The musical output from recently reformed bands can seem to go one of two ways, it either shows a group revitalized, regaining the inspiration and energy that originally held them together, or it can serve to highlight why the split in the first place as they re-hashing past efforts. Thankfully, the first Sebadoh album in fourteen years, Defend Yourself, is the former. After Dinosaur Jr. reunion back in 2006, Lou Barlow and company have decided to give Sebadoh another go and seem to pick things up where they left off. The group had a knack for bringing together riffs that veered between melodic and dissonant, often within the same song. With lyrics that mixed the cryptic with a relatable earnestness that often put them closer to emo bands like Fugazi, rather than their peers like Guided by Voices and Pavement.
Nowadays, where anyone can make a decent recording with little investment, lo-fi is more of an aesthetic choice rather than a budget related necessity and Defend Yourself, despite being self-recorded by the group, eschews much of that low quality sound. What they have retain is that inconsistency that gave the band a certain charm, songs would switch between the noisey and abrasive to downbeat and heartbreakingly direct that often managed to catch you off guard.
I Will starts the album off with a with a deceptively folk-leaning intro as Lou claims 'Things have changed' before the electric guitars burst through reassuring listeners that, at least musically, this is the same Sebadoh as always. With tracks like Beat and Once revelling in murky grunge distortion, you could be forgiven for thinking your still in the 1990s. Elsewhere the band allow for some clean power pop moments on State of Mind and Inquiries is a welcome change to the preceding, letting the their weird, off-kilter tendencies shine through with it's strange country riffs.
Love You Here has the kind of heart on sleeve lyrics that have made the band so endearing, managing to be miserable without descending into complete self-pity. If anything has changed, it's Lou's voice. Maybe it has matured a little, often sounding like Michael Stype and in fact, the up-tempo number Oxygen sounds quite a lot like an R.E.M song. Let It Out is a highlight, with the group at their most direct and without the lo-fi distraction the emotive lyrics and considered melodies ring out even louder. There a few tracks that fall short, lacking the energy or engaging lyrics that the best material here has. Can't Depend slumps along with the hooks never taking hold and the aforementioned Oxygen sounds almost too clean cut for the group.
Sebadoh may well be defending themselves with this new release, proving they still have something to offer, and they do. The album reminds you that they created a certain strand of indie rock all of their own, and while Defend Yourself may not capture quite the same magic as releases like Bakesale and Harmacy, it is still put together with the same DIY tenacity and makes a worthwhile addition to their discography.
Originally Posted on figure8magazine.co.uk