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+ {Sentridoh} + {Lou Barlow] + {Dumb Numbers}

After a less than amicable split early in ’89 from sprawling American indie stars DINOSAUR JR. (leaving mainman J. MASCIS and drummer Murph to move from S.S.T. to Warner Bros.), Westfield, Massachusetts-based bassist-turned-full-time-guitarist/singer-songwriter LOU BARLOW teamed up with drummer Eric Gaffney to found lo-fi overlords, SEBADOH.
Rewind back a few years to 1986/87 and the pair had extolled the virtues of low-fidelity in their own side-project, Sentridoh, and from these tapes came the duo’s second release for Homestead Records: WEED FORESTIN (1990) {*4}. Recorded straight to 4-track in Lou’s parent’s basement, the merit of this work was down to faux field-recording-type cut ’n’ pastes, an extended 41-song CD version (entitled THE FREED WEED {*6}) also drew from the duo’s calamitous but imaginative debut set, THE FREED MAN (1989) {*7}.
Featuring over 30 ditties recorded in a college dorm room and ranging in length from under a minute to an exhaustive 2 minutes(!), noisy neighbours Barlow and Gaffney – including any mute-tations from behind the adjoining walls: vintage TV broadcasts, kiddie’s records and er… the kitchen sink – exercised their right to do just about any sound-bite into the mic. While one would have to listen attentively for the budget barrage of sunny-side-up silliness to appreciate the record’s true lo-fi necessity; altered drastically for CD purposes some 20-odd years later, one could cherry-pick from acoustic sketches such as `Healthy Sick’, `Soulmate’, `Ladybugs’, `Julienne’, `Solid Brown’, `Resistance Is Flo’, et al – PAVEMENT, were of course, big fans.
With the addition of bassist/guitarist, Jason Loewenstein, the refreshed songsmiths ventured into raucous electric territory for the fully-fledged punk subversion of `Gimme Indie Rock!’ (name-checking essential bands from rawk’s history). Not included on the appropriately-titled III (1991) {*8}, an anarchic cornerstone of kaleidoscopic lo-fi, SEBADOH had now come of age in terms of coherent songs that benchmarked a stylised sensitivity in their diversion of sounds. While keeping one foot in the acoustic camp, they reconciled their love of lo-fi noise with barbed indie-folk; apparent on `The Freed Pig’, `Violet Execution’, `Truly Great Thing’, `Perverted World’ and covers of MINUTEMEN’s `Sickles And Hammers’ and a JOHNNY MATHIS hit, `Wonderful, Wonderful’. These squeaky tracks proved to have staying power among Barlow and Co’s growing fanbase from within Massachusetts – and beyond!.
Though initially a US-only affair (until given a belated UK release in ’94), SEBADOH’s output became more readily available following a deal with Sub Pop Records in the States and Domino in the UK; the same Domino Records that later signed a plethora of indie types from PALACE (aka WILL OLDHAM) to FRANZ FERDINAND and ARCTIC MONKEYS. Twin mini-sets “Rocking The Forest” – boasting the semi-classic self-parody of the aforementioned `Gimme Indie Rock’ – and “Sebadoh Vs. Helmet” – featuring brave covers of NICK DRAKE’s timeless `Pink Moon’ and DAVID CROSBY’s/The BYRDS-period `Everybody’s Been Burned’, also found their way onto selective affiliated compilation, SMASH YOUR HEAD ON THE PUNK ROCK (1992) {*6}.
While fourth album proper, BUBBLE & SCRAPE (1993) {*7}, was SEBADOH’s first fully-fledged studio set (cut in a slaughterhouse!) and their most commercially successful release to date, reaching the UK Top 75 for one week, Barlow’s former best buddy J MASCIS was taking his laconic drawl to a new level with major-label hauls DINOSAUR JR. A record that dealt with heartbreak and fractured relationships much in the same way as doomed star Kurt Cobain, cathartic and visceral pieces came by way of `Happily Divided’, `Soul And Fire’, `Sister’, `Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)’ and `Two Years And Two Days’.
