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Sebadoh - Act Surprised

  by Adrian P

published: 4 / 7 / 2019

Sebadoh - Act Surprised
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Driven by a devil-may-care zeal, this first Sebadoh for Fire Records after a long association with Domino Records, finds the threesome in a rejuvenated yet far looser place

It comes with some sadness that Sebadoh have ended their long affiliation with Domino Records, not least with long-overdue expanded reissues of 1996’s ‘Harmacy’ and 1999’s ‘The Sebadoh’ now less likely to appear after an initially rewarding archival campaign for their earlier late-‘80s/early-‘90s albums. Perhaps a label change was, however, somewhat of a profile-saving necessity after 2013’s reunion record ‘Defend Yourself’ passed many by. That said, with co-frontman Lou Barlow having devoted more of his energies within the also-reconstituted Dinosaur Jr., the second coming of Sebadoh was perhaps inevitably going to struggle for as much attention and affection. This belated extension to part two of the Sebadoh saga, on a new home at Fire Records, does though suggest that Barlow, together with co-leader Jason Loewenstein and latter-day drummer Rob D’Amico, still have some skin in their game that benefits from a semi-refreshed push via different music industry hands. Not shying away from playing-up to the scruffy three-indie-bloke-veterans-on-a-park-bench presentation of its front-sleeve, ‘Act Surprised’ packs a gnarly, hirsute and couldn’t-care-less punch that is infectious in its gusto even if it does miss the seminal melodicism of say ‘Bakesale’ and key parts of ‘Harmacy’. With Loewenstein’s penchant for juvenilia-laced thrashing dominating both his songs and many of Barlow’s, this certainly isn’t the most sophisticated Sebadoh LP by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, decent vintage college-rock hooks embed the ears in the likes of ‘Phantom’, ‘Celebrate the Void’, ‘Follow the Breath’ and ‘See-Saw’ with signature bobbing bass-lines and chugging uncoiling guitars. Whilst, it’s a shame that there are no yearning Barlow-baked ballads, he does throw in a few of the collection’s curveballs; with the snaky shapes of ‘Sunshine’, the harmony-coated refrains across the folk-rock jangling ‘Belief’ and the elliptical end-piece expansiveness of ‘Reykjavik’. Elsewhere, D’Amico gets to fill the old Eric Gaffney/Bob Fay/Russ Pollard oddball slot with his surprisingly enjoyable Black Sabbath-goes-krautrock-curio ‘Leap Year’. With fifteen songs swelling out the tracklist, some self-editing might have jettisoned a few of Loewenstein’s somewhat laboured Dave Grohl-on-a-budget heavy-rock sludgers (such as ‘Vacation’ and ‘Stunned’) to make for a tighter more finessed final affair. It’s evident though that Sebadoh are unambiguously past caring about making music that pleases others more than themselves, which is in itself somewhat admirable. Not one for newcomers in short then, but still-loyal fans will draw-out the pleasures concealed beneath the scuzzy exteriors

Track Listing:-
1 phantom
2 celebrate the void
3 follow the breath
4 medicate
5 see-saw
6 vacation
7 stunned
8 fool
9 raging river
10 sunshine
11 act surprised
12 battery
13 belief
14 leap year
15 Reykjavic

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