Sebadoh: Defend Yourself – album review
Sebadoh – Defend Yourself (Domino)
CD / DL / LP
Sebadoh are back! The hearts of a million ‘Indie’ fan boys are aflutter in anticipation of their favourite maudlin singer / songwriter, Lou Barlow and his East coast ‘Lo-Fi’ legends releasing new material. But is it any good? Check out what we think below.
Not that they have been away for very long – The Classic” lineup of Barlow, Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein went on tour together, back in 2007 for the first time in fourteen years in support of their re-issuing of their classic albums, ‘Sebadoh III’, ‘The Freed Man’ & ‘Bubble & Scrape’. After the many tours in support of further re-issues, Gaffney was replaced by Bob D’Amico in 2011, and it is this line-up that brings us this new album, ‘Defend Yourself’.
Last year, we were treated to a teaser in the form of the superb, ‘Secret EP’ which boasts all new tracks not even on this album. You can pick up a physical copy at their gigs or download it virtually from their record label, Joyful Noise Recordings. So, is the album any good I hear you cry? Is it as good as their most accessible and catchy 1994 release, ‘Bakesale’? Is it as solidly consistent as 1996’s, ‘Harmacy’? Or does it dive bomb like their, ‘critically panned’ last full-length, ‘The Sebadoh’? Well, you will be glad to hear that, like the ‘Secret EP’ confirmed, Sebadoh are back on form and firing on all cylinders – And by ‘firing on all cylinders’, I mean they have more woes to exclaim, more break-ups to dissect and even more beautifully crafted anti-prothalamiums that eloquently describe their inner life and emotional turmoil.
The recent breakdown of Lou’s marriage is the subject matter of opening track, ‘I Will’. This surprisingly upbeat tune is as disarming as it is poppy. All the lyrical hallmarks of ‘Loss’ and ‘Change’ so typical of Lou’s songs come brimming to the surface as he lays bare his torturing questions to our open ears. The intimate nature of his lyrics is definitely what most find appealing about his songs. Its strength lies in its obviously displaced perspective (that of his ex-wife) and his desire to understand both sides of the situation he finds himself in. Each note slices and cuts through the melody as if tormented by the opening of such fresh wounds.
Throughout Sebadoh’s twenty five years plus existence, one of the aspects that have kept their albums fresh and interesting is their multiple songwriters. Bassist, Jason Lowenstein’s scrappy energetic songs on earlier albums, ‘Sixteen’ and ‘Mind Reader’ are equal to his band mate’s more philosophical laments and, ‘Beat’ proves he’s still not one to be underestimated. It’s fuzzy, distorted instruments and reverb’d vocals create an impressively catchy hook that stays in your head for some time after. Alongside ‘Defend Yr Self’ which comes on like Sonic Youth with a hint of Rivals Schools’ emotional melody, Jason’s songwriting has lost none of its inventiveness and sheer exuberant dance-ability.
The REM sounding, ‘Oxygen’ is as pop as this album gets, matching the last track for ‘dance-ability’ with its blatant indie-punk beat and sing-a-long chorus. Lou’s self-conscious lyrics sit perfectly in the ‘rattle ‘n’ roll’ of Bob D’Amico’s drumming and Jason’s heavily distorted bass line. After these high points it seem as if the album becomes rather formulaic and predictable, but this doesn’t stop it being a very listenable album as a whole. What it does lack is the unpredictable influence of original band member and drummer, Eric Gafney had on a lot of their earlier albums creating a far more gratifying myriad of styles and ideas. Lou and Jason’s style has become far closer over the years compared to what Eric used to inject in the form of his crazy, noisy and sometimes psychotic songs such as, ‘Fantastic Disaster’. If you’re interested in what Eric got up to after leaving Sebadoh, check out this article
So, for me this album wins on so many levels. Predictable? Yes, but the songwriting and melodies is so truthful and beautiful. Honesty and earnestness are positive qualities in my book and with Sebadoh, you get them in spades. Other stand out tracks include the lilting, ‘Final Days’ and the acoustic beat of, ‘Let It Out’ confirming the place in our hearts for this special band. They will be touring this album in the UK new month, so I recommend you book your tickets as I guarantee you will cry with joy within the sweaty mosh pit of their sound.
Sebadoh have two UK shows lined up, Manchester (October 15th) and London (October 16th).
All words by Philip Allen. More work by Philip can be found in his Louder Than War archive.