It’s well known that after the power struggle that ended in his departure from Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow designed Sebadoh to be a completely democratic band. It’s also well known that this didn’t work out so well. After several resignations and reunions, Eric Gaffney finally quit Sebadoh for good after the recording of their fifth full-length, 1993’s Bubble and Scrape. This record is interesting in retrospect because it’s the last document of this original lineup, before the relatively greater success of Bakesale (1994) and Harmacy (1996).
A quick look at the songwriting credits reveals that the one-for-all, all-for-one mentality of early Sebadoh was in full swing. All three members split the songwriting duties completely evenly, trading songs throughout the whole record. Barlow’s heart-on-sleeve lyricism is counterbalanced throughout by Gaffney’s noisier freak-outs, and Jason Loewenstein was coming into his own as a songwriter during this period as well.
However, listening to this record fifteen years later, with the band’s subsequent history in mind, one can’t help but notice the inherent tension in the mixture of such different styles. The Sonic Youth-style noise of “Telecosmic Academy” seems somewhat schizophrenic after the earnestness of “Two Years Two Days,” and this constant reversal of aesthetic through seventeen songs makes it apparent that the differences between Gaffney and Barlow had come to a boiling point.
This reissue comes with newly written liner notes by all three members that seem to suggest as much as well. Dispute over the future method of operation of the band seems to be the main reason behind Gaffney’s departure. His own set of liner notes is formal and informational — where, when, and how the songs were recorded, and which parts were his contributions. Barlow and Loewenstein each take a more personal approach, however, and each pins a certain amount of responsibility on Gaffney. Loewenstein reveals that “[Gaffney’s] idea was that we would divide the recording advances between us and just mash together what we had come up with independantly [sic].” Barlow remarks that “Eric Gaffney would not become the Brian Wilson of sebadoh…[sic]”
As with any reissue, the real interest here is in the collection of singles and rarities accompanying the original material. Oddly enough, this collection is mostly a Gaffney/Loewenstein affair, with Barlow’s contributions only making up two out of the fifteen extra songs. Accordingly, these songs are on the noisier end of the scale. Songs such as “Visibly Wasted II” and “Flood/Ken” are semiviolent battles between feedback and screaming that are indicative of the Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock (1992) era. The most interesting tracks here, though, are those that were recorded independently by each of the members. Each takes a crack at four-track sound collage on “Part(s) 1-4,” which are more interesting historically than aesthetically, but which highlight each members’ differing methods.
The last song on the disc reveals the most about how Sebadoh functioned as a full band, when each member contributed equally to one another’s tracks. It is a solo acoustic demo of Barlow’s “Soul and Fire,” the album’s opener and (arguably) best track. As a solo take, it is a somewhat embarrassing diary entry-style breakup song. It isn’t until the full band takes over the song on the album version that Barlow’s lyrics take on their full power. This is an illustration of early Sebadoh at its best, and a sad reminder of what would have come if Gaffney and Barlow could have continued to collaborate fully on each other’s songs.