With a voice at times not too dissimilar to that of ERIC MATTHEWS, it was hardly surprising that Lou, and newly-installed drummer Bob Fay, teamed up with the man on a one-off EP venture as BeltBuckle. Workaholic Barlow also continued to express his more DIY urges via side projects, releasing material as The FOLK IMPLOSION with (former PALACE) guitarist John Davis, and working on his ownsome as Lou Barlow and his SENTRIDOH. Industriously prolific – and a nightmare for discographers! – in the best indie tradition, Lou Barlow & His Sentridoh, was mainly an outlet for archival material.
Without Gaffney, messrs Barlow, Loewenstein and Fay continued apace with their SEBADOH duties, releasing the acclaimed UK Top 40 set, BAKESALE (1994) {*8}. Though Gaffney still featured on an album which came as close to conventional alt-rock as anything Barlow had yet recorded, the sound was less self-consciously muted. Arriving post-Cobain (who committed suicide four months before its release), collegers and fans of the depressive obsessive hooked on to Lou’s edgy, weed-infused post-grunge dirges. Jason’s `Not Too Amused’ and `Careful’, Bob’s `Temptation Tide’, and group composition `Rebound’ (also chosen as a single), proved that SEBADOH was no one-man-band, but then again Barlow had a few aces of his own up his sleeve in `License To Confuse’, `Magnet’s Coil’, `Dreams’ and the almost radio-friendly `Skull’. In the guise of the aforementioned FOLK IMPLOSION, Barlow even spawned a hit single – `Natural One’ – via Larry Clark’s hotly-debated “Kids” flick, proving conclusively that lo-fi didn’t necessarily mean low sales; his work was also behind the majority of the OST.
While 1996’s HARMACY {*7} – the caustic but wry title taken from a chemist shop that’d lost its initial P; as depicted on the sleeve – was even more accessible without compromising their indie/grunge ethos. Lou’s exposure to the world of celluloid had paid off with a near Top 100 entry (Top 40 in Britain). Once again a positively polished album that showed off the all-in individual talents of the trio, the rollercoaster moods and swings of several tracks were never better than for:- `On Fire’, `Beauty Of The Ride’ (a minor UK hit), `Willing To Wait’ and `Can’t Give Up’.
Towards the end of a busy 90s for Barlow, in which he’d delivered a raft of long-players (including further FOLK IMPLOSION sets: “Dare To Be Surprised” and “One Part Lullaby”), his main act dished out their eponymous THE SEBADOH (1999) {*6}. The set sold enough in its first week to crack the UK Top 50, while one of its highlights, `Flame’, dented the Top 30. Quirky and intimate, rather than brash and boisterous, Fay’s replacement, newbie Russ Pollard (from The FOLK IMPLOSION), their standards had dropped a little, with only Jason’s `It’s All You’ and `Nick Of Time’, combined with Lou’s `Colorblind’ and `Love Is Stronger’, rising above the bar.
Although collaborations was his forte, LOU BARLOW found himself on only the first half of the SUBSONIC 6 (2000) {*5} set, split with dEUS geezer, Rudy Trouve. A lo-fi record that displayed the pair’s individual dexterity and playful, avant-garde talents, this was one for devout fans a million miles away from the new SEBADOH. Barlow’s right hand man Jason Loewenstein was to duly come up trumps with his own solo set, “At Sixes And Sevens”, during SEBADOH’s extended lay-off; although SENTRIDOH also updated their CV with 2002’s FREE SENTRIDOH: SONGS FROM LOOBIECORE {*6}. Jason’s record mightn’t have had the same immediacy as Barlow’s solo SENTRIDOH efforts, but its self-produced, broodingly confrontational assault and intriguing diversions made for a promising debut.
Come 2003, Barlow was back with a trio billed as The New Folk Implosion, new in the sense that Davis had been replaced by none other than Russ Pollard and ex-LOWERCASE guitarist Imaad Wasif. The modified group’s eponymous debut foreswore the classic FOLK IMPLOSION sound for a bleaker, much more impenetrable approach hinging on Wasif’s brutal axe work and Barlow’s existentialist angst.
