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Sebadoh - Bakesale: Deluxe Edition

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Artist: Sebadoh

Album: Bakesale: Deluxe Edition

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Aug. 3, 2011

Kathleen Hanna is basically canonized. Teen bloggers spend their Internet time adoringly mining riot grrrl fashion and manifestos. One of the country’s most exciting bands plays Mudhoney riff rip-offs, and Prurient and Zola Jesus would have us reclaim Nine Inch Nails for its cathartic power. In the face of all that, here’s a corrective to this nostalgia: Sebadoh’s 1994 “120 Minutes” appearance to promote Bakesale. Ungodly stoned, clad in baggy clothes that scream “mom’s basement,” each member seems entirely on a different vibe with Lou Barlow bouncing around and overly psyched, Jason Lowenstein stock-still, new-ish drummer Bob Fay kind of too pro. Their collective sloppiness and overall dearth of cool is so un-practiced, though; they genuinely hoped to break Nirvana-style with this record, and it’s incredible — and yes, endearing — to think that in pre-Internet time, a band would introduce themselves to a massive TV audience like this. That jarring honesty brands Sebadoh, and makes Bakesale the great record that it is.

Particularly in this re-mastering, Bakesale sounds less compressed than comparable records of its era, with plenty of space for Barlow’s bright, off-kilter arpeggios. The recording also brings the vocals to the mix’s forefront in a way that makes the lyrics impossible to ignore. Proper emo brims alternately with self-pity and blame, but Sebadoh comes across as circumspect. They don’t harbor secret, undying grudges against the opposite sex for their misery behind their sloppy exteriors; they’re nervous and confused, as wary of their own inclinations (“Watch out for my bullshit / Everybody’s got it”) as others’.

But of course, this is a rock record from the ‘90s. These are songs about girls and their intricacies, about burning out and messing up. Either or both the words “dreams” and “confusion” appear on almost every song. Obviously, no shortage of rock songs describe relationships in some sense, but these have a striking directness, describing … well, confusion, with little excess by way of metaphor or vagueness. “Why do you tie me up with words?” Lowenstein asks in “Not Too Amused,” and this sentiment carries through the record. On “Shit Soup,” frustrated, he declares “I don’t need to sleep or eat / Just smoke a thousand cigarettes,” one of the aptest descriptions of the sensation of things-going-wrong on record. Of course it’s teenage, but what’s the adult way to be in love?

Though usually deemed poppier than III, Bakesale‘s awkward, personal nature shines through headphones more than car stereos, alone at home and not at a bar. Clear lines lead into crunched-out dissonances, and even the catchy “Give Up” breaks itself up with a slowed down grunge passage, as though abashed of having too much fun. Each part sounds deliberate, written cautiously to avoid sounding expected or effortless. Lowenstein’s songs move at a more rapid clip than Barlow’s, a few of which drag a little bit. Nonetheless, Bakesale‘s consistency allows it to work tremendously well as a beginning-to-end album.

As anyone who reads rock criticism or waxes nostalgic for the ‘90s grandpa-style knows, that’s not really how music’s made anymore. I’m not sure if music today can even emerge with this same weird innocence. Sebadoh tried — both sonically and lyrically — so fucking hard, despite its slacker-gen trappings.

The CD reissue of Bakesale runs to a bloated 40 tracks. Some of the demos are fine, but everyone except the rabid superfan should seek out the acoustic records Barlow and Lowenstein (and not to mention Tara Jane O’Neil, who drums on about half the record) have recorded over the past 20 years instead of delving into the extras here.

By Talya Cooper

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