indsight is a sharp fucking stick. One can pull each of the bit players out of the drawer and look at their current exploits; what path(s) they plotted after III died a psychedelic death knell equal parts aggression and suppression. Sebadoh, naturally, continued on and created two far better records, Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock and Bubble & Scrape. Eric Gaffney, ostensibly the most animated (and antagonistic) Sebadoh member, parted ways with Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein, who continued to make (egregiously poor) music under the Sebadoh moniker. III is the trio’s baby step; by the time Smash Your Head’s “Vampire” and “Mean Distance” were competing for new standards in psychosexual manipulation, the band had reached its creative zenith. Bubble & Scrape is the masterwork, but Gaffney might as well have left before the record was even on a conceptual footing, as his songs crash and burn through smoked out cosmoses, fired by imagistic lyrics and unsettled by his patented Sybil-voce—a sort of bell jar smashed under the weight of a plethora of competing personae.
Sebadoh’s III dispenses with the rocker veil and shows us the fundamentals. Barlow one-ups himself with each piece, dropping honest stones in a reverberating barrel for everyone to hear. The smarting well is thumped again and again, as he strips himself naked and holds the magnifying glass to his crotch. Sniveling self-deprecation is a shit pile mound; the less guitar strings he uses, the greater the stench. By the time he gets to “Renaissance Man” he’s a blind man with a blade, slicing air, cutting everyone—and himself to ribbons. “Brother, make a list, pierce your dick / Future tribal-thought and rebel, greedy Renaissance Man,” is Barlow’s armless call to arms, an empty group-think for the sofa stoner set. Would he go on to write better songs than “Renaissance Man,” “Spoiled,” or “No Different”? Smash Your Head’s “Vampire” is certainly better; Bubble & Scrape’s “Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)” is probably his best work, a distillation of nearly all that preceded it delivered steadfast and irony free. Everything else is just noisily spinning wheels, endless cycling; the kind of frowning clown tactic that begs for a cow patty pie in the face.
When Gaffney wasn’t affixing “kick me” signs to Barlow’s back, he donned the lab coat and safety goggles, taking shallow pop structures and filling them to dangerous levels. Juxtaposition was key, as he continually took ‘60s guitar jangle, offset it with phaser’d squelch and powerfully vibrant leads.
Lyrics were part nursery rhyme, part incantatory rune. The more images accumulated the better; even as sense was erased from the foreground, the song remained afloat despite being drilled with witchy holes. Gaffney is every bit as confessional as Barlow, but access to emotional state(s) is addled by repeated mentions of non-psychological touchstones. Like a Hilda Doolittle or William Carlos Williams keen on the occult, Gaffney doesn’t “fall for a girl,” he’s “seduced by apparition.” Attraction isn’t reduced to love or lust, it’s necromantic spells: “I know sorcery, it’s miserable,” Gaffney sings in “Violet Execution,” a love song for passive-aggressive types steadied by the world’s Lithium supply.
All of Gaffney’s songs share a vocal schizophrenia where words are whispered, whined, and wailed; the same sentiments spat from three different mouthpieces. He relentlessly layers them, unsettling the experience by giving one three different ways to process the song as it unfolds. For first timers, it’s an unfortunate experience; for those of similar disposition, it’s like listening to the sirens call the boat to shore: Hal-le-lu-jah.
The culmination—and III’s ultimate and logical conclusion—is the autobiographical anti-tune, “As the World Dies, the Eyes of God Grow Bigger,” a sort of nervous breakdown sneeringly set to tape. This is Gaffney in nuce—exaggerated into pure parody. The lullaby lyrical delivery is alternated with demonic raving; the instrumentation responds in kind until the whole thing disintegrates into pure energy. Ever eager to don the jester hat, Gaffney brings down the big fucking bummer over the heads of every university jock that decided to ingest a bit of windowpane and rock some “lo-fi.” Blood on the walls…
For the remainder of the record, little Jason Lowenstein does his desperate part to act as adhesive, pulling together the most disparate of bits with some tasteful, if not jejune songs. “Hoppin’ Up and Down” provides a rest before Gaffney’s sonic Ouija of “Supernatural Force.” “Smoke a Bowl” works in the same fashion: a quick comedown from “Limb by Limb.” He was young, and so were the ones that brandished this recording as their only weapon against non-productivity; freak flags were flown via snobbish indifference, III was an omnipresent excuse to cut class, quit a go-nowhere job, chase some psilocybin with a quart of gin and tonics, set some shit on fire.
For those that remained to clean up after the carnage, there’s a bonus disc of filler and freakish home audio experiments. Some of it is intentionally funny; much of it is stamped indelibly with “for completists.” Despite the time elapse, the original record remains what it was and will forever be.