Melancholia is a tricky thing. It can be stultifying -- or endearing in a bittersweet, quietly empathetic manner. Some folks do melancholy better than others: Frank Sinatra for one (what, you've never heard Sings for Only the Lonely?), Lou Barlow for another.
For the most part, this former member of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and Folk Implosion seems woebegone, weary, and beaten down -- "No one's gonna lift me out of this rut/The groove has gone, ground me to dust." What keeps Emoh (backwards, that's "home," where some of this was recorded) from becoming a self-absorbed downer of a strumfest is Barlow's cozily captivating melodies, not to mention tenderly enunciated singing (reminiscent of Nick Drake), touch of mocking humor, and imaginative arrangements.
He also diversifies. Abby Barlow's cello on "Puzzle" has the sonorous timbre of an organ, while "Confused" amasses gently clanging electric guitars. "If I Could" injects a slightly buoyant traditional Irish melody and rhythm, while the jaunty, cheeky "Mary" (Immaculate conception/Yeah, right!) is the Simon & Garfunkel hit that never was. Pick hit: "Caterpillar Girl," gently rocking à la Smiths and Trashcan Sinatras, underscored by a snaky, John Fogerty-in-New Orleans rhythm.