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“Dolby’s Top 25 Sebadoh Songs”

I can’t emphasize this enough: Sebadoh is a band that needs to be popularized and pumped through the dry walls, all over this country and elsewhere. Their background story, of Lou Barlow getting kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. (after which he would always be laudatory and classy with J. Mascis and company, as far as I’ve observed) is something to remark on itself, but it’s nothing compared to these songs themselves of this Northampton, Massachusetts outfit — the melodies, the ability to glean influence, the personality and perhaps most importantly the plurality, with Barlow, Jason Loewenstein and Russell Pollard, all three band members, writing at least one song on their most important LP, The Sebadoh.

This 1999 album, which came out mere months before file sharing took over listenership, is a storyline in and of itself, an ostensible career-capper full of these amazingly catchy and immediate indie pop numbers. I actually picked it up used the first time and Twist and Shout in Denver, having been in the mood for some Oasis and some Lemonheads but finding a savvy middle ground between those two bands on this very disc, if you can believe it. The songs almost EXPLODED with simplicity, but had climaxes, too. As a general fervent fan of poppy indie bands like The New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian and Aloha, I found sense in Sebadoh’s hopelessness, their honesty and ability to bare it all and portray everyday situations within this mechanistic format of radio-friendly rock. Of course, given all of this, it’s all the more mystifying to me as to why they’re not more popular, something I’m trying to change here.

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25 “Got it” (Bakesale)

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You get kicked out of one band and then lose the drummer of your new one after a couple albums. Whadyu do? Why, put out a record of the same kind of music but with a baby picture of yourself looking into a toilet and call the album “Bakesale,” of course. Generally Bakesale is a listenable but not world-crushing middle ground between the poignant Bubble & Scrape and the probably overly poppy Harmacy, this track showing off the band’s tireless love for dissonant, angular jazz-punk.

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24 “Cuban” (The Sebadoh)

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Ok I’m going to go ahead and call Jason Loewenstein the “guitarist” in Sebadoh by process of elimination, since bass is Lou Barlow’s natural instrument and Eric Gaffney was referred to as the “drummer” in one of the blurbs… anyway by coincidence the bottom two tracks on this list are both his handiwork and both have that distinction of sounding like a really rowdy, obnoxious four-year-old threw them together, maybe one that had listened to a lot of Aerosmith and Melvins, as it were.

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23 “Red Riding Good” (Extras)

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This song is about gang banging which sure isn’t a drawback (the level of inspiration would seem to come obvious with that subject matter, especially back in the stone age early ’90s), but what about that TENSION, the fact that it doesn’t sound like Motley Crue or Warrant but rather is like a tender, acoustic number. Only Barlow and company would have framed this situation so ironically and with such distinction and that folks is why I am celebrating them today.

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22 “Fantastic Disaster” (Bubble & Scrape)

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Overcoming what’s basically just a foul opener, Bubble & Scrape, truth be told, conjeals into a pretty dang listenable LP, full of the kind of bare, vivid emotion that generally marks the band’s work elsewhere (Barlow seeming to turn a tad more metaphorical in his Dinosaur Jr. work). “Fantastic Disaster” is the creation of drummer Eric Gaffney on what would turn out to be his final act with the band and… I mean, if you’re used to this type of rambunctious, melody-free funk-pop-with-no-groove, sort of hits the spot as an abrasive album track to scratch your paranoia itch… or whatever this music does.

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21 “Black Haired Gurl” (Sebadoh III)

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As far as I know this is Sebadoh’s only country song, apparently mocking illiterate rednecks with that verbally off-kilter title and really resounding out a pretty warm little ditty, with some help from clean, crisp but live production from Sean Slade. Oh, and things do collapse into melodic dissonance in the song’s second half (big shocker).

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20 “As the World Dies the Eyes of God Grow Bigger” (Sebadoh III)

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Haha… whoa is this a weird album closeur, and in general I can only take Sebadoh III if I’m in the right mood. Let’s just say this wasn’t their stab at radio playability (that would be Harmacy, for the record). It’s basically Eric Gaffney’s long, drawn-out narrative of his parents going crazy on acid, losing power over their own lives and reaching the sort of crushing disillusionment that’s felt generations down the line. In light of this, I guess the listener forgives him a little more for quitting music a couple years later. My favorite part is probably the end where he’s spewing a bunch of aimless threats at no one in particular and then all of a sudden he starts going “Blood on the walls!”

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19 “Drag down” (The Sebadoh)

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“Drag down” caps off my pick for most underrated Sebadoh album. Again, the production is a resounding success, here coming courtesy of Eric Masunaga and laying out this gorgeous high register-low register guitar balance of deliberate riffs and thick, opaque, yet ambient, fuzz.

