Barlow bellows ‘Goodnight’ to unknown tunes in the latest solo album


Courtesy of Merge Records
Courtesy of Merge Records

Amherst, Mass. raised gifted wordsmiths like Emily Dickinson and Noah Webster, sure, but has the snowy college town spat out any eloquent artists nearly as lovely, loud or legitimate as Lou Barlow? Nah.

Barlow, who has played in Sebadoh, The Folk Implosion and Dinosaur Jr., dropped his fourth solo release “Goodnight Unknown” Oct. 6. Cottony vocals robed masterful acoustic guitar courtesy of Barlow’s trusty four-string Stella throughout with intermittent sarcasm. The album gallops around the seminal indie rock dude’s trademark lo-fi tendencies and sometimes salty (but always articulate) lyrics, pretty much leaving a listener elated and suddenly aware.

“The One I Call,” the fifth track, is sweet like a hard-earned lollipop (think: like after the dentist, not like following a Star Wars pillowcase-full of discount candy bars). Barlow sifts a soft dusting of sincerity and textbook romance with lyricism like, “When you were kind to me/ It reminded me/ That when I’m distant/ You come in an instant.” Although I suppose you could read that last line in a couple of different senses, it doesn’t deter from the fact that the ditty holds tight like a fist around a bouquet of slightly ravaged, truthful tulips.

Immediately following, however, is a bit of a 180 with rollicking guitars and dancing drums in “The Right,” a good example of Barlow’s logical hop-scotching around grooves and emotional tapestries around ‘Goodnight.’

“Gravitate” is the ballsiest, best track. It incorporates nod-worthy rhythms (oh, baby, strike that kick-drum) and purgative pulsating to produce a most-scathing acoustic blistering. In this one, Barlow gets downright seductively suggestive with, “Aren’t you sinking in my quicksand?/ We’re lucky nobody got hurt/ I’m glad I left it to my right hand … My mind is open/ Not my arm.” It’s basically an account of an aw-shucks (that’s said this a sardonic tone, mind you) failed relationship, drizzled with electric organ. The story is told swiftly, coming to a close at just under three minutes, but no questions are left unanswered.

Come to think of it, Barlow’s ‘Goodnight Unknown’ is a damn good introduction to autumn to album. How perfect, Dr. B! Barlow even (albeit maybe accidentally) captures the essence of life clamped within this brick-walled institution, preparing ourselves for that indistinguishable, sleuth future in “Take Advantage” with, “It’s lovely here in limbo/ We’re having good to great times.” Well, ain’t it lovely?