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Sebadoh - The Freed Man

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 7 / 7 / 2007

Sebadoh - The Freed Man
Label: Domino Records
Format: CD


Rambling and ragged, but stimulating re-release with extra tracks of spearheads of the lo-fi movement Sebadoh's mid 1990's album, 'The Freed Man'

As the full line-up of Dinosaur Jr., including Sebadoh lynchpin Lou Barlow, strides bravely back into the limelight Domino Records have decided to squeeze one more drop of blood from the stone and re-release Sebadoh’s ‘The Freed Man’. The album, if it can be called an album, is a collection of snippets recorded by Barlow during the late 1980's, taken and formed into one fitful, undulating whole. Eclectic scraps of intimate folk sit alongside disembodied announcements from television and radio and are combined with childhood recordings to create one hazy mess. There are also sporadic bursts of noise, slabs of drone and varied concoctions gleamed from every imaginable source. The results are interesting if not overwhelming, providing an insight into Barlow’s development as an artist, tracing his earliest experiments with a four-track recorder, through to his brief exposure as the head of the lo-fi movement which peaked in the mid 1990's. In some respects this ragged collage is stimulating, forcing the listener to constantly reassess what they are hearing and make a judgment upon it, never sure what will happen from one second to the next. But, equally, none of the ideas are allowed to resonate, nothing sticks in the mind as assorted scrap book pages flit past with little of no impact. Over the album's 52 tracks, some of which are under a minute long, Barlow attempts to convey a rainbow of human emotion, here mournful, there filled with lust, all over playful and exuberant, but none of these moods are explored and consequently track after track comes and goes with the minimum of fuss. One theme that does standout, however, is childhood which dominates the mood of the record. There are several tracks of children playing instruments with youthful abandon and there is an air of naive experimentation where literally anything goes. This brings the youthful Barlow into sharper focus and again explores his development as a performer. There is an innate lack of ambition here. Not in any negative or derogatory sense, but in the presentation of the work. 'The Freed Man' is a personal exploration, flitting from theme to theme and romance to romance in seconds, providing an intimate portrait of an artist. No attempt is made to add significance or weight to the recordings, presented as they are in their natural form. There is little or no structure to the raw ideas that make up the album, nothing is filtered out or enhanced in the studio, and the creative process is presented in its most undiluted sense. This is at once liberating and infuriating. Exciting segments of promising tracks are weighed down by as much filler noise, samples that really don’t stand up to the expose they receive. Perhaps this loose feel would be more rewarding if the assembled segments were of more intrinsic worth, but Barlow appears to have exercised little of no quality control when assembling the piece. Samples of pet cats sit awkwardly next to Beatles covers and nearly complete ballads are thrown in with one line jokes and childhood memories. If Lou Barlow had not carved a successful career in Dinosaur Jr. these rough outtakes would never have seen the light of day, much less be re-released over a decade later. Their worth is in completing the picture of Barlow, a member of one of the most successful American grunge bands, and as a curio to those interested in the development of lo-fi recording. The work, however, when enjoyed as a whole does show many sides of Barlow’s writing, its versatility and ability convey complex ideas in a few simple strums of the acoustic guitar. 'The Freed Man' has also exercised some influence over future generations. Jeffrey Lewis for one evidently found a pre-packaged style here and found fame by mixing it with his own rambling, witting anecdotes, and whilst Barlow’s reputation will never rest upon this mental pemmican of his future ideas, it does provide a glimpse at an artist in development.

Track Listing:-
1 Healthy Sick
2 Level Anything
3 Soulmate
4 Ladybugs
5 Close Enough
6 True Hardcore
7 Julienne
8 Wrists
9 Amherst Hanging House
10 McKinley's Lament
11 Solid Brown
12 Narrow Stories
13 Bridge Was You
14 Drifts on Thru
15 Overturns
16 Yellow Submarine
17 Squirrel Freedom Overdrive
18 Little Man
19 Land Of The Lords
20 Bolder
21 Believe
22 Deny
23 Wall Of Doubt
24 Crumbs
25 I Love Me
26 K-Sensa-My
27 Lou Rap
28 Punch In The Nose
29 Resistance to Flo
30 Stop The Wheel
31 Loose n Screw
32 Oak Street Raga
33 Last Day of School
34 Jealous Evil
35 Moldy Bread
36 Made Real
37 Cindy
38 Nest
39 My Decision
40 Fire Of July
41 Jaundice
42 Design
43 Dance
44 Cyster
45 Powerbroker
46 The Lorax
47 Pig
48 Hung Up
49 Slow To Learn
50 Elements + 2 Others

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