After a 13-year hiatus, lo-fi pioneers Sebadoh returned in 2012 with the Secret EP. It found the trio back in fightin’ trim, although Eric Gaffney, despite going on a 2007 reunion tour, was and still is not part of the lineup. Bob D’Amico takes his place alongside the classic songwriting duo of Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein. Now they’ve followed that up with the very satisfying Defend Yourself.
Perhaps the long absence was due to Barlow’s involvement in the Dinosaur Jr. reunion, or perhaps it was a lack of songwriting material. As the traumatic experience of losing his band the first time around in the late '80s fueled a slew of songs, here he's dealing with something even worse: the divorce from his wife, whom he had been together with since the original Dino era. Sorry to say, but these kind of traumatic experiences often result in excellent albums, and Defend Yourself is no different.
“I Will” starts the set and shows us that classic Sebadoh sense of melody that we’ve been missing. “Beat” has that classic '90s emo feel, a time when the genre didn’t elicit a gag response. It's got crunchy riffs, head-bobbing drums, big breakdowns and lead vocals from Lowenstein. “Defend Yr Self” gets even crunchier, with a dissonant guitar lead and Barlow reaching up in his range. “Inquiries” is a little cowpunk ditty sung by Lowenstein with a twangy pentatonic lead to kick it off.
Sebadoh are well-known for variety on their recordings, but Defend Yourself is one of their most fluid albums to date due to a bit of streamlining. It’s a good thing. They still mix it up, but not like in the '90s when they would veer briefly into hardcore and country-influenced tunes. They do what they do best throughout. They throw in the instrumental “Once,” but it still shows the band at the top of their game with odd meters, clanging bass and smashing cymbal beats. They slow it down on Lowenstein’s “Can’t Depend” and while the guitar leads keep things from getting too pretty in the verses, they switch it up and sparkle in the chorus. “Let It Out” has that vintage Sebadoh feel with finger-plucked acoustic, but this one is anything but lo-fi, brimming with ambient reverb and swishing cymbal swells. This is the biggest turn they take on the album, but it fits perfectly.
While a product of hard times, Defend Yourself is a joyful listen and welcome addition to the Sebadoh catalog. It will please any fan of the band and also wouldn’t be a bad jumping-off point for a new listener.