Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 11: Folk Implosion, "Natural One"

Artist: Folk Implosion
Song: "Natural One"
Album: KIDS Soundtrack/Natural One (single)
Year: 1995

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There was a time when the term "indie rock" still meant "independent rock" and did not represent as specific a sound and image as it does in current times. Simply put, until the late 1990's, "indie rock" was a catch-all term that referred to any rock-based sound that was not similar to the mainstream, and it was in this wide-ranging genre that some of the most innovative and amazing sounds were found. Constantly pushing the limits on "what" rock music could sound like, bands like Pavement, Beck, and even Smashing Pumpkins managed to turn this seemingly unrelated group of bands (within the indie genre) into what is now largely referred to as "alternative rock." Among these fantastic, creative bands, there was a man who was a part of a handful of the finest acts of this genre, and he remains one of the most highly respected musicians of his generation to this day: Lou Barlow. Perhaps best known for his work in bands like Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh, Barlow constantly innovated new sounds and approaches to the rock style, yet it is work with another of his projects that yielded an absolute classic. The band in question, Folk Implosion, was a side project of Barlow's during his time with Sebadoh, and the band found themselves with a surprise hit single on their hands in the form of their 1995 artistic masterpiece, "Natural One."

The song found its way into the public consciousness due to being placed in the highly controversial 1995 film, Kids. Truth be told, an overwhelming majority of the soundtrack was done by Folk Implosion, yet "Natural One" stood far above the rest of the songs. The film, which caused a great stir due to the lot revolving around a group of teenagers and their sexual activities (including a number of rape scenes), as well as the fact that one of them was HIV positive, became one of the most talked about films of the decade, and its enabled far more people to be exposed to "Natural One" than was initially expected. Due to this, as well as the absolutely amazing sound of the song, "Natural One" shot up the charts, cracking the top five on the "Modern Rock" tracks, as well as making waves on the larger "Hot 100" charts. The song itself is easily one of the "coolest" sounding songs of the decade, as Barlow's soft, meandering, yet somehow menacing bassline is by far one of the finest ever composed. The other half of the band, lo-fi mastermind John Davis, is equally brilliant, and the chemistry between the duo is immediately clear to any listener. The drumming on the track almost sounds programmed, as it is the backbeat that truly drives the song, and it also furthers the mechanical, almost industrial feel on which the song borders. Creating a dark, moody sound whilst fusing together rock, blues, funk, and even a bit of a disco tinge, "Natural One" is truly like nothing else ever recorded.

Along with the wonderfully unique musical composition, "Natural One" also features one of the most distinctive, and truly perfect vocal tracks in music history. Lou Barlow gives an emotionally unwavering, almost deadpan performance on the track, and taken as a whole, it is nothing short of a perfect fit for the music over which he is singing. Calmly navigating the lyrics with his soft, yet strong voice, Barlow furthers the amazing mood of the song, and it also gives insight into where some of the finer moments of early Dinosaur Jr were generated. The lyrics are similarly mechanical to the music in their delivery, and also much like the music, they are wonderfully simple, yet amazingly catchy. The lyrics also seem to reflect the movie, which is no surprise, as "Natural One" was written specifically for the film, yet the lyrics are far more subtle than the content of the film. With classic lines like, "...when momma's not around, there's no telling what we'll do when we're free..." Barlow perfectly captures not only the essence of the film, but the thought process of countless teenagers. Yet at the same time, it is lines like this that reflect the mood of the song, as one can easily see the buried, somewhat evil nature of the words, and this perfect consistency from the music to the lyrics to the vocal delivery is a feat that is rarely achieved, and clearly one of the key reasons why "Natural One" remains such a uniquely fantastic recording.

Truth be told, the sound achieved on Folk Implosion's surprise hit, "Natural One," is nothing lie either Lou Barlow or John Davis had previously done with any of their many musical projects. Furthermore, it is a sound they themselves, and no other band for that matter, would ever again find, as the subtle, unsuspecting nature of the song remains a truly special musical recording. Proving that, though rarely achieved, one can make the music, words, and vocals on a song line up perfectly, all reflecting the same tone and mood, without the song becoming cliché or over the top, "Natural One" stands in very exclusive company when it comes to the overall musical achievement. This feat is even more impressive when one considers that Folk Implosion was very much an experimental side project for at least two of the three members of the band, and it is perhaps this freedom of "no expectations" that allowed the group to create such a masterpiece. Though he has been a part of a number of massively influential bands over the decades, one cannot deny the importance of Lou Barlow's work with Folk Implosion, as it played a pivotal role in the development of music, redefining the idea of "indie" and "alternative" rock. The similarly fantastic musicianship of John Davis, as well as the amazing production that he achieves here remains his finest musical moment, and all of the work this duo did is well worth experiencing. Remaining one of the most unique songs ever recorded, Folk Implosion completely changed the musical landscape with their extraordinarily lo-fi indie-rock masterpiece, 1995's "Natural One."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I randomly found this review while I was looking for a little background information on the song...
All I can say is your critique is spot on. In fact, you verbalized a feeling about the song that I have never been able to put into words. Natural One is definitely the creative centerpiece of the soundtrack. Thank you for the post. I can't wait to read what else you have blogged.