Over the weekend I did some deep listening through the shelves and stacks and had many a debate about the best non-heard 90’s albums. Even in an age when underground music was well documented there’s always some gems that have seemed to slip through the cracks. Maybe its just cause I’ve been reading Schnipper's column too much. So this week I’m taking a break from new releases to revisit some old favorites and hopefully inspire some investigation into these works.
In many people’s minds the Bay Area in the early 90s was probably best remembered for the Gilman Street punk scene and the Lookout Records kinda thing. More interesting, more genuinely punk, and certainly more enduring is the legacy of BlackJack Records, which released mind-distorting records by Icky Boyfriends, Brainbombs and Monoshock among others, which contorted rock music not entirely unlike what James Chance did to funk during No Wave a decade or so earlier. If grunge was deconstructed metal mixed w/punk, this was a freakier, looser manifestation of a destructive intent to rewrite music for the illiterate and damaged. Of those records Liqourball’s epic Hauls Ass from ‘94 still retains as much of an impact now. Talk about drunken loud genius, Liquorball just devastates the whole way through this record. It’s a mean spirited, sloppy mess of guitar squall and thumping relentless midtempo not give a fuck sludge. There’s a strong psych fry here as well, which makes my head hurt in a good way. The album cover of a bus smashed into a car w/the bands name spray-painted on it kinda says it all. No insert, no band photos, no credit info. Awesome. I’d take this over a Crimpshrine record any day of the week.
The 80s were the time of the lo-fi bedroom four track masterpieces like Half Japanese’s sprawling ½ Gentlemen, Not Beats box and Sebadoh’s Freed Weed recordings. So by ’92 when Luxurious Bags recorded Frayed Knots it was already something else entirely. At the time, Tom Leonard was playing guitar in St. Johnny, who during the post Nirvana major label feeding frenzy endured a stint on Geffen Records along with Cell, who were ushered in as part of Thurston Moore’s co-opt A&R scouting. Leonard’s home-recorded solo project Luxurious Bags perfected a wall of blissed out drone rock with a flurry of distinct solos. Frayed Knots was released in ’94 on Twisted Village records and in my opinion sums up the prevailing mood of the times in the very first song “Got all the time in the world but I can’t afford the tax”. From there Luxurious Bags get deep into serious guitar layers and perfectly crafted spaced out guitar bummer jams. From start to finish this album is without flaw. While maybe not as blatantly catchy as Slanted and Enchanted, I’d say Frayed Knots is the better album of the two. We can’t rewrite history but this one is still in print and better than just about anything coming out nowadays. Since ‘94 nothing has been heard from Luxurious Bags but last year an official Myspace page appeared prompting rumors of a follow up album. Let’s sure hope so.
Remember when Bristol’s Flying Saucer Attack was a really big deal? Well that stuff doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as it did in those uncertain times. While FSA front man Dave Pearce faded into obscurity his original partner in the group Rachel Brook split off to form Movietone and in 1997 released their second record Day and Night on Drag City. Rather than the sheets of noise shoegaze of FSA, Movietone took a spectral approach to an almost lo-fi amateur Bossa Nova music, which had a quiet, hauntingly tranquil effect. Perhaps always overshadowed by the more press-grabbing FSA, Movietone never got much acclaim for their softly bare approach. However, in retrospect and at the time in my mind, Movietone exhibited a starkly individual approach to a genre ridden with cliché to create an album uniquely lulling. My two absolute essential falling to sleep records for many years were Day and Night and Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 by Aphex Twin. The latter is still celebrated so perhaps its time for us to revisit the former. In 2003 Movietone recorded a whole album on a beach. I imagine it could have only taken place at night.
A few years back I picked up a sealed copy of the Swirlies Blonder Tongue Audio Baton LP for $1, which was their highlight recording along with their debut EP What to do About them. The Swirlies were merging of twee-pop, shoegaze, tape hiss static, and erratic outbursts of guitar freakouts. While perhaps not being the most potent document of any of those individual styles, its almost like a cut up tape of everything the 90s American underground became known for. The Swirlies’ charming ineptitude and occasional perfection are best seen here on Blonder Tongue. Hazy pop songs morph into distorted pounces, boy/girl vocal harmonies recalling Velocity Girl and other indie faves, droning guitars a la MBV, a dash of Sonic Youth, four tracks, breakdowns for no reason, its kinda all there (except for math rock, but that’s another story all together). Now it’s hard to say if the Swirlies will be relevant outside direct nostalgia, as many people I know would answer with a resounding no. However, a lost treasure? Maybe some treasures are enjoyed when they’re not even that valuable. Last I heard from the Swirlies was a remix album of their stuff by DJ Spooky and others back in 98. Now if that’s not the ultimate, tellingly unnecessary 90s move ever, I don’t know what is. Next week, I’ll get out of my VH1 phase and get back to god damned present.
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