From years of watching action movies, I’ve learned that heroes don’t die, they just go into hiding until they’re ready to for their next big adventure. Lo-fi hero Lou Barlow has chosen to go that route with the release of Emoh, his most recent adventure in quiet folk. This is the first album that Barlow, who got his start with J. Mascis in Deep Wound before the two hit it relatively big with Dinosaur Jr., has listed under his own name, but it follows years of other projects: Sebadoh, Sentridoh, The Folk Implosion, The New Folk Implosion, Lou’s Wasted Pieces. Regardless of name, rank or serial number, Emoh is his most polished record to date.
And, for once, polished is good. It radiates Barlow’s voice to the fullest scale since Folk Implosion’s 1999 release, One Part Lullaby. “Royalty” builds off the acoustic warmth and irreverent intimacy of the disc’s first four tracks, eventually rising in a dark, larger-than-life chorus, the likes of which have not been heard since David Eugene Edwards’s Woven Hand. Folk Implosion fans will immediately gravitate toward “Caterpillar Girl,” a hooky anthem that speaks volumes about Barlow’s ability to craft clever jams without the help of infinite instruments and studio trickery.
And what would a Barlow joint be without a few sing-song ditties? Downright blasphemous to some, outright hilarious to others, “Mary” attempts to tell the story of how Jesus really came to be, using sweetened melodies to offset the sting of lyrics like, “Immaculate conception, yeah right/ Crazy Mary, good that you lied/ A test-tube baby, seed of the Lord/ Breaking the law with the man next door.”
Not to be outdone, the comparatively innocuous nursery rhyme “The Ballad of Daykitty” is a folksy finger-snapper that serves as an appropriate closer to Emoh. I can’t help but think Barlow gave “Round and Round,” a Ratt cover, more than it deserved, but it fits right in with the rest of Emoh.
It’s easy enough to spot the common thread that binds his diverse projects, but judging an album like Emoh is really just a matter of deciphering which Barlow era attracts you the most. For those with Barlow baggage, the first step is to forget everything you know and have heard over the years. Blank slate in place, Emoh is without question a solid effort, one of his finest to date, as graceful as royalty.