When I try to explain to people why I like the band Sebadoh, led by Dinosaur Jr. singer songwriter guitarist bassist Lou Barlow, I sometimes get a little overly scientific in my enthusiastic descriptions. In my last review of their previous album from five years ago I came up with what I thought was an interesting way of summating what they're about which I'll share with you again in a moment... At least I think its interesting.
But for now I'll just say that Sebadoh simultaneously hits all the trigger points that make for great rock 'n' roll, great pop, great art music and most importantly great fun!
So when listening to Sebadoh expect to hear guitars, bass and drum in equal balance, pretty much in your face most of the time. Everything in this group sounds warm and rich while still rocking -- as Duke Ellington might say -- madly. Here you get progressive-leaning indie rock that is almost demo-worthy, frankly. You can turn the stuff up real loud and it will rock your world. And this is music that was in all likelihood recorded at least partly in the digital domain.
Before I forget, here is that description from my prior review:
"... a music that in one breath blends often-heartbreaking melodies with borderline dissonant guitar and bass sounds and the propulsive spirit of the best of indie rock bands. This music at once channels the joyous free-fall spirit of abandon one might hear on a peak period recording by Captain Beefheart while offering up a sense of tunefulness this side of Summerteeth-era Wilco."
These guys know how to write real good songs and even though they're often working in unconventional tunings and song structures, they never forget the power of a good hook and a good melody. It all adds up to a sound that is unique to Sebadoh.
Like prior Sebadoh records, Act Surprised has its share of earworms and not quite surprisingly some of the catchiest songs are front-loaded including: "Phantom," "Celebrate the Void" and "Medicate." True to form, the album is split with songs by both Barlow and original member and co-founder, Jason Loewenstein who has written and sung lead vocals on his share of great tunes.This album has great songs start to finish.
Just try to not bob your head and dance around to the pulse of "Leap Year."
But then just when you think you've had things figured out, Sebadoh breaks out a song like "Fool" which somehow echoes Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" - - a song from the 1800s. Whether this reference was conscious or I am just reading too much into this, I don't know. But, whenever I hear this song I can't help that automatically map it over Foster's song even though it sounds nothing particularly like it, there are similar underlying chord changes and enough of that front-porch swing lilt. This kind of "connect the dots" moment happens frequently for me. I guess its the curse of being deep into music and knowing too many songs...
Anyhow, the bright peach orange colored vinyl pressing of Act Surprised is -- happily, surprisingly -- well centered and quiet (until the final run out groove and then it gets a little noisy for some reason). The 320 kbps / 48 kHz MP3 download that is included sounds fine for car and other mobile device listening.
Anyhow, in case you haven't figured out yet, I'm excited that there is a new Sebadoh album out and that its as good as their last one (Defend Yourself, which I reviewed here) and right up there with many of their classics from the 90s.
They are on tour. You should go see them. Sebadoh is the real rock 'n roll deal.