Apocalypse Fetish by Lou Barlow

Release date: October 28, 2016
Label: Joyful Noise Recordings

“I could have been like Lou Barlow, but I’m more like Ken Barlow” lamented post-punk miserablists and national treasures Half Man Half Biscuit on the subject of looking back at attempts to be as cool as our heroes and wishing they’d settled for a job on the bins instead.  Thankfully, the actual Lou Barlow has remained a steadfastly interesting commentator on life’s little ups and downs, and here he takes a break once more from his usual haunts of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh to give us this thoughtful EP.

The title track of Apocalypse Fetish is an oddity, and is certainly something that will prick the skin of those around Lou’s age.  Growing up in the 1980s, we were all pretty much told that any time soon we were all going to die in a nuclear war.  This was never put to us as something that could happen, but something that was inevitable.  Lou’s song looks back at this time, bringing back the terrifying imagery of the era (“Remember when the clock was nigh-on midnight”) and brings the notion forward a couple of decades where we now seem to be in such a sorry state that such an eventuality frankly seems like a bloody good idea, given the alternative.

Performed with a downtuned ukulele in tow, Lou Barlow brings his slightly world-weary but friendly vocal tones to a short collection of songs that provide plenty of food for both thought and heart.  There are lines aplenty scattered throughout that have stopped me in my tracks in a strange combination of ideological/emotional agreement, poetic appreciation, or just plain “eh?” but it’s a genuine pleasure to have the ears and mind gently pulled around in such a fashion.  Trying to work out why certain phrases and passages so affects the emotional parts of the brain while the duller, more analytical grey bits try to make sense of it frankly takes all the wonder out of the whole experience, and the way that Lou imparts his words with such feeling makes it all moot anyway.  This is reflection as nourishment for both performer and listener, and the time-honoured lo-fi tradition of Lou’s recordings help bring both parties that little bit closer together.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as I’d imagine that it’s fundamentally impossible to come up with the many cheery speedfolk hooks found in ‘Anniversary Song’ without first kicking all the windows open and letting the joy stream in.  Closer ‘Try 2 B’ adds a punkish gleam to the mirror Lou holds up to himself to bring an all-too-short but oh-so-human record to a close.

As with all good EPs though, wanting more is all well and good but it’s hard to see what else could be added to make this more agreeable and affecting than it already is.  Existing fans will rightly lap this up, anyone else who fancies a bit of an “in” to the happysad world of Lou Barlow will easily find plenty to absorb and fascinate in these five tracks, and in doing so may well keep us from becoming Ken for a little while longer.

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