Sebadoh: Secret EP

Sebadoh,  lou barlow, Secret EPSebadoh: Secret EP
At any stage of their career, with any of their various line-ups, the strength-and defining quality of Sebadoh has always been their willingness to follow their muses. From the beginning, Sebadoh refused to be quantified, qualified, or otherwise categorized. It was an approach that, to a large degree, worked to the band’s detriment in an era when success depended on how neatly an act could be slotted in a given section of the record store. Yes, Sebadoh were true contemporaries of R.E.M., Sonic Youth, and Nirvana, but only in spirit, really. Barlow’s approach to recording was both distinctive and deeply personal. As much as it was meant to be cathartic, it was also meant to help pass the time. That it had the quality of being able to be enjoyed by listeners outside Barlow’s bedroom walls always felt more like a happy accident than anything else. In their Homestead Records days, on self-recorded lo-fi classics like the Freed Man and Weed Forestin’, band creator Lou Barlow pioneered the sensitive, soul-baring confessional that would later be polished, packaged, and popularized by artists like Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie. Songs like “Spoiled”, “Jealous of Jesus”, and “Brand New Love”, though visionary in their own right, were made more immersive when they were released on the same albums as Barlow’s experimentation-extended tracts of tape manipulation, loops, and samples. These sonic forays ran the gamut from jokey and playful to downright menacing. Housing the silly and weird in such close quarters to the serious and heartfelt, then recording all of it on such raw, warts and all, bedroom tech yielded a frighteningly honest result.
Streaming for free at their bandcamp site, where listeners can also pay five dollars for the download, the Secret EP represents Sebadoh’s first recorded material in fourteen years. The five songs on offer are a teaser for Sebadoh’s upcoming LP, though they are exclusive to the EP. Proceeds from sales of the EP will help the band continue recording the album. Stylistically, they pick up where they left off in their SubPop days of the Harmacy album, when they sought radio play with songs like “Ocean” and “On Fire”. While Sebadoh’s output from this era was not as popular with fans who preferred their lo-fi stuff, or even with the band, who still see the output from this period as an embarrassing reminder of when they courted fame in Alternative boom times, it makes sense that they would choose this as a jumping on point. Although it was a move that didn’t pay off, it signaled Sebadoh’s ambitiousness back then and it signals a desire for continuity now.
As ever, vocal duties are split between Lou Barlow and Jake Loewenstein, with Barlow taking the majority, hinting at the Sebadoh dynamic of yore. The EP hits full stride on “Arbitrary High”, the middle track, where Barlow returns to the cutting, self-reflecting, self-effacing form for which he is known. Were it not for the cynical lilt in his vocal delivery, might be described as uplifting and even anthemic. On the whole, Secret finds Sebadoh taking stock of their sonic inventory, making sure their skill sets are still intact, testing their hinges, and kicking their tires. Everything still works.Rating: 7.6/10
MP3: Sebadoh “Keep the Boy Alive”
Buy: Bandcamp