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THE FORECAST CALLS FOR ANYTHING : One Never Knows Where New England's Sebadoh Is Going to Venture Next

August 05, 1993|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

The climate in New England tends to be so unpredictable that natives are fond of telling visitors not to worry: if you don't like the weather, it'll change in a minute.

In the case of Sebadoh, a rock trio from central Massachusetts who play Wednesday at Bogart's in Long Beach, meteorology and geography may have had a hand in forging a band's artistic destiny.

If you don't like the music on a Sebadoh album, don't worry--it'll change in a minute.

There is little not to like on "Bubble & Scrape," the latest album in a five-year career that has seen Sebadoh (pronounced seh-buh-dough ) issue a steady stream of releases on small independent rock labels.

The band's mutability may have less to do with the weather that members Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein have been exposed to than with the fact that all three write songs, sing, and play at least two instruments.

Barlow, who mainly plays guitar, is the band's folk-rock ballad singer.

He devotes himself primarily, though not exclusively, to contemplative strums that sift the ashes of romances that have proved painfully fleeting.

When Gaffney takes over, Sebadoh sounds like a completely different band--a noisy outfit whose clanging, barreling, distorted guitars and oblique lyrics take cues from such experimentally inclined predecessors as Sonic Youth (a big influence on Sebadoh's dissonant, yet coherently structured guitar rave-ups) and Captain Beefheart.

The less prolific Loewenstein takes a middle path, going alternately for the psychedelic jolt Gaffney favors, and Barlow's more circumspect and pop-leaning approach.

It wouldn't do to be too schematic about this musical triangle. Barlow, for instance, doesn't go strictly for folkish ballads. One exception is "Forced Love," a noisy, rolling-and-tumbling rocker. Another, "Good Things" (from last year's "Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock"), is a bouncy pop ditty that sounds like the Who's "Happy Jack" as reinterpreted by a most unhappy camper.

Barlow, the band's best songwriter, is big on self-analysis in his lyrics, and he isn't afraid to find himself wanting. "I only speak excuses, my bitterness is all I know," he confesses during "Good Things." But, in his earnestness, he also holds out hope that vigorous introspection can lead to self-improvement. In "Good Things," instead of settling into moroseness, he makes a hard demand of himself: "There are no excuses, bitterness must not take hold."

Barlow played bass in Dinosaur Jr. until 1989, when he had an acrimonious split with bandleader J Mascis. In Sebadoh, which began as an experiment in cheap, off-the-cuff home-recording, he has developed into a frequently first-rate singer-songwriter.

"Brand New Love," from "Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock," is a stately, yearning but sonically dense anthem that's kin to some of the best work of Bob Mould and Husker Du. The new album's gem is its lead-off track, "Soul and Fire." Keeping his composure while rocked by a succession of strong emotions, Barlow dissects the stages of a break-up, from plain hurt to jealous anger to pained acceptance.

His main emotional problem, as his seven contributions to "Bubble & Scrape" unfold, is a tendency to fret about how a romance is going to end when it hardly has begun. "Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)," ends the cycle as Barlow takes both a stylistic and thematic cue from Neil Young's "Will to Love" and decides to forge ahead romantically and hope for the best.

Sebadoh does give the weather its due on a concluding rocker called "Flood," which finds songwriter Loewenstein leading the band on a plunge into the maelstrom in a desperate bid for adventure.

"Yeah, all right! We're gonna ride with the flood tonight!" he yowls.

Oughta play like gangbusters in the Midwest.

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