Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sebadoh: "Defend Yourself" (album review)

It's hard to believe that it's been fourteen years since Sebadoh last released an album.  That comes to an end as Lou Barlow, recently busy with Dinosaur Jr, has reunited the group to release Defend Yourself on September 17th.

The band's output has always been inconsistent.  At one moment it's an absolutely brilliant breath of fresh air, in the next it's a painfully slow, sludgy mess.  Sometimes it happens over the course of an album, sometimes it happens over the course of a song.

Defend Yourself does nothing to change this.  Punching in at fifteen tracks, it proves that Barlow could sure do with an editor.

There are some rock-solid cuts on the album.  The title track provides a fiery guitar storm, igniting a cacophony that's repeated on "Inquiries".  "Oxygen" is a tremendous example of Sebadoh's bouncy side.

A few promising new tricks get snuffed out before they reach their full potential.  An arty Sonic Youth-ish guitar bit opens the instrumental "Once", only to fall into the deep Sebadoh arrangement rut.  The band throw a wet blanket of a slow arrangement on a gloriously sloppy heavy bottom end on "Love You Here", dousing it's burn.  A cool, choppy guitar riff on "Beat" gets bogged down by the rest of the arrangement.

One song steps outside of what we commonly expect from Sebadoh and delivers on it's promise.  The gruff break-up song "Can't Depend" sounds like a fuzzier version of Drive-By Truckers, and is a standout because of it.

The album opener "I Will" is too polished an indie rock number.  The same can be said for "Separate", which sounds like a far too controlled and managed rock.  "No Wound" comes eerily close to late-era Meat Puppets.

The quieter, more introspective side of Barlow comes out on "Let It Out".  Compared to the balance of the record, it's jarringly minimalist.  It's followed by the dark and dreary (and dull) "Listen".

The urge to release a lot of material after such a long absence must be hard to resist.  However, Barlow and company (and fans) would've been far better served with a 10-song album that was strong from beginning-to-end instead of this.

Sebadoh play the Horseshoe in Toronto on November 8th.

Best tracks: "Defend Yr Self", "Can't Depend"

Track listing for Defend Yourself:
  • I Will
  • Love You Here
  • Beat
  • Defend Yr Self
  • Oxygen
  • Once
  • Inquiries
  • State of Mine
  • Final Days
  • Can't Depend
  • Let It Out
  • Listen
  • Separate
  • Imminent Emergency
  • No Wound

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