Sebadoh: Bakesale (1994)

Sebadoh were on the shortlist of bands that were central to my 90s listening habits -- right there alongside Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Sleater-Kinney, Luna, Matthew Sweet, Bettie Serveert, and a few others. Alas, I'd call myself a fair-weather Sebadoh fan, preferring only selected songs on each album.

Though ostensibly fronted by Lou Barlow after his eviction as Dinosaur Jr.'s bass player, Barlow (now on guitars) for better or worse ran the band like a democracy, with bassist Jason Loewenstein and drummer Eric Gaffney each contributing and helming a few tracks per album. (By Bakesale, Gaffney was out and writing credits were divided largely between Barlow and Loewenstein, with a tilt towards Barlow tunes.) The problem is that Barlow is one of the finer songwriters and vocalists of the era, able to churn out catchy indie rock tracks and haunting ballads; the more punk-oriented contributions of his bandmates couldn't help but suffer a bit whatever their own merits. 

I ultimately made myself a mix of Barlow-only tunes, and it positively kicks ass; I rarely listen to the actual albums. Still, while it's a close call with its predecessor, Bubble & Scrape, Bakesale is probably their most consistent album on a song-for-song basis.

The album is elevated largely on the strengthsof two fantastic tunes which are standouts of the early/mid-90s alt.rock era. "Skull" is a thoroughly compelling mid-tempo track, Barlow's voice at its alluring best, the song steadily building to anthemic proportions, "gently take my skull for  a ride" as cryptically affirming as anything from Malkmus or Pollard. And "Magnet's Coil," with an added layer of energy, both fizzy and jangly, has all the makings of a nifty little indie hit, pissed off but committed.

Other Barlow tracks, while less joyously transcendent, are totally solid -- opener "License to Confuse" is on the grungy, Nirvana-esque side of the spectrum; "Rebound" is a buoyant, infectious rocker; and "Not a Friend" is a slower, stripped-down bit of angst reminiscent of Barlow's earlier post-Dinosaur work.

To be fair, Loewenstein's songs here aren't bad, showing some growing maturity as a songwriter. Something like "Not Too Amused" takes Sebadoh more transparently into emo-ish territory, the Sonic Youth-inspired guitar tunings giving it a jolt of energy; and "Got It" could very well be a Barlow track if you don't look at the credits, with a nice little riff. Certainly Bakesale feels much more like a unified whole without the more challenging/experimental Gaffney contributions from prior albums.

Here's the "Skull" video:
Here's the video for "Rebound":
Here's a fantastic live, acoustic take on "Magnet's Coil" with Barlow and Bob Mould:
And here's a live "Got It":