Sebadoh cranks out timeless yet timely tunes on Act Surprised | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Sebadoh cranks out timeless yet timely tunes on Act Surprised

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Listening to some of the tracks on the new Act Surprised (Dangerbird/Fire), Sebadoh’s ninth studio album, you could almost imagine yourself back in 1992. But though the band’s signature lo-fi sound remains, their lyrics place them squarely in the present. Perhaps that’s the logical progression for Sebadoh, which formed as a duo in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1988. After releasing three albums and more than half a dozen EPs in just a few years, the messily prolific group signed with Sub Pop in 1992 and became critical darlings during the grunge era. But in 1999, after several lineup shifts, the band began a hiatus that extended throughout much of the next decade, broken up by occasional reunion tours. In 2011 Sebadoh cofounder Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein, who’d joined the original duo in 1989, teamed up for one of those tours with drummer Bob D’Amico—and that lineup soon released the band’s first new material in 13 years, 2012’s Secret EP, followed by the 2013 album Defend Yourself. For their new full-length, the band brought in engineer Justin Pizzoferrato (who has also worked with one of Barlow’s other bands, Dinosaur Jr.), and the resulting jangly, fuzzy, guitar-driven songs are, as per band tradition, mostly by Barlow and Loewenstein. They each wrote seven tracks, and D’Amico contributed “Leap Year,” a reference to recent political events: “There are folk tales about leap years and their disconnection from reality,” he says in the band’s current press bio, “and 2016 was a leap year that won't end.” Several songs—including opener “Phantom”—clock in at just over two minutes, imbuing the album with a sense of urgency. “Raging River” alludes to outrage culture and the increase in citizens policing one another via social media. On other songs, including “Celebrate the Void” and “Medicate” (which decries taking shortcuts to mental ease and spirituality), Barlow continues his confessional approach to songwriting. Judging from past performances, fans at Sebadoh’s sold-out show at SPACE can expect an informal set more focused on substance than style.   v

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