. . .
Eventually — and around the same time, honestly — Lou Barlow figured it out just like Robert Pollard (sorta) did: you can still make a weird-sounding lo-fi album be consistently great by focusing on the songs, not the the goofarounds.
And so, Bakesale was by far the most consistent album Sebadoh had ever done, and that was probably because co-founder Eric Gaffney had left and bassist Eric Lowenstein’s songs were more in line with Barlow’s than Gaffney’s ever were. Barlow was never going to fully lockdown the songwriting, because that was at least part of why he left Dinosaur Jr in the first place (and to be sure, he’s had a pair of songs on all five of their great 21st century reunion albums), but his songs were still the reason to put on Bakesale. Or at least my reason.
And drummer Bob Fay helped, too. His drumming on “Skull,” for example, is utterly fantastic. At first, “Skull” is just Barlow and his scraping electric guitar:
There is history in this place
There are dragons to be chased
And though I don’t know who you are
At this point, Fay comes in, with just his kickdrums and hi-hat, adding momentum but hiding the backbeat.
An easy flow and a strong, a strong heart
And the charm in the way you hide
Gently take my skull
For a ride
It’s what he does as Barlow sings “gently take my skull . . . for a ride” that’s fantastic: he fakes like he’s gonna start a snare beat, the bounces off of his toms into a build, before finally doing a regular beat for the second verse.
And I don’t know who you are
But I know what I would like you to be
A one-night stand under stoned persuasion
But a joy that I can’t hide
“Skull” is supposedly about a night that Lou Barlow did hard drugs with Evan Dando (so, coke and smack, no doubt), and so the dislocation by Fays drums, and especially those builds, contribute to the overall drugginess of the song — as does Barlow’s typically calm vocal — especially as Fay goes kinda nuts on the third verse, skittering all over his snare drum while Barlow slashes at his guitar.
We can never ever go too far
The pain we can’t escape at least will wait
So let’s go quickly, no we go slow
Let’s go chasing dragons through the snow
And while you might think it’s gonna be crazed craziness for the rest of the song, Fay backs down into the build for the final chorus.
Kindly take my all
And give me all you have
Gently take my skull for a ride
Take and shake your soul
But never lose control
Gently take your skull for a ride
“Skull” was catchy enough that not only did Sub Pop release it as a single, they also paid for a video for it, which was black-and-white, and featured the band trying to go from point a to point b, carrying weird shit, as was the fashion at the time. It didn’t do anything over here, but made it to #96 in the U.K..
“Skull” Official Music Video
“Skull” live acoustic, 2011
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