I grew up in the 80s mostly, but really started paying attention to music in the 90s. Here are some of my favorite unsung heroes from those days.
Superdrag – Head Trip in Every Key (1998)
This, Superdrag’s second major label release, finds the Knoxville quartet expanding beyond the snarky power pop of their first album, Regretfully Yours. A true studio masterpiece, Head Trip is what the Beach Boys would have done after Good Vibrations if they hadn’t gotten so into LSD and hanging out with Charles Manson. Dense layers of fuzz guitars rest on a soft bed of drums and bass in a huge room full of feather pillows. Listen to this three times, and it will be your favorite album. Headphones recommended.
Failure – Magnified (1994)
A lot of attention has been given in recent years to Failure’s follow-up to this album, Fantastic Planet. A great album, no doubt one of my favorites, but the brilliance of Magnified cannot be ignored. This is where Failure really came into their sound. Heavy, grungy guitars, overdriven bass, dissonant arpeggios, slamming drums, with complex arrangements all coming together to create a sound unheard before or since. Overlooking this record is a big mistake, in my opinion.
Handsome – Handsome (1997)
Supergroups are usually supposed to do better than this album did. Comprised of ex-members of Quicksand, Helmet, Cro-Mags, and other New York hardcore veterans, Handsome never got any traction in the mainstream media. At first listen, this record could come across as a bunch of old hardcore guys who were trying to get on the radio, but to write it off as such would be such a disservice to such a great record. As short-lived as this lineup was, they managed to pull off something very special. The Terry Date “wall of metal” production sounds a bit dated (pun intended) and doesn’t fit the band as well as perhaps the first couple Deftones albums, but the songs, man… the songs. Catchy, emotive, powerful, riff-tastic, and awesome.
Self – Subliminal Plastic Motives (1995)
Matt Mahaffey, who makes music under the pseudonym Self, is one of those guys that, as a musician, I want to hate. He can play every instrument, and play it well, he’s a prolific songwriter, and has made a career as a sideman for Beck, among others. His first major label release, Subliminal Plastic Motives, which was 95% performed and produced by Mahaffey, is a collection of quirky pop anthems that fit right in with the developing alternative landscape. By all accounts, this should have been a huge hit, but never quite cracked the egg of mainstream consciousness. Equal parts XTC, Cheap Trick, and Prince, SPM is a joy front to back. There isn’t a bad song on this record, which is even more the feat considering it all came out of one person’s head.