Album Review: Sebadoh – Secret EP

[Self-released; 2012]

It has been nearly 14 years since Sebadoh released studio material. Let that sink in. What was once a wildly prolific outlet for Lou Barlow’s creativity during a period when his contributions to Dinosaur Jr. went under-appreciated (to put it mildly), has been out of commission for five years longer than it’s initial studio run. It certainly doesn’t feel like it. Barlow has been Folk Imploding, releasing solo records under his own name, and, yes, working again with J. Mascis in the reunited original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. Jason Lowenstein took his turn in The Fiery Furnaces, engineered a handful of records, and tended to his pet pig. Original drummer Eric Gaffney has long floated off into space, releasing records under the name Jesus Christ. Safe to say, the whole cast of players has remained exceedingly busy. Though Barlow has cataloged most of the recording process on twitter and noted that a new EP would be coming just over a week ago, it was nonetheless a massive surprise to see Secret furtively released to Bandcamp a few short days later.

With the wild success that has been this Dinosaur Jr. revival, it really shouldn’t be any surprise that Sebadoh seems poised to enjoy a similar rebirth. After looking sharp over the last several years on tour in support the recent reissue of Bakesale, Barlow and Lowenstein — who remain the two-headed driving force behind the Sebadoh name — have taken a massive step toward returning Sebadoh to the relative prominence it once shared in.

While it might be tempting to say that Barlow and Lowenstein have picked up right where they left off with Secret, this release seems to hearken back even further than 1999’s self-titled release. It recalls, with the fidelity of that record, the heart-wrenching lovesickness of Barlow’s contributions to their landmark Bubble and Scrape and the muscular stomp of Lowenstein’s tracks on Bakesale. “My Drugs,” Lowenstein’s first track on the new release, is the pure bile of “Careful” fleshed out with production more befitting the typically angular riffs. “Arbitrary High” similarly approximates early Barlow standouts like “Two Weeks Two Days” and “Rebound,” with a similarly updated production take.

It’s no surprise that the band toured so hard these last few years. Secret if anything sounds the perfect approximation of their live show–two outstanding songwriters taking turns blowing through the standouts of their career, but with panache and energy that belies the fact that these songwriters are quickly approaching middle age. “I Don’t Mind” really functions as the only obvious outlier. Though Barlow seems to have satisfied any synth-rock inclinations hinted at in the last Sebadoh release in his work with Folk Implosion, with “I Don’t Mind,” Lowenstein takes a hard left turn into alt-country territory that has to date remained uncharted territory for the venerable rock band. With acoustic guitar in tow and an obvious penchant for the slide guitar work that marked the earliest of Wilco releases, Lowenstein buries his head and leads the band through a nearly four-minute turn of entirely unexpected songwriting brilliance. It’s a decidedly dad-rock maneuver, but one that, in the scheme of the Sebadoh pantheon, represents an interesting new direction for a band that has quite successfully mined the same sort of broad, bashing indie rock for the vast majority of their career.

Secret is only five songs. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine this as a trumpets blaring, guns blazing return for a legendary act that’s been gone for far too long. But if nothing else it functions as quite intriguing foreshadowing for such a resurrection that is inevitably just beyond the horizon. A Sebadoh full length doesn’t appear to too far off, and if nothing else, Secret will have you champing at the bit until then.