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Lou Barlow
Goodnight Unknown The Quietus , October 22nd, 2009 08:57

By Ash Dosanjh

If there was one nugget of wisdom to be taken from Michael Azerrad's account of the shambolic internal workings of Dinosaur Jr, it was that it was a reckless machine manned by a trio of socially inept young men on the path of destruction. Not that a life spent over-analysing, self-deprecating and mulling over his emotional state has necessarily been a wasted one in the case of that band's bassist, Lou Barlow.

Delving into Dinosaur's history — J Mascis' indifference, Murph's occasional psychotic outburst and Barlow's well-documented passive-aggressive nature — it's obvious to see that Barlow could be singled out as "the sensitive one"; a disposition that has since manifested itself in his ensuing projects (Sebadoh, Folk Implosion). So fragile and cross-examining has Barlow's sonic and lyrical output been since his initial sacking from Dinosaur (he's since been reinstated), it's little surprise that his last solo offering — a stripped acoustic record of slight charm and immeasurable comfort — was christened Emoh.

Although it may seem sacrilegious to say so, Barlow's intense pining on his previous recordings sometimes tripped him up; by contrast, his defining statements of love and hunger are explored succinctly on Goodnight Unknown. Although those trademark Barlowisms of brooding and introspection bedded by sparse guitars and lo-fi instrumentation aren't totally exorcised, Goodnight Unknown bravely shines a light of aggressive assertiveness into territory less trodden by Barlow. Tracks such as 'Sharing' and 'Gravitate', for example, lean heavily towards latterday Dinosaur than much of his back-catalogue solo work ever has.

Sure, there's still the nostalgic romanticism that Barlow can't quite shake off (and why would you want him to?), but this time around it's backed by the same subtle nuisances and psychoanalytical contemplation not so far removed from early Cat Stevens ('The One I Call', 'Take Advantage', 'I'm Thinking') and the clanky guitars, calamity and near-otherworldliness of Iron & Wine at their most raucous ('Gravitate', 'One Machine, One Long Fight').

It seems that with Goodnight Unknown, Barlow has dismissed the demons that have triggered the nervousness and — dare we say — paranoia of his past works. Here's hoping that what was once foreign for Barlow becomes familiar.