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18 “It’s All You” (The Sebadoh)

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“It’s All You” is the spirited, irreverent opener to The Sebadoh with Jason Loewenstein barfing out the spoken-word, uninhibited chorus of “I’M GONNA GET SO WASTED,” the song sewn together meanwhile with some signature Sebadoh note-clashing, putting together notes which otherwise typically shouldn’t coexist with one another (the bratty little kid thing cannot be overstated) and that swampy, pungent bass sound that gives the song a sort of vague funkiness. Remember, that is Lou Barlow’s corner of the band.

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17 “Scars, Four Eyes” (Sebadoh III)

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The second of two poppy songs by Eric Gaffney, which almost seems a functional impossibility given his larger body of work, “Scars, Four Eyes” mimics its predecessor “Violet Execution” and helps establish the kinetic energy of Sebadoh III’s first side in indie-brat spirit and an overarching scorn for radio and for true approachability, embodying thereby another one of the band’s beloved trademarks.

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16 “Too Pure” (Harmacy)

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I went very, very Harmacy-light on this list… but hey, there are plenty of bands writing these tame, readily hummable tunes and while I don’t put it PAST Sebadoh, they likewise hadn’t quite honed their knack for catchiness as they later would with The Sebadoh. It’s hard to explain why I chose this song ahead of all the others, aside from maybe there just being SOME element of edge to it, like it’s actually the result of some hard-won lesson in life and not just some etude of aping George Harrison.

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15 “Tree” (The Sebadoh)

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“Tree” is a favorite of mine to talk about for many reasons. One, it’s a quintessentially Barlow tune and at the end of the day, say what you want, this was his band. Two, it comes on The Sebadoh, the first CD I found by them and one I prize over just about all the others still. Three, I always EXPECT it to suck. It’s slow. It’s a love song. I get to it and I think oh I’ll skip over “Tree”… I don’t need to hear this Bette Midler crap again… it comes on and god da** it’s just gorgeous. Barlow’s got that arguably overly emotive way of singing and he struts it into this cut on full force but he keeps things MOVING topically enough to retain your interest (“Pleasure takes its toll / People lose control every day / Hypocrites like us / Deserve a little trust along the way”), and as usual, the production is vibrant and awesome, right down to the gorgeous rhythm guitar strums that preternaturally govern this excellent ballad.

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14 “Happily Divided” (Bubble & Scrape)

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Here we’re back to the soothing, reflective melancholy of Sebadoh mainstay Jason Loewenstein. The song’s actually got a melody (I’m so proud of ‘em… weep weep…) and whoo… that production is hot with what sounds like either a slide guitar or a fretless, strummed away on rhythm, cloaking a barely audible bass and drums that are prominent but not booming, (think more Jack Endino than Steve Albini).

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13 “Flood” (Bubble & Scrape)

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Man, if Sebadoh’s staple of these twisted, gruesomely funny album closeurs had kept up who knows what would have happened… as far as I know this is the final installment of them (as well as Eric Gaffney’s last song with the band), with maniacal proclamations of “The boring cat comes out to pounce” and “100 miles an hour through the meadow / I’m skunk drivin’ drunk from the get go”… anyway it has to be heard to be truly understood, though who knows if understanding it is even a good thing or not.

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12 “Decide” (The Sebadoh)

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Here we’re getting at the heart of some serious, dark ’90s alternative rock I guess with me having grown up on Third Eye Blind and Everclear I’ve sort of got a soft spot for this particular zeitgeist, which for some reason is often associated with slacking. It seems like the exact opposite to me, maybe making inactivity more tolerable on the listening end, for its part.

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11 “Violet Execution” (Sebadoh III)

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So Sebadoh III, I have to admit, is still sort of an enigma to me. I mean, it’s a rock album. Nobody would deny that. It’s got sonic highs. It’s got energetic highs. It’s got emotional highs and it’s got satyr highs, or “lows,” if you prefer. It’s just that… none of these individual things seems to jibe with any of the other, in the particular arena of the LP, almost all seeming mutually exclusive. And then there’s “Violet Execution,” which isn’t really either of these things. It just seems to have a certain SUBSTANCE that makes it memorable. It’s like a person made out of elbows or something. I think I came upon Sebadoh III at a time in my life (fresh out of four years in Bloomington, Indiana listening to Beefheart and Zappa among probably thousands of other bands) when I had an especially high tolerance for weird music. Ultimately, I’m thankful for that.

