Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Sebadoh - Sebadoh III

Sebadoh III

Released 1991 on Homestead
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 11/06/2007ce

1. the freed pig (3:07)
2. sickles and hammers (0:50)
3. total peace (3:00)
4. violet execution (3:57)
5. scars, four eyes (3:35)
6. truly great thing (2:10)
7. kath (1:52)
8. perverted world (1:55)
9. wonderful, wonderful (3:12)
10. limb by limb (2:16)
11. smoke on a bowl (3:02)
12. black haired gurl (2:11)
13. hoppin' up and down (3:17)
14. supernatural force (2:43)
15. rock star (2:42)
16. down mind (1:31)
17. renaissance man (2:19)
18. god told me (1:08)
19. holy picture (2:53)
20. hassle (3:30)
21. no different (2:20)
22. spoiled (3:03)
23. as the world dies the eyes of god grow bigger (6:51)

Sebadoh were (& currently are again) Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney & Jason Loewenstein. Sean Slade, who recorded much of the album at Fort Apache, plays mellotron on track 22.

Tracks 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22 by Lou Barlow
Tracks 4, 10, 14, 19, 23 by Eric Gaffney. Track 5 by Gaffney/Barlow.
Tracks 11, 12, 13 by Jason Loewenstein Tracks 2 & 9 are covers.

Reissued on Domino Records in 2006 in a two disc version.

DOMINO. The album known as Sebadoh III is one that is revered in American climes, which I’m sure the sticker on the 2006 reissue of it on Domino said. In US alt terms, it’s seen as a bit of a watershed, give it half an hour and there will be a 33 1/3 book coming along to tell you why. The 2006 reissue was very welcome, coming with an 18 track bonus disc; it gets better, with the upcoming reissue of The Freed Man (1988 – now 52 tracks long) and this version of Sebadoh having reformed (Gaffney left after Bubble & Scrape; Barlow and Loewenstein carried on and never officially split up, just went on hiatus. That’s something lots of American bands do, isn’t it?). I guess American eyes might see this as something decidedly sung, the lack of reviews on Amazon UK and absence from the obligatory lists suggest otherwise.

SEBADOH III. I didn’t pay much attention to Sebadoh when they first popped up, possibly due to the fact that everything seemed to be about Barlow’s infamous split from Dinosaur Jr. To be fair, it was one of the most heartless splits in the history of music – Barlow not getting many songs on D Jr records, singing Mascis’ ‘Don’t’ until he coughed blood (the lyrics were “Why don’t you like me?”) and Mascis informing Barlow they’d split up, only to reform shortly after without him. I guess it’s even stranger that they reformed and have released a new record, especially as Sebadoh III got reissued during this return! I first heard them around the time of Bakesale, when I heard a band I didn’t expect – imagining a more grungy version of Buffalo Tom, who were initially a bit of a Dinosaur Jr tribute act – going as far as having Mascis produce their initial records (& the Tom, like the Lemonheads, Julianna Hatfield and other American alternative types all got Sean Slade in and recorded at Fort Apache: Sebadoh III was kind of influential then, but not always in a great way!).

SEBADOH III. Contrary to received opinion, Sebadoh weren’t formed after the split from Dinosaur Jr, but formed a year or so before that as a side project, as the sleeve notes from the band point out: Sebadoh was Gaffney’s band! The first Sebadoh album was released in cassette form in 1988, featuring just Barlow and Gaffney, it was eventually issued by Homestead in 1989 – like the acoustic/lo-fi sections on Sebadoh III, it sets up a certain kind of alternative acoustic music that would predict stuff like One Foot in the Grave by Beck, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, and Unplugged by Nirvana (the most amusing example is found on the second disc of Sebadoh III, the electric version of ‘Ride the Darker Wave’, which was used as a model for, of all things, ‘Park Life’ by Blur!!!). The band expanded with the arrival of Loewenstein, who was 18 when he joined, and they practiced & recorded on 4 track in the garage of Gaffney’s parents, prior to the odd gig. The line-up had Gaffney on guitar, Barlow on bass, and Loewenstein on drums – though this would mutate into Barlow on guitar, Loewenstein on bass, and Gaffney on drums (though the band would swap/play all instruments themselves too). Barlow contributed the most songs to Sebadoh III; Loewenstein would write a lot more on later albums, after Gaffney’s exit. It will be interesting to see what material the reformed Sebadoh play on their comeback tour. I think they’ve promised not to play any songs people want to hear every night. Bless…

