Saturday, September 21, 2013

REVIEW: Sebadoh - Defend Yourself

Sebadoh, a favorite from the "first wave" (or was it "first and a half"?) of DIY indie rock, is back. Of course, some of those guys never quit (joyfully, Robert Pollard), some have re-emerged (equally joyfully, Dinosaur Jr.). But nonetheless, I want to welcome back Lou Barlow, Jason Loewenstein, and Bob D'Amico as they drop a whole new album, Defend Yourself. Although, according to Barlow, we need not have worried...“We were always going to make another record. There was never any point where we looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it. We’re done.’ We never actually quit at all-- we’ve been making music this whole time.”

Given that a lot of their subject matter (the trials and travails of becoming an adult, adult relationships, etc.) and their approach were pretty heavy, a break wasn't the worst idea. And their various solo albums and collaborative projects all features some great moments: Barlow, Loewenstein, and D’Amico worked with disparate projects in the meantime: Dinosaur Jr., Fiery Furnaces, Folk Implosion, among others. But their hasn't been a proper Sebadoh project since 1999. Quite simply, it's a return to form - the album fits quite well into their catalog - if you remember Bakesale and Harmacy fondly, chances are you'll be glad to pick this one up. Also, according to Barlow, this album features a return to the DIY way of recording - enhanced by the availability of good recording technology one would have had to have major label money to access when Sebadoh last recorded. Barlow, again: “We did ‘Defend Yourself’ the only way it could have been done: on the cheap and all by ourselves."

Here's "I Will" - a perfect combination of a wistful Barlow vocal, low-key intro and then an explosion of drums, bass and particularly guitar:

That one's got some really nice piano in the background, but the focus is the juxtaposition between the vocal and the ragged guitar lines - the well-known tension/release that all good indie rock is built on. The guitars are melodic and wonderful.

I always found a lot of Sebadoh's music (and that of side project Folk Implosion) to be particularly wistful - a combination of Barlow's vocal and something about the guitar tones. This album is certainly along those lines, and nowhere is this better represented than on "Let It Out", an acoustic/vocal-dominated track where Barlow strips off the still-healing scabs of wounds attributable to the recent dissolution of his 25-year marriage:

The subject matter is heartbreaking, but the music offers to do what good rock music always has done - deliver a bit of diversion, catharsis if possible, and some joy. Here's "State of Mine" - a particularly joyous return to form, off to the races from the beginning:

The album's out now (released Sept. 17) on Joyful Noise Recordings. Sebadoh's back! That's something to celebrate.

Sebadoh website
Joyful Noise Recordings

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I saw the reunited Dino Jr. play last December and was impressed with J Mascis' guitar playing. The band was tighter than I expected.
I haven't seen Sebadoh play live in 19 years. I have tickets for their Nov. 1 show in NYC and will report back.