Disciples of indie-rock kings Sebadoh will probably want to check out this debut solo disc by that group's other tunesmith. Jason Loewenstein wrote nearly half of the material on Sebadoh's latter four (and most celebrated) albums, but on his own, as a singer and songwriter, he doesn't quite clear the bar set by his former (current?) band mate, Lou Barlow.
At Sixes and Sevens (Sub Pop) commences with the impressive "Codes," a raucous guitar freak-out more juiced up than almost anything Barlow ever attempted, further confirming the prevailing notion that within Sebadoh, Barlow provided the probing, jagged pop counterpoint to Loewenstein's unfocused and gritty noise-rock leanings. Track two ("Casserole") is another gem, a playful, melodic rumbler with a great introductory guitar figure. But pretty soon the wheels start to come off. "Upstate" and the closer, "Transform," manage to get the blood flowing to all the right places, but too much of the album sounds like Sebadoh outtakes or, worse, pedestrian classic rock with little innovation and even less to say.
"H/M" is the bottom of the barrel, a numbing, time-wasting instrumental comprised of nothing but senseless riffage -- entirely uninspired riffage at that. Leowenstein is an adequate songsmith and a versatile musician. His indie-rock cred is solid. Unfortunately, those three components only occasionally add up to anything memorable here.
I'm spending a lot of time comparing At Sixes and Sevens to Sebadoh, but the material -- hell, even the jacket art -- not only invites those sort of comparisons, it demands it. This album, in fact, sounds very much like a late '90s Sebadoh collection with the other members' contributions neatly removed. If Sebadoh was a democracy of two (with Loewenstein and Barlow sharing songwriting and singing duties), Loewenstein's project is definitely an autocracy, with the artist playing every single instrument on the album as well as recording the whole thing himself on his own reel-to-reel eight-track. The resulting sonics are warm, immediate and medium-fi, yet the performance is, overall, strangely inert.
Those who preferred Loewenstein's aloof, abstract compositions to Barlow's sensitive, self-deprecating odes to girls who would never understand him will appreciate the distinct lack of raw-nerve relationship stuff here. But for those (like me) who live for that honest and insightful boy/girl crud, who skipped through each Sebadoh record to find the next bittersweet Barlow tune, At Sixes and Sevens just comes up lacking.