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Sebadoh III [reissue]

Rating: 9/10 ?

August 7, 2006
So let's clear one thing up first: weed and beer references without context are annoying and sophomoric. Lou Barlow and Sebadoh drop references to weed and beer all over this album in the same random-ass way that Jay-Z name checks Karl Kani and Louis Cristal. I have no problem with references to drugs, inebriation or debauchery but it needs to be in context. Just saying "weed" or "beer" is not enough to hold my interest nor should it be. Unfortunately Sebadoh III is laden with those childish moments. With that said Sebadoh III is also musically complex, immensely catchy and still musically relevant.

For the uninitiated here is the basic premise of a Sebadoh song: a lo-fi hissing soundscape supported by an acoustic guitar and occasionally a violently distorted electric guitar. There are some amazing melodies and interesting lyrics, sung mostly by Lou Barlow, who also incorporates tape loops and rhythmic sound effects. The point of these recordings was to be very raw, so the sound quality is often intentionally disrupted or dampened.

III's opener, "The Freed Pig," is a bluntly honest song about Barlow's feelings toward his former band, Dinosaur Jr. The explosive second track is a faithful cover of The Minutemen's "Sickles and Hammers," which immediately reminds listeners of Sebadoh's reverence for punk rock. The next several tracks are lo-fi folk experiments including the gorgeous "Kath" - a tune I have been playing over and over since the disc found its way into my hands. Other songs return to a heavier guitar sound, some of them even featuring some growling, almost hardcore vocal styling. Sonically this album tries to be all things to all people and mostly succeeds in the attempt.

Included with this reissue's second disc is the highly overrated Gimme Indie Rock EP, a release which was a hard to find legend when it was first issued but now, when held up to the light of day, isn't particularly noteworthy. The EP's novelty, Sebadoh recording in a studio, seemed to be a draw for some fans but ultimately the less polished, more edgy home recordings that comprise III seem more honest and experimental. The rest of the second disc is outtakes and different versions of tracks from III. The coolest thing about this collection of unreleased material has to be the sonic experimentation and sampling that Barlow incorporates into the music. The track "Calling Yog Soggeth" features a slowed down male voice and a reverse tape loop which grows louder and louder as the song concludes. These extras will please fans of the band but are unlikely to bring any new converts into the fold.

The real draw of this reissue of Sebadoh III is the original album's material. The sonic experiments, sweet folk-pop and straight ahead rock & roll created and assembled for Sebadoh III show that sometimes greatness settles upon us and we don't even realize it. The album, now fifteen years old, is a classic. Several waves of pop music have come and gone and yet Sebadoh III sounds just as fresh and maybe more musically relevant now than ever before. III's folk sound is freakier than anything Devendra Banhart can muster and the tape loops and sound experiments would fit right in with what The Books are doing. I think it is the timeless quality that makes this album a classic.

Reviewed by Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other reviews by Jon Burke



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