Sebadoh – III
Released August 16th, 1991 on Homestead Records
Produced by Sean Slade
In 1989, after playing bass on and touring behind Dinosaur Jr.’s two best albums (You’re Living All Over Me and Bug), Lou Barlow was kicked out of the band by J. Mascis. Barlow was pissed and, like all unappreciated geniuses, he used his side project to vent his feelings about the whole deal. That side project was Sebadoh, a lo-fi band before lo-fi was really a thing. He titled the first one The Freed Man, which sounds like a dig at Mascis until you realize he was living in the Friedman Residence at Smith College with his girlfriend Kathleen Billus. The second, Weed Forestin’, had been recorded prior to his firing from Dinosaur Jr. as an outlet for songs that Mascis refused to consider for the band. III, however, kicks off with “The Freed Pig”, which is lyrically and sonically a diss of Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. The rest of the album, though, is a kaleidoscope of sounds that would later spin off whole galaxies of thought in underground rock music. There are the skronky, squalling rockers (mostly courtesy of Eric Gaffney, for whom III would be the last Sebadoh record he would play in); there are the rough, heartfelt acoustic songs that sound as though they were recorded in a storage closet on a Walkman (mostly Barlow’s style); there are the bizarre, disturbing images in songs like “Violet Execution” and the closer “As The World Dies, The Eyes Of God Grow Bigger” (largely Gaffney again, whose upbringing was, uh, unconventional). Some of them approach normalcy – “Supernatural Force” sounds like the more professional iterations of the band post-Bakesale – whereas many of them sound fractured and sketched, in what would become a fine tradition in indie rock. This tradition, it must be said, was already well underway via Guided By Voices, but in 1991 almost no one outside of Dayton, OH had heard of them, so Lou Barlow gets the nod here.
A lot of people will listen to this record and wonder that it ever got put out at all. The production quality is practically non-existent, after all, and twenty years of cutting-edge pop production will have people conflating crisply produced dynamics with quality. III says something different to that idea: it says that you can make music with anyone, using anything, and record it on a potato if you so choose. It was nowhere near the mainstream at the time, either, of course. There isn’t a gated drum or a piano-driven power ballad to be found, and it had much more in common with scuzzy hardcore than anything the Sunset Strip was putting out (see “God Told Me” for further info). A month or so later everything would begin to change; like another classic record coming up further on this month, III was a harbinger released just before Nevermind changed the rules for everyone. Barlow’s old band had scored a major label release earlier in the year, but pretty soon everyone would be swimming in major label deals. It would take Sebadoh until 1999 to manifest that, but the band’s next few releases after III would be released on Sub Pop, which was at the time close enough.