SEBADOH III. Barlow apparently rejoined Dinosaur Jr when he came close to being broke; a similar financial situation was apparently the case around the start of Sebadoh III and their tenure on Homestead. This was pre-Nevermind and at least Barlow and co didn’t all sign up to majors, as they could have done, in the era we call ‘The Grunge Years’! Though Barlow did famously do coke at Reading Festival in the mid 90s with Courtney Love and Evan Dando, and had a freak hit with ‘Natural One’ by The Folk Implosion (which was recorded for the film Kids – a great soundtrack that also features Daniel Johnston & Slint, which I don’t remember from the film…). I guess Barlow just couldn’t sell out properly?

SMOKE A BOWL. The backdrop of the album included not only the messy split from Dinosaur Jr, but the dark vibe of the 1991 Gulf War and a lot of smoking gear – which I guess could be guessed from a song title like ‘Smoke a Bowl’? Barlow was in love – ‘Kath’ was his ode to his loved one – this record sounds slightly depressed, fairly stoned, and a little bit in love – Sebadoh have a certain kind of melancholy which I can’t nail completely. But dig nevertheless. It would continue on later records, songs like ‘Soul and Fire’, ‘Willing to Wait’, ‘Too Pure’, ‘Beauty of the Ride’, ‘Thrive’ and ‘Sorry.’ The later records are sometimes seen as a bit cleaner, I’m sure I read something on alt country (probably in Uncut) and they were mentioned. Perhaps I imagined that…I hear Sebadoh, albeit immensely diluted, in stuff like Foo Fighters and Snow Patrol. Who are all huge and loaded etc. Not always in a great way, once again…

GIMME INDIE ROCK. There are certain albums by American bands that just seem to pour from them, and Sebadoh III like Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime & Pavement’s Wowee Zowee is one of those records. Loads of songs. Fears of double albums. Fears of a Billy Corgan-style inability to self-edit. I just dig the way they expressed themselves, in true indie-rock style, with what they had. They even recorded the amusing genre song ‘Gimme Indie Rock!’, which is also found as a bonus track…

STONER VIBE. Sebadoh III is one of those records that I can happily play from beginning to end, I think it still stands up – and with Gaffney’s presence and the stoner vibe, it’s unlike later records by the ‘doh. The epic climax ‘as the world dies the eyes of god grow bigger’ is fairly psyched out and in Butthole Surfers territory, as is the ‘Showtape ‘91’ bonus track, which Barlow and Gaffney created for an industry showcase. It’s very irritating: I highly recommend it.

THE FREED PIG. While I can play Sebadoh III happily from start to finish, I do sometimes have an urge to go back to the first track, ‘The Freed Pig.’ It’s just one of those great indie rock songs, anthemic in a good way, and to my ears, it sounds like a hit – which probably means nothing, as I think that about stuff from Manscape by Wire. I’m sure I think HTRK are the next Sugababes. ‘The Freed Pig’ is an odd one, the band playing Barlow’s jolly guitar-driven ditty to lyrics that showcase a break-up and feel a bit like a one-way conversation with a psychiatrist:

You were right
I was battling you
Trying to prove myself
I tried to bury you with guilt
I wanted to prove you wrong
I’ve got nothing better to do
Than pay too much attention to you
It’s sad, but it’s not your fault
Self righteous and rude
I guess I lost that cool?
Tapping til’ I drive you insane
Self righteous, but never right
So laid back, but so uptight
Destroying the patience to tolerate me
All the negative spirit I bring
Right, I was obsessed to bring you down
Watching your every move
Playing your little boy game
Always with something to prove
Waiting to cut you down
Making it hard to live
With only one thing to do: cut me first and make it easy
Now you will be free
Now that nothing depends on me
Tapping ‘til I drive you insane
Now you will be free
With no sick people tugging on your sleeve
Your big head has that “more room to grow”
A glory I will never know
A glory I will never know

