Album review: Lou Barlow – Reason to live
The album offers excellent acoustic style and quick little tunes wrapped in an indie-folk bow
Sometimes coming home is what we need at certain times in our lives, especially if you’ve been away for a long time. Home comes back to you when you need it most, that’s what drove Lou Barlow to his new album, Reason for living. Barlow, an indie-rock musician previously associated with Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and more, moved his family from Los Angeles to Massachusetts, a place Barlow considers his home.
Reason for living is filled with folk rhythms and melodies, ranging from the warm strumming of an acoustic guitar to the sandy texture of Barlow’s voice. The album has 17 songs in total, each never exceeding four minutes. Don’t be fooled though, these tiny melodies come back with a punch–it’s a smooth, soft acoustic punch. They are deliciously sweet in their sound, and they don’t hesitate to have powerful lyrics that tell a story, no matter how short the story is.
“In My Arms” appears as the first song on the album, which literally envelops the listener in a deep musical embrace. It brings together all the best elements of folk music, including sentimental lyrics and a lovely acoustic beat. The title track, “Reason To Live,” follows behind, creating an even lighter sound than its predecessor. His words are sweet but show a sense of wisdom. “When they make amends, we’ll hold hands, strong like any wall that stands. Go and ravage the earth, to make a house of it… From my heart to my hunger, speak of a reason for living. It’s whimsical and sweet, but in a way that gets the point of the song across to the listener.
Deeper into the album, people get “Love Intervene,” which was previously released as a single. In the context of the current year, “Love Intervene” fits perfectly with the times people live in. Through various battles of life, Barlow asks in his words that “love comes in, please show us the way.” Love intervenes today. Another single from the album is “Over You”, a song that sounds a bit more melancholy in comparison to the upbeat “Love Intervene”. “Over You” is quick and comes in at a minute and a half. There will be people singing along with the chorus, “On you I’ll never be on you.” There’s a kind of dark about it, which changes quickly with the song that follows it, “How Do I Know”. The song is played through the question “how do I know how to feel?” The acoustic guitar is more upbeat on this track, retaining that lighter sound in some of the other songs that follow it, like “Cold One” and “Thirsty”.
“Paws” appears near the end of the album, and he draws people in with his opening lyrics: “I love you because you give me paws.” This track features the slight tremor of a maraca, as well as a minimalist acoustic sound. The lo-fi part of Lou Barlow’s career shines through in this song, as the light, solemn reverb and synth are used at the end of the show. Things start to slow down with the track “Tempted”, which features a wonderful scratched guitar sound and resonant vocals. The lyrics “be honest with yourself” float throughout the song before leading to a revelation at the end that hits the listener in the gut, “be honest with yourself, you are a drunk”. The franchise of the end continues throughout the end, especially with the song that follows titled “All You People Suck”. The backing track certainly doesn’t sound angry, as it’s the same thing soft guitar listeners have heard all along, but the vocals during the chorus are loud and strong, juxtaposing the sweet acoustic mix.
There is a sense of humility in Reason for living who yearns to return to his roots, to the place he calls home. The tracks are the opposite of the hustle and bustle of life in Los Angeles, especially if you can’t imagine calling LA home. Looks like he’s found a way to connect two parts of his life: a nostalgic taste of the humid New England air that brings Barlow home and the skills of a mature, masterful musician.