad could it be? I avoided sending the cd to any publications but the few that did review it, hated it. One piece began with "You have to feel sorry for Lou Barlow…"
Youthful bands like Moldy Peaches had adopted the lo-fi home recorded thing and outdone me. Fair enough. But this record is easily one of the most fluids, carefree, dark and tuneful things I’ve done.
5 1/3 Peaches out of 6 3/4
2. Lou Barlow – Goodnight Unknown (2009)
I’d dropped the Sentridoh tag so this was my first proper solo record. "Proper," meaning I spent several thousand dollars of my own money to record it in various studios. I thought all my records were serious and proper but by the mid-2000s it was clear that I was wrong about what constituted a legitimate creative offering.
In 2009 I recorded my second record under my given, legal name: Lou Barlow. The "Unknown" in the title is a reference to a Donald Rumsfeld speech and bears the confusion of the time. I pursued the concept of something dense, powerful, and inscrutable. Short, layered songs. Dale Crover of the Melvins played drums on six of the "tracks." Songs like “Praise” and “Gravitate” represent the most evolved versions of my original four-string guitar, downstroke, and dark-folk style. I listen to this periodically too to drive myself crazy wondering why "nobody" liked it. Incidentally, the use of the word "nobody" and phrases like "nobody bought the record" among musicians like myself is detestable. It reveals me to be an arrested development, pseudo-adult raised on false praise, trends and an unrealistic relationship between what I do and what I receive. Someone, somewhere, one time told me Goodnight Unknown was their favorite record. I’ll go with that.
4 1/2 fingers out of a monkey’s paw
1. Lou Barlow – Brace the Wave (2015)
The third "Lou Barlow" LP. The world isn’t knocking down my door over this one either. Poor me. No wait, actually, this one seems to have made more of an impression! I consciously decided to lengthen the songs. On “Moving” I did the unthinkable and went for three choruses. I usually stick to two assuming a listener is ready to move on. This time I pretended I was Ryan Adams or something. I even did that classic cheese ball, Grammy grab thing where the song shifts into another key half way through to bring emotional urgency.
This is the only example of me making a record that wasn’t a collection of disparate recordings or guided by a sure-to-fail concept (like Goodnight Unknown). It’s straightforward but I still indulged my desire to use four-string guitars (in this case the baritone ukulele) and say things I should probably not be saying in public. But it seems to be suggesting there is room for more, which is great because I have no other skills nor any desire to do anything else.
9 out of 10 buoys