By Maura McAndrew | 10 August 2012
“The time / Just happens to be now / So settle into the burnout / And let the new things go.” So sings Jason Loewenstein on “I Don’t Mind,” a song from the Secret EP, Sebadoh’s first release in fourteen years. While the content of the song veers off in maybe more personal directions, in the heat of this sentiment it’s not hard to imagine Loewenstein contemplating his current situation, reuniting with his old partner Lou Barlow for another go around—even if it results in the same burnout the band faced in the late ’90s. Similar topics arise in the refrain of “My Drugs”: “Make the same mistakes / Over again / I can’t break the chain / Goin’ ’round again.” Despite the implications of these lines, Loewenstein and Barlow, with 2011 tour drummer/now permanent fixture Bob D’Amico, seem pretty happy to be together, effortlessly finding a comfortable groove on this fresh little nugget of an EP. Self-financed and released on Bandcamp, Secret is a tentative toe back in the water: no pressure, just fun, creative energy. And they demonstrate here, as they did on their 2011 tour, that there’s plenty of that left in the well.
When I saw Sebadoh on their reunion tour last year, I was struck by their overall excitement at playing together again. As much as they mocked themselves for cashing in on a nostalgic “t-shirt tour,” they clearly weren’t doing it for money, or relevance; one felt like they could’ve kept going all night, Barlow and Loewenstein one-upping each other with guitar heroics and forgotten tunes from the past. So it’s not much of a surprise that the band decided to release a new EP, the proceeds from which will fund a full-length to follow in 2013. Even the description on their Bandcamp page is, adorably, bursting with excitement: acknowledging the cover art, it reads, “added some photos from the recording too…just to prove we did it, together!!”, and later, “this is our first new material in 14 years (wtf!).” Even if Secret was underwhelming, which it isn’t, it would be hard to ignore the accompanying buoyant spirit.
It’s a fairly egalitarian split, with three Barlow tunes (“Keep the Boy Alive,” “Arbitrary High,” “All Kinds”) and two of Loewenstein ‘s (“My Drugs,” “I Don’t Mind”). Though historically I’ve tended to prefer Barlow’s work, Loewenstein contributes the standout track here, “I Don’t Mind,” an alt-countryish (actually J Mascis-esque) strummer that blossoms slowly with each chiming lead, ending with some blissed out slide guitar. Loewenstein’s voice here is different, a quiet croak, his lyrics contemplative: “I know / It’s not what you wanted / A life that is haunted / By the things you can’t control.” It’s the statement piece of the EP, branching out but not quite so different from some of Sebadoh’s best work. The rest of the EP holds its own as well, though Loewenstein’s other track “My Drugs” is as brash and silly as “I Don’t Mind” is thoughtful. Single “Keep the Boy Alive” is a classic Barlow track, with its minor key guitar crashes and warm-yet-uneasy feeling, and the others are sufficiently Barlow-y but also mix things up in terms of tempo and mood. My only complaint about Secret would be perhaps that the band mixes things up too much—there’s not really a thread that brings it all together. But then again, that’s not something a five-song EP desperately needs.
Short and to the point, the Secret EP announces Sebadoh’s commitment to being more than just a nostalgia act—they can hang with the kids, and then some. Whether or not the reunion will last past the next album, no one can predict, and that’s probably just how it should be. For now, the Sebadoh men are living in the moment, and what a giddy moment it is.