Sharps & flats

After 10 years of indie rock and a semi-hit on the "Kids" soundtrack, Folk Implosion's Lou Barlow changes his tune.

By Seth Mnookin
September 14, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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"My sense of humor may have narrowed with my age/But happy anarchy is all I really crave," Lou Barlow sings on "Ritual," the opening track on Folk Implosion's new album. While early Folk Implosion albums were almost tuneless, ramshackle affairs, this latest effort builds on the crystalline pop gems found on "Dare to Be Surprised" (1997). From the sounds of it, anarchy's getting friendlier and friendlier all the time.

Almost five years after Barlow and tinkering bandmate Jonathan Davis had a nibble of big-time pop success with "Natural One," the surprise semi-hit off the "Kids" soundtrack, the duo returns from cold and bleak to a brighter emotional landscape. Tunes like "Kingdom of Lies" and "Someone You Love" will sound familiar to anyone versed in Barlow's despondent love life. But "Ritual," a song that explains why its hero can't risk physical or emotional intimacy ("Don't touch me cuz I've had too much to feel tonight"), contains a nugget of hope: "It's getting easy not to suffer all the time."


Oddly it's not the deft lyrics -- the one constant among a decade of Barlow's Sebadoh, Sentridoh, Folk Implosion and various solo projects -- that make "One Part Lullaby" Folk Implosion's most accessible project to date. Instead, it's the soaring, open-ended melodies and the quivering, hook-laden, power-pop masterpieces that show off a calmer, more studied duo. While "Lullaby" trades on the quirky electronics and drumbeat shuffles of previous efforts, the melodies and hooks sound as if they've been lifted wholesale from the most storied practitioners of the 1960s. Those stretched-out choruses on "One Part Lullaby" are right out of "Pet Sounds." The guitar riffs scrunched through effects and replayed backwards on "Free to Go" have "Sgt. Pepper's" and "Rubber Soul" written all over them. And "Chained to the Moon," a psychedelic folk rag, props the Byrds, Donovan and the Stones, especially the chorus of falsetto females who stamp the start of the song a ringer for "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

Still, despite the almost eerily accessible vibe, don't expect "Lullaby" -- the band's first on Interscope -- to become a breakout hit. True to the group's form, the record was recorded with such lo-fi abandon that it makes early Beck look slick. "I'm not a rebel or the Natural One," Barlow croons on the title track, acknowledging that he has too many sharp angles to fit into a round peg of success. Not that it seems to matter: With "One Part Lullaby," Barlow and Davis are settling down just fine on their own.

Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT and he blogs at the Public Library of Science. His most recent book is "The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" (Simon & Schuster). His Twitter handle is @sethmnookin.

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