June 11, 2008

Review: Sebadoh | Bubble And Scrape [Expanded Reissue]

The story of Sebadoh, like that of sorta-precursor Dinosaur Jr. which featured 'Doh principal Lou Barlow on bass guitar, hinges on the interplay of different personalities, or -- to put it more simply -- who was in the band when. And so for the same reason certain people prefer Gary Young-era Pavement, our tastes for all things Sebadoh tend toward recordings made with original member Eric Gaffney. Yet paradoxically it is not because we are such big fans of Mr. Gaffney's compositions (each member of Sebadoh writes and sings his own material). Instead, we feel like his influence raises everbody's game, or at least provided a quirky spark that bled through everyone else's material. Perhaps we are reacting a little too strongly -- even now -- to the eventual, ahem, wimpiness we perceived in Barlow's ballads going forward. However, on Bubble And Scrape, the final Sebadoh release featuring Mr. Gaffney, all three songwriters -- including Jason Loewenstein -- are in the proverbial zone. Ballads rock, rockers rock, everything rocks. It's a brilliant record, and despite the conventional wisdom that favors Sebadoh III, it is in our opinion the best Sebadoh record.

It is notable that Bubble And Scrape flows as well as it does, because poring over the original liners after more than a decade without giving them a thought reminds us that the songwriters roughly take turns contributing a single's worth of tracks. Barlow leads off with "Soul And Fire" and "Two Years And Two Days," then Gaffney gets in a couple hits. Loewenstein bats cleanup with another pair and then the cycle roughly repeats. Since he wasn't an original member, it is curious that our favorite Sebadoh track is Loewenstein's "Happily Divided" (followed closely thereon by many other numbers on this record, including "HomeMade," "Two Years And Two Days," and "Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)," which are all Barlow jams). This may be because his compositions here split the difference between Gaffney's cracked compositions and Barlow's increasingly, errrr, songwritery songs.

This expanded reissue packs in nearly as many bonus tracks as there are originals, and many of these are dynamite, including demos or alternate takes of "Happily Divided," "Soul And Fire," "Sister," "Flood" and "Bouquet For A Siren." The additional version of "Happily Divided" stands out as a highlight, deliciously adorned as it is with out numerous out-of-tune guitars, glass-shattering quasi-snare and tambourine percussion, and stoned/depraved backing vocals. The original lineup of Sebadoh will perform the whole of Bubble And Scrape July 18 in Chicago at a music festival sponsored by Pitchforkmedia. Domino releases the deluxe reissue of this absolutely essential '90s indie rock album July 8.

Sebadoh -- "Soul And Fire (Acoustic Demo)" -- Bubble And Scrape [Expanded Reissue]
Sebadoh -- "HomeMade (Live)" -- The Offramp, Seattle, WA, 8/6/93
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[pre-order Bubble And Scrape from Newbury Comics right here]

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