US - Massachusetts - Full Moon 209 - 09/19/13
Joyful Noise / Domino
Tagged as the quintessential indie lo-fi band of the 90s (you might add Pavement and Guided by Voices as well), a position they gained when Sebadoh rose to
indie/alternative rock skies ("Gimme Indie Rock" being their 1991 single) after chief Lou Barlow's "departure" (tension led a moody Mascis to fire Barlow) from Dinosaur
Jr in 1989. Barlow was re-united with Dinosaur Jr when they reformed in 2005 for a phase 2 (releasing three more albums) with the original line-up of J Mascis, Barlow,
and Murph. Anyway, this summer saw the release of Secret EP (Joyful Noise/Domino, holding 5 non-album tracks), which meant Sebadoh had returned from a long sleep.
Sebadoh was formed as far back as in 1986, by Barlow and Eric Gaffney, later to be joined by drummer, guitar player, etc. (well, multi-instrumentalist) Jason Loewenstein,
who became a mainstay, and a creative song-writing force along with Barlow. Gaffney (who put out a solo album, Uncharted Waters in
2006) left Sebadoh after Bubble & Scrap (Sub Pop 1993) to be replaced by Bob Fay, who sat in on 1994's Bakesale and 1996's Harmacy (both on Sub Pop).
When Fay was fired in 1999, he was replaced by Russell Pollard, who's also a member of Barlow's side-project, later to be more of a full-time project The Folk Implosion
leaving Sebadoh on hold. Until now, when Barlow, Lowenstein, and drummer Bob D'Amico rides again.
Defend Yourself is the band's 9th album, 14 (!) years after their last album The Sebadoh (1999). They've been a very
productive band over the years; their first two albums, The Freed Man (Homestead 1989) and Weed Forestin' (Homestead 1990) - compiled on The Freed Weed
(Homestead 1990) - held more than 50 tracks altogether! III (Homestead 1991) also had more than 20 tracks on it. During their Sub Pop years (1992's Smash Your
Head On The Punk Rock; 1993's Bubble & Scrape; 1994's Bakesale; 1996's Harmacy; 1999's The Sebadoh) the albums presented a more 'normal'
number of songs. Then there's a long line of singles, as well as numerous recordings released by Barlow under the Sentridoh moniker. Phew.
The indeed poppy, happy-sad, and highly addictive "I Will" opens Defend Yourself. Even though most songs were written dealing with Barlow's heartache/heartbreak divorce
after a long, long marriage, it's a charming and catchy return, especially the opening "I Will" (which is up there with classy Sebadoh songs like "Skull", "Soul And
Fire", "Dreams", "Brand New Love", "Flame", plus others), which proves Barlow's (and Lowenstein's) talent as a songwriter. The rest of the album presents a varied collection
of songs, both from the pop end of the scale, to the more trademark Sebadoh expression and sound; self-recorded DIY punked rock. I resemble a relationship to Bob Mould's
song writing (check "Beat", "Final Days", "Oxygen"). You could even imagine Mould mixed with Matthew Sweet ("I Will", "Can't Depend", "Love You Here"), with a dash of Mike Watt
(and his Minutemen/firehose) (check ). "Defend yr Self" is a smashing, kicking, hairy piece of indie rawk. Heavier than Sebadoh usually sound like, but... it's mind-blowing, or
blowing your hair backwards, sideways, everywhere. The instrumental "Once" gives us a time to breath, before the frantic "Inquiries" punch in, as a more exhausting moment
on the album. It's quite a relief then when "State of Mine" follows next, being a pop-rock piece of the joyful kind, and a song with positive energy in it. Along with
"I Will", the tender and quiet "Let It Out" is an absolute favourite. This is also the album's most naked and direct song about the end of a relationship. And... to
really underline the tone of the album: "Let It Out" is followed by "Listen", which is another great song, and "Separate". The latter being more of an 'aggressive'
pop song. These three make sense as a 'song cycle' and is closing the album in a most excellent way. Too bad love falls a part, but this is what makes great pop songs.
According to npr.org Barlow's music through Sebadoh has been (still is) "...a mix of caustic energy and heartsick earnestness.
Defend Yourself is a thrilling and enthusiastic album, and proves a vital band. We can only say 'Welcome back'! Let's hope it won't be 14 years till next
time. I guess not, as Barlow has stated: "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."
Copyright © 2013 Håvard Oppøyen