That Barlow is playing once again with Mascis is strange enough. I wonder what he thinks of Sebadoh III? To be fair, Barlow has pointed out he’s pretty much done the same thing to members of Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion, I wonder if he means Gaffney, who many see as a bit of stoner? The other strange thing is that the guitar climax is very Dinosaur Jr, that and the fact records like Green Mind and Where You Been were decidedly tepid suggests Barlow was key to their sound. Having a record that sounds like Dinosaur Jr, while slating the principal member is kind of enjoyable too. Most records where former colleagues’ slag each other usually aren’t much cop (‘How Do You Sleep’, ‘Poison Years’), but this is an exception. & the feedback driven climax is as orgasmic as ‘Freak Scene’ by Dinosaur Jr. Weirdly enough; Gaffney objected to the anti-Mascis lyrics and refused to play on ‘The Freed Pig’; though he did play on the demo version on the bonus disc. I really like records when band members object to a song and refuse to play on it, they should happen more often – I really love 154.

FORT APACHE. Sebadoh III is quite a trip, much of it is recorded on 4-track cassette at the band members’ homes, which segue wonderfully with the band offerings recorded at Fort Apache, feeling like a definite trip (‘Total Peace’ follows the Gaffney/Loewenstein cover of Minutemen’s ‘Sickles and Hammers’). The lo-fi material sounds as real an Neutral Milk Hotel, a song like ‘Oh Comely’ or ‘Two Headed Boy’, it almost makes me want to sound like a Paul Weller type: IT’S SO AUTHENTIC!

HOPPIN' UP AND DOWN. Loewenstein gets his own little section on the record, opening with the psyched out ‘Smoke a Bowl’, which offers a home recorded Jimi-direction, before settling into a strange jazzy piece that makes me wonder if he was watching Twin Peaks at the time? ‘Black Haired Girl’ is probably the template for ‘One Foot in the Grave’ by Beck and must be the place where some got a vague alt-country element – I guess some of these home recorded songs are acoustic and might make you think of genres like country and folk? Loewenstein’s best song here, possibly his best song penned in Sebadoh, is ‘Hoppin’ Up and Down’ – which opens with some fantastic drones and feedback, looping around, prior to an acoustic lament worthy of Kurt Cobain. In fact, if you played this to many, they would probably think it was him – the vocals, lyrics, tuning…is so Nirvana. But this was the time when Nirvana were more like a Melvins tribute band, prior to mutating into something more commercial. I’d be surprised if Cobain hadn’t heard this, since it sounds very Nirvana Unplugged – though to be fair, Cobain did contribute to the great LP The Winding Sheet by Mark Lanegan, so it wasn’t just the influence of Sebadoh!

HOLY PICTURE. Gaffney’s songs are the oddest here, ‘Violet Execution’ sounds like a stoned take on early REM with some wonderfully irritating vocals where he sounds like he could crack up any minute. ‘Limb by Limb’ showcases some great minimal drumming by Loewenstein, as Gaffney offers up a chanting pop thing with some great churning feedback – Barlow even sounds a bit Peter Hook at times. ‘Supernatural Force’ sounds like a jangly version of Sonic Youth with Lee Ranaldo on vocals – a definite psychedelic edge here, something that would vanish from the later records. I really should look into what Gaffney did after he left Sebadoh and before he rejoined Sebadoh – ‘Holy Picture’ suggests he must have had a Dusk at Cubist Castle brewing. His contribution gives Sebadoh III another edge, perhaps more bands should record an LP with three songwriters?

SPOILED. ‘Hassle’ is a bizarre song with manipulated vocals, odd samples and strange echoes as Barlow sings “no more psycho-sexual battles”, and guitars detune as drums come in. The next step on from Hairway to Steven? I wonder if this was Sebadoh’s version of Roky, Syd or Spence? The Barlow trilogy that leads up to ‘as the world…’ probably shouldn’t be played on cd, only on tape – they sound like demo versions. Unpolished…Slade’s addition of spacey mellotron to the home recorded ‘Spoiled’ is a moment, demo versions from heaven and proof that slickness isn’t required…

SEBADOH III...more than stands up these days. It was only released in 1991. I quite like most of their records and can’t wait for them to do a UK tour, even though only about 27 people may be there (I went to a poorly attended Sebadoh gig in Wolverhampton once). Sebadoh III is probably a classic somewhere, Portland maybe…but from my view it’s Unsung. Sebadoh III: almost worth buying for the title alone…

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