words by Eric Engelbart
Lou Barlow’s work always showcases an air of familiarity. Barlow has one of the most memorable voices in all of indie rock, and quietly influenced a legion of indie rock musicians. Barlow started his career playing bass for Dinosaur Jr., but soon branched out on his own as the front man for the critically lauded grunge folk band Sebadoh.
Before the formation of Sebadoh, Barlow worked under the moniker Sentridoh, and recorded an album entitled Weed Forestin’ on a four track recorder in his basement. Even in this extremely raw early work, it was apparent that Barlow possessed a rare, seemingly effortless charisma
Weed Forestin’ was remastered and re-released via online music distributor Bandcamp in February, and quickly became the site’s best selling release. After the strong reception of the album, Barlow decided to press more copies of the album and re-release it, himself.
The album’s appeal and classic status rests on Barlow’s wit and inventiveness. The earnestness, naivete, and emotion in the songs are indicative of Barlow’s youth. Though on the surface the songs appear primitive, the record has a subtle complexity which has earned it a spot as an indispensable indie classic. Barlow’s creativity helps the album transcend the ordinary. He adds touches like spoken word, whistling substituted for lead guitar, experimental percussion, abrupt tempo changes, and found sound samples that give the whole album an ethereal quality.
Weed Forestin’ has its fair share of high watermarks. “Ride the Darker Wave” is one of the few tracks on the album where future Sebadoh drummer Eric Gaffney provides the percussion, and the result is pure gold. Other songs featuring Gaffney are the catchy “More Simple,” the quirky and snarky “New Worship,” and the gorgeously melodic “I Can’t See.”
Weed Forestin’s most accessible tracks are the album’s closers, “It’s So Hard to Fall in Love” and “Brand New Love,” which have subsequently been covered by such acts as Superchunk and Death Cab for Cutie. Both songs tackle the done-to-death topic of teenage romantic frustrations, but Barlow’s contemplative and thoughtful approach sets them apart from the pack.
On the straightforward “It’s So Hard to Fall In Love,” Barlow hopelessly croons “It’s so hard to fall in love/ knowing all I know/ and seeing all the things I see/ maybe I shouldn’t have smiled so much/ stupid little boy with the killing touch.” The lyrics express an introspective and insecurity that give the song a loveable sincerity, while the rollicking folk riff brings to mind Sebadoh classics like “Ocean” or “Rebound.”
“Brand New Love” represents the most memorable moment on the album, and may be the most influential song of Barlow’s early career. The song has since been covered by the likes of Superchunk and emo-pop juggernaut Death Cab for Cutie. In the song, Barlow captures the letting-go phase of a breakup with hopeful brevity: “Any thought could be the beginning of a brand new tangled web your spinning/ anyone could be a brand new love.”
Listening to Weed Forestin’ is akin to watching the first film of a prominent director. It lacks the luster and refinement of future works, but reminds the audience that even legends have to start somewhere. The album is a must-own for fans interested in examining the growth of an artist from neophyte to master.