When Lou Barlow first started recording as Sebadoh with his pal Eric Gaffney in 1986, he was still playing bass in Dinosaur Jr., and the group's early work practically defines the "side project syndrome" -- since Barlow was already a member of another, more "serious" band at the same time, Sebadoh gave him the opportunity to be as silly, as cryptic, or as obsessively personal as he wished. Not long after Sebadoh's The Freed Man first surfaced as a cassette-only release, Barlow was fired from Dinosaur Jr., and what was once his creative safety valve suddenly became his primary musical forum, and the rough, purposefully distorted textures of Sebadoh's primitive early work (recorded on inexpensive four-track cassette decks and then dubbed down to even cheesier tape) would become the early hallmark of their music, along with the rage, puzzlement, and melancholy that defined Barlow's lyrical world-view. However, on The Freed Man, while Barlow hardly sounds sunny most of the time, he was clearly able to embrace the playful side of the group's music, and Gaffney was more than willing to bring his fair share of goofiness into the formula; add the periodic barrage of audio clips from television broadcasts, old children's records, and assorted noise, and you get the template for much of what would emerge in the "lo-fi revolution" (and like thousands of bands that would follow in Sebadoh's wake, much of The Freed Man was recorded in a college dorm room, with sounds from the adjoining rooms occasionally bleeding onto the tape). While stretches of The Freed Man sound like the pot-addled meanderings of a semi-bohemian college sophomore with a little too much time on his hands, both Barlow and Gaffney display enough songcraft and imagination to show they were several cuts above most folks following a similar path, and the fact that the nerdy but confessional "Soulmate," the bare-bones pop of "Drifts on Thru," and a mock-hardcore cover of "Yellow Submarine" could peacefully coexist on the same album suggests Sebadoh's budget-minded eclecticism was reaping potent rewards right from the very start.
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