Part of Sebadoh's charm is that their records are always rather inconsistent, flipping wildly between sonic extremes as well as musical genres. In a sense, Harmacy is no different than its predecessors, but there are some crucial differences that makes it their most accessible effort. Previously, that title was held by 1994's Bakesale, but in between that record and Harmacy, Lou Barlow had a genuine Top 40 hit with the Folk Implosion's "Natural One." Although nothing on Harmacy sounds much like the hip-hop hybrid of "Natural One," its success did have an effect on Barlow, leading him toward more straightforward song structures and cleaner productions -- "Willing to Wait" even features strings. Instead of diluting the impact of Sebadoh's music, the clearer production actually strengthens it. Barlow's sighing melodies and jangling indie rock become more resonant and affecting, and his batch of songs is among his best ever. Jason Loewenstein, Sebadoh's other main songwriter, suffers somewhat at the hands of cleaner production. Loewenstein tends to stick closer to the band's hardcore punk roots than Barlow, so his songs usually could use the extra layer of hiss and murk that cheap productions lend recordings. It also doesn't help that he tends to sink into rather faceless indie noise rock. When Loewenstein takes a stab at pop melodies, such as "Can't Give Up," his songs are memorable, but on the whole, his songs are uneven and occasionally tedious. If it weren't for Loewenstein's erratic songwriting, Harmacy might rank as Sebadoh's masterpiece, but as it stands it's just another very fine and sometimes frustrating record from a band that produces nothing but very fine and sometimes frustrating records.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine