1993 nostalgia meets middle class musical tastes: A review of Sebadohs Secret EP

Before I get to my review of Sebadoh’s Secret EP, let’s explain the bias in what appears to be a very Terrence Malick-like style, only unlike Terrence Malick, something might actually happen in this review. Also, people won’t say that I’m a genius when they are done reading it – that is to say if they actually read it. If they do, that’d be nice. You want to be nice, don’t you? Oh wait, this is the internet, and people aren’t nice. Crap.

There will be bias. Oh yes, there will be.

It’s early 1993 and under the bright fluorescent lights of a Camelot Music located in a small Southeastern town, while Guns n’ Roses Don’t Cry plays over the store’s stereo system, a young boy of 16 (feeling less like a child and more like the idea he’s cooked up in his head about what an adult should be) approaches the cute clerk with the pixie haircut and nose piercing [1] and asks her what’s new. What’s good. What’s like Nirvana.

The girl smiles, runs off and returns to hand the boy a copy of The Replacements’ Tim, gushing that the record saved her life in that really emphatic way a girl does when you know that she means she discovered it independently of her boyfriend. The boy is almost ready to buy the album,  swayed by her nose ring and the Doc Martin’s combat boots anchoring fishnet stockings with a line running all the way up to her firm backside, when he flips it over and sees the year that it was released: 1985.

The boy hands the girl the compact disc back and asks for something newer. She smiles for a moment and then says, Oh I know,” and presents a copy of Sebadoh’s Bubble and Scrape. “You’ll love this,” she says, and mentions a name – Lou-something – “from Dinosaur.”

Fifteen dollars is handed to the cute girl and the boy takes the compact disc home. He opens it up and falls in love. Lou-something from Dinosaur turns out to be Lou Barlow, and the album that he, Jason Lowenstein and Eric Gaffney created, is a perfect soundtrack to that boy becoming a teenager. There’s heartbreak, there’s love, there’s weed and there’s scary acid trip freak outs. There’s sensitivity, there’s sarcasm, there’s noise and there’s a ramshackle quality that says what all good punk rock should say: You can do this, too.

The boy becomes obsessed with Sebadoh and all things Lou Barlow. Cassette compilations are ordered, 7-inches from obscure labels tracked down and side projects discovered. Articles about the band in Alternative Press are memorized and even Lou’s clothing choices become the boy’s.

But like all things high school, the boy and the band fall out of touch around graduation. He falls in love with other things, and gradually grows older without Lou Barlow.

Now the boy is an adult. He worries about his credit rating and the very fact that he isn’t a boy anymore; he’s something entirely more pathetic. The grown up husk that surrounds the boy is happy in his middle class life and middle class musical tastes [2] when he hears that Sebadoh are putting out their first new music in over ten years. He bites, and the Secret EP is purchased online for a measly five dollars.

It’s a nerve-wracking experience buying new material from an old band. You want them to tickle your nostalgia buttons, but you don’t want them to turn into some sad parody of themselves.

I’m happy to report that Sebadoh aren’t a sad parody of their 90s-era marijuana-fueled lovelorn chaos rock. Instead, they have somehow turned into really tight, dynamic band that are capable of writing fun and upbeat-sounding songs.

Gone are the chaotic, my-god-the-walls-are-freaking-bleeding tunes of Eric Gaffney, and in his place are the amazingly solid drums of Bob D’Amico. Jason Lowenstein, forever known as the-guy-who-isn’t-Lou, has turned into a kick-ass songwriter and probably the most important aspect to Sebadoh’s sound: a giant wall of distorted bass guitar and propulsive energy. His contributions to the Secret EP are solid – and his country-rock feeling I Don’t Mind is as good a song as anyone in Sebadoh has ever written.

Barlow contributes three of the five songs to the EP, and each song is a fun and loud song that un-self-consciously rocks. I don’t think Lou’s ever written songs that sound and feel as ‘live’ as his contributions to this EP. The lead-off track, Keep the Boy Alive, is all drums and irresistible melody and it’s a wonderful track.

I worried about the Secret EP. I worried about listening to it and having the rose-colored bits of nostalgia wiped from my brain. I hoped that the songs would ring true for who Sebadoh might be to me in 2012 and not to the boy admiring the Camelot Music clerk’s ass almost twenty years ago. I listened to it a few times…and I’m still smiling.

The hair is gone from my head, there is a bit more of me around my mid-section, and I’m living in a legally-recognized tax shelter with the girl who I put Sebadoh songs on a mix tape for way back when. I’m smiling now, because Sebadoh aren’t the mopey band that they once were, they are the vital and exciting band that I need now.

That’s good stuff, people.

— By Jason Bugg, a freelance writer who has a wife, a bad rental home, two dogs, four cats, no kids, clinical depression and terribly strong thighs for a white man. Follow him on Twitter: @SansBurrito.

[1] This was when having a nose piercing meant something although nobody was sure what exactly that something was. Perhaps it meant that the girl in her pixie haircut had chosen to live outside of the small southern towns societal norm – at least until she finished her Humanities major – or perhaps she just saw it in an issue of Sassy and thought that it was cute. Most likely it was some sort of sign that she might do ecstasy.

[2] Previous five albums bought: Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul: The Nickel and Penny Labels, Rush’s Snakes and Arrows LIVE, The Beach Boys’ That’s Why God Made the Radio and Lindsey Buckingham’s Seeds We Sow.

 

pixel 1993 nostalgia meets middle class musical tastes: A review of Sebadohs Secret EP