Now on record No. 2 since the fluke hit "Natural One" off the Kids soundtrack, the men of Folk Implosion, Lou Barlow and John Davis, would seem to have enough years between them and "Natural One" to let the song's popularity go. But when Barlow sings, "I'm not a rebel or a natural one" on "One Part Lullaby," off the band's latest, it's as pointed a moment as can be found on the pair's major-label debut. For a group that made its first recordings at home, utilizing low-fidelity recording gear, a radio hit might have been a nice little bit of money, but in the insular world of indie rock it also brought mainstream fans who might not have passed the "coolness" quotient. Don't be confused, Barlow seems to be saying to the indie-rock geeks, "I'm not a sellout."
Despite his protest, the duo's latest record isn't that far removed from the drum-machine-spiked rhythm and plaintive melody of "Natural One." Barlow honed his songwriting skills as co-leader of indie rock legends Sebadoh and as a founding member of Dinosaur Jr., but with Davis there isn't any punk rock noise to hide behind, literally or metaphorically. Instead, the hip-hopish beats are skeletal and the guitars are restrained, giving Barlow plenty of room for his low-key manner of singing. And like his work with Sebadoh, his lyrics are self-confessional, almost like diary entries. On "Free to Go," a song about being left behind, he reminisces about a painful childhood, complete with the vivid portrait of a family vacation. He sings: "Trapped in the backseat, stay on your side / With my hand out the window feeling the wind rush by, while my parents fight." The tin percussion, acoustic guitars, tambourine and snaking keyboards add sugar to the song but can't hide the pain. It's beauty in tragedy.
Folk Implosion's straightforwardness works the majority of the time, but the album suffers from songs at the same tempo and in the same key. The drawback of the band's aesthetic is that simple instrumentation and plainly written songs need more passion and variation, something to keep it fresh after seven or so similar tunes. (David Simutis)
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