(Old Gold / Handmade)
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Sebadoh founder Eric Gaffney will be hitting the road in the spring with his old bandmates, fresh off the success of the reissue of III. While other members came and went, and the band soldiered on without Gaffney, it was the trio of Gaffney, Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein that left the longest impact.
Of the three, Gaffney—both during Sebadoh and post-Sebadoh—seems to most embody the DIY spirit that has come to partially define the band and, in turn, the bands they inspired. He enthusiastically embraces lo-fi production, found sound and off-kilter arrangements, and Uncharted Waters casts a wide net in collecting songs of this sort, spanning almost a decade of Gaffney’s work [27 songs in 70 minutes].
The album starts especially strong with “Cold Weather” and “Twilight,” both taken from the same, Thom Monahan-engineered session in 1999. Some of the 27 tracks are more like half-realized snapshots than fleshed-out songs, but “Cold Weather” and “Twilight” are fully realized and should be instantly familiar-sounding friends to anyone who loved Sebadoh or loves ‘90s-leaning indie-rock. A later highlight in that same boat is “Baker Street,” which benefits from some snippets of peculiar sound collage. It’s all charming and likeable stuff, the sort of thing that can fit into all sorts of soundtrack situations in a listener’s day.
Chronological order plays little role in the track sequencing, as the opening tandem is followed by 2005’s “Leave Me Alone,” which pulls deeper into the DIY sound, with some droning tamboura layered atop Gaffney’s guitar and plaintive vocal. “Shark Attack” is another quirky highlight, beginning with a sweet little riff and then Gaffney’s half-spoken, half-sung verse about rainy days and “letting go of relationships.” The chorus takes a shift toward Daniel Johnston territory, with the rather unusual metaphor of “love = shark attack.”
The shorter tracks, whether instrumentals or with vocals, can often feel like floating interludes, even when placed consecutively. Some of them feel pretty intact, while others sound more like adventurous noodling, but, in both cases, there’s a sense that there are a few more great songs lurking on Uncharted Waters that never quite lit their way to consummation. On the other hand, tracks like “Someone Nice,” the most recent member of the batch, feel appropriately closed off at the 1:30 mark; clearly no sense in tacking on a bridge to nowhere or forcing an extra verse just to hit some arbitrary three-minute mark.
Sebadoh fans who are rejoicing at the proper Sebadoh lineup being “back” would be remiss if they didn’t check out what the members have been up to in the meantime. With its ample runtime and easy charms, Uncharted Waters provides a fine place for catching up with Gaffney.