AN ABSOLUTE statesman of the American alt.rock scene, whose easy and innate way with a tune has led us forward from Dinosaur Jr. through Sebadoh (I mean, m’lud: “Flame”? Case surely rested), Lou Barlow is shortly to deliver his first solo album in six years: shortly as in, a week today, actuellement.
After decades on the road, a rock ‘n’ roll star in an industry ever harder to hustle in, that itself embedded in the always-available swirl of social media engagement we call day-to-day living, Lou’s gathered himself together after a move away from the bustle of the big city that he’s called home for a long time. Giddy times. Anxious times.
What to do? Well first out, set and setting, as Timothy Leary said. And in a world of illiberal populism and viral restraint – and how could this all not be considered a hallucinatory state? – he upped sticks from the overdrive of the City of Angels and the whole carnival of the West Coast and moved lock, stock and en famille back to Massachusetts. A little perspective.
With the clock ticking, T minus, Lou’s allowed us one final tweak back of the curtain on next week’s Reason To Live, with a home-filmed video for “In My Arms”, the opening cut.
Now, for my money, you can pretty much posit that the first track on an album is a statement of intent – see “I Wanna Be Adored” from the Stone Roses’ debut; “Artificial Energy” from The Notorious Byrd Brothers. The tone is set, the manifesto laid out. And here we begin with“In My Arms”, taking Lou back to his roots; that wavering, partly decayed quality comes from a guitar laid down direct to cassette in 1982. 1982! In opening Reason To Live, Lou is casting a depth sounding back at a much younger self and finding unity. Entirely healthy, and also a lovely song, part-memory, sprinkled with trilling melody played high on the neck, and that simple, uniting sentiment as hook. Whomever they are, they’re in his arms again; awwww.
Lou says: “The pandemic has kept me in one spot for the longest duration of my adult life. I’ve been touring every year since I was 19; I’m 54 now, and have managed to outrun most of my ‘issues’, my life continually stopping and restarting. Well, no more, Rocker, time to face the music!
This song is about writing songs and how I’ve, admittedly, lost my way many times. But, in the depths of the quarantine, I came to realize, again, that entertaining myself with sound is my greatest defense against the non-stop chatter in my brain.
The guitar that begins the song is a recording from 1982 and one of the first melodies that I captured on a portable cassette recorder. I’ve never forgotten it and took the opportunity of a lengthy stay at home, among my stuff, to exhume and expand it.
“The video documents how and where I augmented it: two drums on the floor of my attic and the room I record in. I also tried to get some psychedelic in-the-sun guitar shots because everyone keeps telling me the song sounds like the Grateful Dead and how much I look like Jerry Garcia. I have almost no knowledge of either but I’m happy to comply. I’m Grateful for the time I had to record this song, finish my LP and hold my loved ones the way that music holds me.”
To celebrate the release of Reason To Live next Friday, May 28th, Lou will be streaming a live performance at 7pm Eastern Daylight Time (that’s midnight, British Summer Time), to be followed by a Q&A. It’ll be on YouTube;; check in here.
Watch out for our review of the album next Monday morning: sneakily peekily, we consider it “an album of acoustic melodicism and humanism, lo-fi and sketchy in places, it’s undeniably an album for the long haul. You might not love it right this week; but like all the best records, come back to me in a month, two months, tell me about that evening over a bottle with two close friends when it clicked and you heard it for the first time, really. You know where to find me.”
Lou Barlow’s Reason To Live will be released by Joyful Noise digitally, on CD, on light pink cassette and on pale blue vinyl on May 28th; you can get your order in either at Bandcamp or at the label’s webstore.