I’m being facetious but surely Lou Barlow has no call, ethically, maybe even morally, to demand that people leave his divorce out of any discussions regarding the release of this last Sebadoh record. After all, the man has made a career telegraphing his romantic entanglements and its attendant successes and failures in song.
If you took into account the lag created by a year’s worth of song writing, his Sebadoh output always offered the closest parallels to what we were hearing about the man’s life.
I say hearing, I mean systemically dismembering and inhaling.
Also, I say we, I mean mostly sensitive young men who thought they were never gonna get laid.
We listen, or at least I did, to those records for the same pathological reason we slow down when we drive by an accident. It’s so we can think, “Holy jesus, that could’ve been me…” We listen so we can transpose ourselves into the songs or the songs onto our lives, whatever it takes, really, to recognise that sometimes there are moments that are a bit shit but at least there’s some evidence of their universality.
This is what I tweeted soon after I got started on Defend Yourself:
Man, 33 and Lou Barlow is still helping me through my shit. I told my mum those Sebadoh/Sentridoh records were an investment.— dead aeroplane (@dead_aeroplane) December 17, 2013
That was a joke, but there was something in it.
Obviously, it’s good to hear this band writing songs again. It’s been fourteen years since the last Sebadoh record and seventeen since the last really good one. These numbers are fucking terrifying.
There are thirteen songs on the album. Six are Lou’s, six are Jason’s and the remaining, an instrumental, belongs to drummer and possible newcomer – was he with the band for the Bakesale/Harmacy tour? – Bob D’Amico. His song sits roughly in the middle around which Lou and Jason’s songs are strung in rough pairs.
It’s strangely comforting how quickly these songwriters have fallen into their familiar grooves. Lou, further to the emotional navel-gazing – which, I’ll remind you, is why we listened to the man in the first place – still drops little self-deprecating bombs. “Failure is a state of mine,” he sings on the record’s second single, prompting us to think, “Fuck, man, just give yourself a break...”
His songs contain the more tender moments, these born out of a new love affair. They are sappy songs but they aren’t sappy songs. The bass that kicks in on first single and first track on the record, “I Will,” is pretty muscular, reminding us of Lou’s mastery of quiet and loud.
Jason’s songs, on the other hand, flip between sounding pissed off and misanthropic. The mood is evident even in his song titles – “Beat,” “Defend Yr Self,” “Final Days,” Can’t Depend...” The attack in these songs is harder than in Lou’s as per the template.
The first song of Jason’s to appear on the record is “Beat,” which locks into a groove that reminds me of something that would’ve appeared on an early BBK record. Though they aren’t many, there are some quieter moments. Balladish, “Can’t Depend,” solos out against some backwards recorded guitars, sounding on that crucial first listen a little like Guns N’ Roses, but pretty good nonetheless.
Defend Yourself was a genuine surprise. When the band announced it was releasing a new record after such a long time I thought that nothing good could come of it – after all, it had been too long, and was it even necessary?
Without even attempting to interrogate the arrogance of my claiming a say over someone else’s creative decisions, Defend Yourself is truly an excellent collection of songs. I won’t be so dismissive should they hopefully decide to record again. Maybe this is their Onoffon moment.
If you decide to pick up this record maybe give the vinyl a go. Two copies of the CD I picked up from different stores contained a glitch on the third track, a fault that was missing from both the vinyl and the digital download that came with it. Also, vinyl’s pretty cool.
Reviewed on Wednesday, 5 March 2014