Sebadoh’s seminal, but sometimes overlooked Bubble & Scrape gets a well deserved deluxe edition re-release. Often overshadowed by later, more accessible records like Bakesale and Harmacy, or their earlier, lower-fi ones (which were released more immediately in the wake of member Lou Barlow’s firing from Dinosaur Jr. by J Mascis), Bubble & Scrape is really the finest of all the albums by this influential nineties indie-rock band. The last record to feature founding member Eric Gaffney, it also is the first to really showcase the developing songwriting ability of Jason Loewenstein – not to mention some of the prolific Barlow’s finest work. While the stocked bonus disc is really a relatively mixed grab bag of b-sides and extras, Bubble & Scrape is an album worthy of a revisiting.
One criticism often put at Bubble’s doorstep is that it itself is a mixed record, being that it was the only one to feature tracks written by three songwriters in roughly equal amounts. But, in addition to being not that far-out for Sebadoh (most of the pre-Bubble releases were mixed between Barlow & Gaffney, while most of the post- were mixed between Barlow & Loewenstein), that’s actually a point in favor of the record, as it gives it an amazing width and breadth. The mixed nature of Bubble lets each songwriter to go off in their own direction without keeling the whole output over.
At seven tracks, Barlow still gets the largest share of Bubble, but only just: he’s but one track above Gaffney, and still has less than half of the seventeen tracks, total. Still, the record does lead off with two Barlow pieces, but they’re two of his best, single “Soul and Fire” and “2 Years 2 Days”. These classic songs are both touching, evocative, moving, and forceful, while still leaven with Sebadoh experimentation. In general, Barlow’s pieces are the most outright powerful, whether those two, the more straight-up middle piece “Cliché”, the grand and crashing later number “Homemade”, or the stripped penultimate “Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)”. But he also shows a fun side on the rockin’ “Sacred Attention” and catchy “Forced Love”.
Eric Gaffney’s contributions to Sebadoh have always been the least ‘accessible’, so it’s no wonder the band found more mainstream acceptance after he left. But his was also the most interesting voice in the group, and he really put it all together on Bubble. Early pieces “Telecosmic Academy” and “Fantastic Disaster” are both crazy and fun, with a jangle-experimental side. Middle number “Elixir is Zog” is still as weird and memorable as its title, while the following “Emma Get Wild” is a funny, driving, alt-road joke. But Gaffney’s best tracks are near the end, the speedy “No Way Out” and “Bouquet for a Siren”. “No Way” is almost ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ in its twang (with Gaffney’s requisite weird sounds at the end), while “Bouquet” is just some fun, pressing, rock ‘n’ roll.
The hidden gem on Bubble is, however, the burgeoning songwriting ability of Jason Loewenstein. The last to join of the three original members, Loewenstein had been overshadowed by Barlow & Gaffney, but Bubble saw him come out of his shell with four standout tracks that run the gamut between those two men. Early piece “Happily Divided” is a low-key version of Barlow’s moving touch, while the following “Sister” is grand and rockin’ like work from either man. Meanwhile, middle number “Sixteen” has a Gaffney-esque gangle-road-weird, and finisher “Flood” throws Loewenstein’s own twang on rock ‘n’ roll.
Seventeen tracks is nothing unusual for Sebadoh (especially when you consider that there were three people writing), and the prolific band was equally so in its extras, at fifteen (though that’s no eighteen bonus tracks like the re-release of 1991’s III – but that original record clocked in at twenty-three…). However, being such an experimental band, most of the bonus material is either early experiments or experiments gone awry, with nothing matching the level of III’s leadoff bonus track (and alt-music anthem), “Gimme Indie Rock!”. Still, the leadoff “Reject” is effective in its rocking press, but the four demos that follow (all five originally b-sides to the “Soul and Fire” single) are definitely unpolished, though Gaffney’s early demo of “Emma Get Wild” is short & sweet in its rock, while Loewenstein’s “Flood Ken” has an interesting weird-twang echo. Five previously unreleased tracks follow, from the weird, stripped-fi nonsense of “Messin’ Around” to the sub-minute noise-death of “You Are Going Down”, but gems include the lo-fi punk rock sequel “Visibly Wasted II” and especially the fun, bitchin’, bitin’ riff, “Old Daze”. The next four tracks are from an untitled U.K. bonus 7” to Bubble, and “Parts 1 – 4” are just strange amalgamations of sounds, one from Barlow, two from Gaffney, and one from Loewenstein, with Loewenstein’s funnily enough the best. Still, the bonus disc ends with two high notes, stripped, acoustic versions of the oh-so-touching “Happily Divided” and “Soul and Fire”.
Sebadoh, and its individual members, went on to other things after Bubble & Scrape, from Bakesale to Barlow reuniting with once-nemesis J Mascis to reform Dinosaur Jr. on the road (QRO live review) and in-studio (last year’s Beyond – QRO review). But, like Dinosaur Jr.’s reissues reviving that band in its original three-piece form (Murph!…), the reissues of Sebadoh have brought these boys back on tour, instrument switches (all three can seemingly play bass, drums, or guitar), tuning changes, and all – in fact, they’re playing Bubble & Scrape in its entirety as part of the ‘Don’t Look Back Concert Series’ this summer (last year, home to Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation – QRO live review) in London and at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago (QRO Festival Guide). This is a record that deserves a second go-round, and thankfully, it’s now got one.
MP3 Stream: “Old Daze”