Sebadoh, by their very nature, were an imperfect band. The trio, composed of Lou Barlow, Jason Lowenstein and Eric Gaffney, wrote songs as individuals and played them as a group. Quiet, thoughtful ballads would snuggle up against manic bursts of noise on a Sebadoh album, and fidelity was an afterthought, if even a thought at all. That said, when they struck upon a good melody (and they did so most of the time), they could craft one hell of a song. Their now legendary III revealed plenty of these moments, albeit shaken up with weird, lo-fi nuggets of stoned melody, and Bakesale even showed how close they could come to crafting a perfect album, even if it, in general, wasn’t in Sebadoh’s nature. But Bubble and Scrape, the last album to feature Sebadoh’s original lineup, came awfully close as well.
On the album’s 15th anniversary, Domino Records has reissued Bubble and Scrape as a whopping 32-track juggernaut, piling on 15 extra b-sides, demos and other delicious morsels. In any situation, having 15 more songs added to an album could be seen only as a positive thing, but in the case of Sebadoh, the fractured nature of the album in its initial incarnation seems not the slightest bit disrupted by this offering. The other funny thing about Sebadoh is that, given their tendency to record as many minute-long tracks as three minute pop songs, all 32 songs fit on one disc.
All this talk of Sebadoh’s patchwork approach isn’t to discount the quality of their music, however. And the level of quality on Bubble and Scrape is at an all time high in most places. Lou Barlow, in particular, was at the top of his game on this album, turning in gracefully melodic gems such as “Soul and Fire” and “Cliche” along with fiery rockers like “Sacred Attention.” Gaffney, meanwhile, has his share of fuzzy delights, like “Telecosmic Alchemy” and “Fantastic Disaster,” his own contributions further toward the direction of punk rock (you know, the kind the band directed their audience to smash their heads on). Loewenstein’s tracks are somewhere in between, with jangly rock numbers like “Sister” and “Sixteen” neither as stripped and snotty as Gaffney’s, nor as single-ready as Barlow’s. Yet even with striking differences between each songwriter’s contributions, the flow is more like a really good mixtape than a choppy album, and that’s always sort of what made Sebadoh great in the first place.
The extra tracks on the Deluxe version of Bubble and Scrape do have the distinction of sounding like b-sides, and therefore make sense as being disconnected from the original album. “Bouquet For a Siren,” for instance, descends into a sloppy jam as it reaches the end, and “Emma Get Wild” seems even more aggressive and fuzzed out than any of the proper album material. Sure, they’re sloppy and silly and may not fit in on the album per se, but as a companion piece, make a hell of a punk rock listening session, and they’re most certainly a lot of fun.
In 2008, Sebadoh’s Bubble and Scrape is due for a revisit from fans and a first listen from those who may not have been indoctrinated in its fuzzy rock the first time around. When you get right down to it, this album stands up to any of the band’s others (and much better than their late-90s output), not to mention albums by Pavement and Guided by Voices, the other two bands in the holy trinity of lo-fi. This was the last album with Sebadoh’s original lineup, and as such, was the last of its kind. Of course, Bob Fay would soon join the band and a new and no less great era would soon begin, but Sebadoh Mark I was awfully good while it lasted.
Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand
Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
Beat Happening – Dreamy
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.