Defend Yourself

by: Sebadoh

Led by once and future Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow, Sebadoh blazed through the '90s, helping to define movements in both indie rock and lo-fi music with their often confused and always ramshackle albums of stoner punk anthems, goofball non-sequiturs, and moody, heartbroken post-grunge guitar rock. Following a 14-year dormancy since 1999's lackluster The Sebadoh, Defend Yourself revitalizes the project with surprisingly few huge changes. Barlow's most serious tunes are still marked by his signature ache, this time informed by the breakup of his 25-year marriage. Songs like the tormented pop of "Oxygen" wouldn't even have sounded that futuristic when Dinosaur Jr. was still called Dinosaur and making records for Homestead in the mid-'80s. The homespun recording ethic of the band's early lo-fi days is revisited as well, with songs sounding like home-recordings with updated means, but they're still relatively gnarly. The buzzy drums and walls of cross-fading guitars on "Final Days" and the plodding fuzz bass, Cobain-ian grunge wail of "Defend Yr Self" sound on par with the band's four-track '90s masterworks like Bubble & Scrape. Without ever exactly getting back to their '90s glory days, Defend Yourself still sounds best when it's as close to that neurotic wonder as is possible almost two decades later. Barlow's sullen self-loathing on the softly sung "Let It Out" has just the right amount of nostalgia. This song recalls his best '90s compositions, holding an honesty in its intensity. When Defend Yourself hits its stride, it's amazing how timeless and unique the classic Sebadoh sound really is. ~ Fred Thomas

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