Over almost three decades, amid a changing line-up, the through line of Sebadoh’s output has been its unflinching depictions of jealousy, obsession and depression and an uncompromising adherence to the methodologies chosen to convey them. The early lo-fi days were marked by the push and pull between Lou Barlow’s bare-minimum folk numbers Eric Gaffney’s noisy sonic experimentation with sampled voices and analog hiss. When multi-instrumentalist Jason Loewenstein joined in 1989, he brought with him the potential for more traditional arrangement and structure that the band capitalized upon on their next two albums, Sebadoh III and Bubble and Scrape. Barlow’s downer diatribes dominated the output, it was the inclusion of Loewenstein’s contributions (Gaffney split the band in ‘93) allowed Sebadoh to become a fully-formed, albeit lopsided whole.
Though its principal members have all mounted solo efforts, to varying results, without the countervailing forces of the other members, none of their individual work has packed Sebadoh’s visceral punch. Spooky Action, Jason Loewenstein’s second solo outing, is no exception.
Spooky Action, the bulk of which was written and recorded in Loewenstein’s home studio in the fall and winter of 2016, arrives some 15 years after his solo debut, At Sixes and Sevens, and offers glimmers of his various musical sensibilities. In the snippets of contextless taped conversations he includes, he evokes the experimental solo work he released under the name Sparkalepsy. And through his joyously thudding basslines and frustrated examination of relationship dynamics—“Miscommunication/seems more like a reflex/rehearsing some rhetoric/and I’m a deer in your headlights,” he sings on “Navigate”—he holds true to the Sebadoh line.
Loewenstein also retains a welcome sense of economy by limiting the length of songs to the amount of needed to express the conceit and omitting needless flourish. The album’s 13 songs are almost exclusively uptempo, with the exception of the droning closer, “Light the Room,” which hypnotizes with dissonance between its component parts and underscores the affecting potential in Loewenstein’s Vedder-like growl.
The album suffers most from Loewenstein’s unnecessary imposition of traditional song structure, which undermines the sense of raw emotion he was able to mine in past, more minimalist efforts, like Bubble and Scrape’s “Happily Divided” and blocks him from conveying the sense of freewheeling exploration of his Sparkalepsy work. This adhesion to stricture may point to Loewenstein’s growth within the pop song structure, but the results, which call to mind desert punk in the vein of Meat Puppets, are too homogenous.
The album’s title, Spooky Action—a reference to the phenomenon of quantum entanglement in which particles cannot be described independently of each other— almost certainly points to Loewenstein’s awareness of his dilemma and his desire to establish an identity independent of Sebadoh. He has proven his lasting power within the band. He will have to be more prolific to make a case for himself outside of it.