A man that could turn his hand to off-kilter karaoke covers in his time, Lou and his compadres churned a string of them, including `Reject’ (The Necros), `Run To You’ (BRYAN ADAMS), `Blonde In The Bleachers’ (JONI MITCHELL), `Mary Christ’ (SONIC YOUTH), `Naima’ (JOHN COLTRANE), `Act Of Being Polite’ + `Moisture’ + `Suburban Bathers’ (The RESIDENTS) and `Sweet Surrender’ (JOHN DENVER).
Carrying on this tradition by way of `RATT’s `Round-n-Round’, a track from LOU BARLOW’s long-awaited solo debut proper, EMOH (2005) {*7} – aka “Home” – the earnest indie groundsman of NICK DRAKE-esque pastoral-pop had come up trumps again. Discovering a softer side that catered little for lo-fi, just acoustic strums of singer-songwriter angst (no change there then), Lou’s miserabilist approach was quite exquisite on `Holding Back The Year’, `Caterpillar Girl’ and `If I Could’.
One sensed that it was only a matter of time before the proverbial hatchet was buried between Barlow, Mascis, Murph, and a certain DINOSAUR JR triumvirate. In 2005, and continuing onwards for several years, three glorious business-as-usual albums were delivered by way of “Beyond” (2007), “Farm” (2009) and “I Bet On Sky” (2012).
Meanwhile, BARLOW’s second solo set for Merge Records: the Andrew Murdock-produced GOODNIGHT UNKNOWN (2009) {*6}, was a feast for lovers of everything indie and lo-fi, augmented as it was by Dale Crover (of The MELVINS), Adam Harding, Imaad Wasif, Sebastian Steinberg and LISA GERMANO. While the uncrowned king of lo-fi was searching his bare-bones acoustic side on `Faith In Your Heartbeat’ and `Too Much Freedom’, his band were allowed carte blanche wig-out time on `Sharing’ and `The Right’. One could also find BARLOW as part of Australians NOISE ADDICT (in 2009 for “It Was Never About The Audience”), and much later for indie supergroup, DUMB NUMBERS, for an eponymous set in 2013.
Not content in playing second fiddle to J MASCIS in a reunified DINOSAUR JR excavation, the near-50-something Lou plugged in the mighty SEBADOH once again for a “comeback” set, DEFEND YOURSELF (2013) {*6} – which hit US No.105. Although 14 years away from any teen spirit, Lou, Jason and drummer Bob D’Amico, buzzed back into gear on the gnarly grunge of `Defend Yr Self’, `Beat’, `Oxygen’ and `Final Days’. Where the brooding and brittle BARLOW will go next is anybody’s guess, but one can be assured that he’ll never be far from a “freak scene” that he helped create with his numerous and diversifying dalliances.
Six years since his previous solo outing, LOU BARLOW was back in business with half-hour album, BRACE THE WAVE (2015) {*6}. Encapsulating an expansive folky lo-fi sound featuring an array of acoustics instruments and techniques, “homemade” never tasted so good – `Pulse’, `Moving’, `Lazy’, `Nerve’ and the concluding `Repeat’ arguably the strongest cuts on board. Describing this heartfelt mini-set as “cozy, yet self-deluded”, a confessional Lou never quite switches into first gear, but that’s only to be expected from a man still exorcising his inner demons.
Lo-fi specialists SEBADOH (see previous line-up) were firing on all cylinders once again with their first set for six years: ACT SURPRISED (2019) {*7}. Dispatched on Dangerbird Records (Fire in the UK), the tasty triumvirate served up their trademark indie-rock via producer Justin Pizzoferrato: a heady post-grunge cocktail of up-tempo jangle-punk or angst-driven wig-outs. Although Barlow and Co had lost ground in the commercial wolf-eat-wolf world of video-killed-the-radio-star music, their loyal devotees were encouraged by the brooding and brittle beats of best bits: `Vacation’, `Stunned’, `Raging River’, `Medicate’ and the calm-before-the-storm single, `Celebrate The Void’.
© MC Strong 1996-2004 // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Jun2019

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