In 1998, Duncan Barlow’s name was synonymous with loud, metal informed music, be that from his tenure in seminal hardcore bands Endpoint or By the Grace of God, or for his excellent work in Guilt. In forming The Aasee Lake with longtime collaborator and drummer extraordinaire Jon Smith and bassist Dave Cook, Barlow subverted expectations, and delivered something so outstandingly different from his previous work that it seems almost unrecognizable. Quiet and morose, you can hear only faint reminders of “Bardstown Ugly Box” or “Further” here, if only in the occasional use of dissonant chords, which at that were only used to underscore the otherwise melodic interplay between instruments.
The opening track, “Annie Anchor,” is a fair example of what the band offers. For the most part, it stays light, breezy, and melodic to the extent that I would almost say that it’s “emo,” although that distinction kind of makes me want to barf a little in my mouth. Actually, full disclosure here, I did barf in my mouth a little just typing that, but the calming effect of The Aasee Lake scrubbed that terrible memory from my mind. Now to be fair, I would say that this is minimally influenced by emo, like perhaps a post-emo rock sound if you will, again a classification that makes part of me die just in typing it (I didn’t die though guys… this is just hyperbole.. jeez). I think they probably just snuck this in under my radar and beguiled me with clever melodies and dynamic drumming too much for me to really care what you would call it. At the 1:45 mark, the guitar does this dissonant thing, as if to remind the listener that sometimes life isn’t a nice afternoon spent talking about feelings and watching Downton Abbey. Sometimes there exists a giant, ugly guitar chord that reminds us that things can get heinous when we least expect it.”
The B-side to the seven-inch, “18 Hours of Static,” is considerably more melancholy, and though it remains light and melodic, it lacks the same lackadaisical qualities as “Annie Anchor.” Here, the trio shift a little further away from any kind of mainstream emo trope and touch a bit more on the contemplative indie music that I so gravitated too as a mopey twenty-year old that “got it” (I still don’t “get it,” trust me). Where “Annie Anchor” sought to produce some kind of narrative, a vehicle for the storytelling qualities of the vocals, “18 Hours of Static” sought to tell a story without words, and a pretty cloudy Sunday afternoon story, at that. It should also be noted that this track does not contain vocals, whereas the A-Side does. This track has no vocals, which is true of most of The Aasee Lake’s material. The majority of their oeuvre, which remains mostly unreleased, consists of meandering instrumental songs of the same tone and demeanor as this seven inch.
This was nothing new under the sun, but the Aasee Lake was an entirely accessible indie act in Louisville when few existed. This wasn’t the mythology building of The Shipping News or The For Carnation, two then-contemporary acts who built on and expanded the legacies of their previous acts. This was something new, if not in the world of music, at least to the people making it, and I believe that you could hear that in the music. Having just started playing music myself around the same time, this sincerity, or at least what I found to be sincerity, struck me as a critical component for any band. While this may have been naive to believe that sincerity can be graded as better or worse, it stuck with me, and I believe that you can still hear that same energy in their recorded body, the energy of a band that just wanted to try something different.
Listen to their entire recorded output (live or otherwise) courtesy of Duncan Barlow here.