You're Living All Over Me
It appears that Lou Barlow has done a little growing up. Not only has his music progressed far beyond the self-indulgent lo-fi bedroom recordings that garnered him such a dubious reputation in the years following his dismissal from Dinosaur Jr., but it seems that many of the ego-driven quirks that compelled him to be such a gigantic asshole during the '80s and '90s have faded with the passing of his youth.
Now in his late 30s, Barlow has probably recorded thousands of songs; between his time in Dinosaur Jr., his well-stocked early Sebadoh albums and other adventures like The Folk Implosion and Sentridoh, his prolific nature and disdain for quality control are integral to his identity. Therefore, it's somewhat odd to know that Emoh is his first proper solo album; yes, there have been several other albums credited to Lou Barlow and still others recorded solely by him, but those were primarily collections of home recordings. Emoh is a summary distillation of Barlow's sound, conceived and recorded as a full-bodied solo project from the outset, without the creative compromises that come into play when other band members are involved. (It should be noted, however, that former collaborators like Jason Loewenstein do show up to lend a hand on some of the songs.)
Emoh combines the song-based simplicity of The Folk Implosion with a little of the more gleefully rockist tendencies of mid-period Sebadoh, and of course, a dose of ham-handed irony (a cover of Ratt's "Round and Round"). With touches of the acoustic bathos and sonic experimentation that have shown up throughout his career peppering the album, Emoh's title is less a reference to a genre than it is an admission that Barlow is exploring the central notions that have been present in his music for years, in a way that's neither reductionist nor nostalgic.
But nostalgia has certainly been an active emotion in Barlow's life over the past couple of years. There was a Sebadoh reunion tour, and last spring, he performed a benefit show that found him sharing a stage with J Mascis for the first time in 15 years. It wasn't a Dinosaur Jr. reunion (rather, it was an impromptu tribute to Deep Wound, a hardcore band the two were in prior to Dinosaur), but it was apparently a watershed event in the long-strained relationship between Barlow and Mascis. Somewhat amazingly, there's even talk now about a batch Dinosaur Jr. reunion shows, and with the reissue of the first three Dinosaur/Dinosaur Jr. albums, it's hard not to see why.
These reissues have been long in the planning, but given Mascis' notorious slackness, they've been subject to inevitable delays. (One label request for the original album art was replied to with a crumpled-up piece of paper stuffed in an envelope.) But the timing couldn't be better: Coming on the heels of Barlow's more mature solo album, these three phenomenally influential albums sound furious and unfocused, unburdened by expectations and wholly inspired by the era. Mascis' guitar work (on Bug, especially) is completely unhinged, straddling a bizarre line between noise practitioner and cock-rock god, while Barlow's sound collages and mumbled acoustic numbers push the self-indulgence factor over the line. And though Barlow has come a long way since then it's impossible to imagine a gentle epic like Emoh's "Mary" finding its way onto any of these Dinosaur albums, much less any of the early Sebadoh albums it's good to see that he's not forgotten about his past.