The Student Playlist

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REVIEW: Sebadoh – ‘Act Surprised’ (Fire Records)


In a sentence:

Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein sound like they’re having terrific fun on the latest Sebadoh album ‘Act Surprised’.

Ever since he established it as a side-project off-shoot of Dinosaur Jr. in the late Eighties, it’s been difficult for Lou Barlow to place Sebadoh as something more than just a footnote to one of the independent scene’s most formative bands, as a great band in their own right. This is largely because Barlow has struggled to access a wider audience than the one he already had with J. Mascis. It’s a real shame, because their finest albums, such as 1993’s Bubble And Scrape and 1994’s Bakesale, deserve to be discussed in the same breath as the Dinos’ You’re Living All Over Me. Having reformed in 2013 after more than a decade of inactivity, the latest Sebadoh album Act Surprised is a more confident beast than the somewhat timid comeback that was Defend Yourself six years ago, and hopefully it’ll provide the impetus for a bit of revisionism on Sebadoh’s place in the annals of American indie.

Everything that a returning, established fan would expect from a Sebadoh record is in place – lo-fi, scuzzy production, splashy cymbals, thwacking drums and Barlow’s baritone drawl. Right from the grungey power-pop wig-out of opener ‘Phantom’ to the sparse closer ‘Reykjavik’, the trio perform plenty of variations on their template, from the forcefulness of ‘Stunned’ to the softer, mellow ‘Fool’ and the straightforward rocker ‘Vacation’. ‘Celebrate The Void’, in particular, is a highlight, starting off at an introverted, navel-gazing pace before accelerating halfway through into a punky, post-hardcore pogo in the manner of Cloud Nothings. Barlow is in typically self-berating lyrical mood, bemoaning “medicate, I hate my brain / I cover up the pain it creates” on ‘Medicate’. ‘Belief’ sees him look around and sigh in exasperation at political populism (“it’s your right to take your rights away”).

Music video for ‘Raging River’

On a small handful of occasions, Act Surprised threatens to descend into a paint-by-numbers exercise – the three-track run from ‘Sunshine’ to ‘Battery’ is a bit samey – but Lou Barlow, his trusty lieutenant Jason Loewenstein and new drummer Bob D’Amico carry the day with a mixture of hardened experience and a sense they’re having great fun. For those unfamiliar with Sebadoh, Act Surprised represents a great place to dive in to their beloved catalogue – for the hard-bitten, it’s a satisfying return to something like their finest work. (7/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to Act Surprised by Sebadoh here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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