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10 “Brand New Love” (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)

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So Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock is Sebadoh’s beloved b-sides collection which came out about three albums into their career (imagine a song being too weird to make it onto a Sebadoh album… that thought alone is enough to scare most people out of making music entirely), and this second track has always just been an astonishing project to me, partly because it follows the laughably hardcore “Cry Sis” and partly because da** it just really is a good song, with this astonishing simplicity similar to like James Taylor or dangit some sensitive ish like that.

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9 “Total Peace” (Sebadoh III)

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Calling Lou Barlow “self-obsessed” probably wouldn’t be too far off base on all occasions. Anyway, you’ve gotta admire the band for positioning this soft ballad third on this “rock” album, a tune which though delicate and acoustic also undeniably owns to a certain dubious darkness, like a simple, sublime contemplation on a clandestine impending doom of some sort.

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8 “Sacred Attention” (Bubble & Scrape)

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“Sacred Attention” is an undeniable classic in the middle of Bubble & Scrape and could have easily landed at number one on this list. The band kick up the tempo a little bit for this one on a sort of pop-rock groove that could have easily informed Weezer (actually this song reminds me a lot of the blue album in general), the unforgettable lines coming with “I could almost laugh out loud / The way this silence leaves me dead”.

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7 “Two Years Two Days” (Bubble & Scrape)

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Wow is that opener “Soul and Fire” a tad bit suspect but things get rolling soon enough on track two here, a great sort of testament to emotional recklessness in relationships, something someone certainly has to have in order to be “cool,” in most cases. It’s straight-ahead power pop, which is sort of refreshing after the conceptual madhouse that is III, and even balloons out into a nice guitar solo, something that was likely condemned in the punk ethos with which the band grew up.

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6 “Colorblind” (The Sebadoh)

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Yup, he really said “Time to fake a miracle” (Sebadoh totes lyrics as an undeniable feather in their cap on most if not all albums), this song then settling in and slotting amongst its pop brethren the album over with considerable competency. Some fluctuations in emotion occur, the effect of which is more just truncation of monotony than it is effective politics or semantic statement.

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5 “Wonderful, Wonderful” (Sebadoh III)

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The band certainly dug deep for this one, a cover of some Broadway musical progenitor called Sherman Edwards who must have written this when World War II was barely over (so much for copying George Harrison, I guess). Basically, the main reason why I like it is that it features my favorite guitar sound of all time, in the brief coda solo which is also very creative in terms of structure as well. But then, Sebadoh were a creative band. Fu** it let’s pour one for ‘em.

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4 “Sister” (Bubble & Scrape)

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I think we’re now to the point where all these songs made it onto “Dolby’s Top 500 Indie Rock Songs of All Time” or else certainly should have. ACK! Good God is this song weird! I mean I think it’s about having a romantic relationship with your sister! Guitar credits: Joe Dirt. In all serious, belted out by Eric Gaffney and full of frenetic and awesome guitar frills, it’s a miasmic masterpiece that splits the divide between melody and catharsis like a light saber.

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3 “Weird” (The Sebadoh)

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This, without question, the second song on The Sebadoh, was the first song I really fell in love with by the band, a perfect melding of the Oasis and Lemonheads presences I’d craved, as I mention earlier (sorry to be lame and mention Oasis… to be fair Dig out Your Soul does glean a decent Stone Roses influence, at least for a couple of songs). This music was catchy and fun and this band made sense to me. What didn’t make sense is why I hadn’t grown up watching them on MTV or listening to them on U93.

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2 “Ocean” (Harmacy)

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Yes, it’s a sappy song about romance. He’s whining about a doomed relationship. But it’s LIGHT. He actually used music as a healing power, not reentering that obligatory, trite state of mourning every time he picks up a microphone. This song is brisk and romps along the hillsides like a springtime gazelle in awesome, melodic self-matrimony. Plus, broken hearts are for a**holes like Pete Ham, just like Frank Zappa said.

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1 “Flame” (The Sebadoh)

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“Flame” is basically an extension of “Weird,” on Sebadoh’s best album… I would never think of one without the other and along with Califone and maybe some mainstream ’90s rock it fulfills ideal, like, evening high school football tailgating music, or “driving” music, if you don’t do redneck things like that like I do. Ahem. Well anyway I think its utmost victory is how in listening to it you really zoom in to Barlow’s problem of excessive emotion, where the world around him is moving too fast and failing to make sense sometimes, the type of thing that makes his chronic pop-writing habit all the more forgivable, especially since they sing about weed too.

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https://open.spotify.com/user/1222259273/playlist/4Wc7rnMulWaK8CfxScdnbG?si=BgDp18_ORceSkuHL5FezJA

 

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