One of the strongest pillars of underground music during the ’90s—and part of the lo-fi holy trinity that also included Pavement and Guided By Voices—Sebadoh put its best foot forward in 1994 with Bakesale, giving frontman Lou Barlow vindication and validation after Dinosaur Jr. booted him five years earlier. With Eric Gaffney no longer part of the songwriting equation—he just plays drums on four tracks here—Barlow and Jason Loewenstein stepped up and delivered a steady stream of classic pensive indie rock and unhinged rockers, and it rightfully catapulted the band into the upper echelon of the genre. (Though it took another year for Barlow to gain mainstream attention, via Folk Implosion’s improbable radio hit “Natural One” from the Kids soundtrack.)
Examining Bakesale 17 years later thanks to a new two-disc reissue isn’t about discovering something ahead of its time. Instead, it’s a chance to marvel at the record’s sturdiness in spite of its sonic adherence to an extremely specific time in music history. Not a purely lo-fi document, though certainly not a hyper-polished gem, Bakesale sounds great today for the same reasons it was heralded during indie rock’s heyday: It’s real, raw, and catchy, with lines like “If you turn back just to fuck me up / I’ll cut you loose and watch you fall” delivered atop memorable melodic distortion and Bob Fay’s bouncy beat (as heard in “Magnet’s Coil”).
Barlow’s accessible angst tends to receive the lion’s share of accolades when it comes to Sebadoh, and he can certainly pull out his pop pen when he wants to, as proven with singles like “Skull” and “Rebound.” But Loewenstein’s generally more raucous contributions are just as notable, replacing his bandmate’s constant confusion with crazy talk, including observations like “Crazy people are right on” (“Shit Soup”) and “It’s like wasting everything on someone else’s dream / seems pretty crazy to me” (“Drama Mine”) over big blasts of driving bass and guitar.
The deluxe edition of Bakesale is filled with hit-and-miss miscellaneous material, which includes B-sides, EP songs, and rarities. Some of the acoustic takes on entries from both Bakesale and Harmacy—which didn’t live up to its predecessor’s promise when it came out two years later—are interesting documents, as are the four alternate takes of Loewenstein songs that close out the 25-track bonus disc. But the masturbatory noise experiments, bong hits, and drum practice that make up much of the rest is really only for fans whose Sebadoh love is unconditional.