Despite the fervent wishes of some pundits to move us right out of the physical-media age, CDs, records and even cassette tapes are still the only places a lot of music can be found. Due to licensing entanglements, lazy publishers or just forgetfulness on behalf of the listening public, there are millions, perhaps billions of songs floating around the nonvirtual world, just waiting to be rediscovered as lost classics. And not all of them are collectors items.
In trawling the virtual bargain bins of Amazon.com and Half.com, one can find many albums that, if released today, would likely receive a warm reception. Yet there they linger, feebly begging someone to put off buying a cup of coffee (or in some cases, a stick of gum) in exchange for an hour or so of sonic pleasure.
To help readers navigate the depths, the following is a list of nine albums – all at least 15 years old – that should be considered alt-rock classics, but aren’t. They’re all out of print on CD, none of them are available on iTunes, and not one costs more than five bucks for a used (good condition) copy. Hell, more than half of ’em cost less than two bucks. Consider it the cheapest music history lesson ever.
@ indicates other albums by this artist are either in print or available on iTunes.
AC Temple, Sourpuss (Blast First, 1989; $2.99 at Amazon.com) An explosive British indie noise-rock band that drew comparisons to Sonic Youth at the time. However, singer Jane Bromley has a full-throated howl that’s far more appropriate to this firestorm of guitars than Kim Gordon’s monotone. Produced by Jon Langford (Mekons), this was AC Temple’s third, final and best album.
Das Damen, Triskaidekaphobe (SST, 1988; $1.22 at Half.com) Das Damen’s pop-tinged psychedelia was delivered in a relentless, guitar-heavy fashion, and the band was renowned among underground cognoscenti for delivering the era’s loudest concerts. Underneath all that feedback and noise, though, were strong and un-retro garage-pop tendencies, and this disc finds the group at the height of its powers.
Flop, Whenever You’re Ready (Epic, 1993; 1 cent at Amazon.com @) The second of three albums by these Seattle power-poppers, Whenever You’re Ready is all anthemic major chords and earworm choruses; if the Posies had balls – and drank like the Replacements – they would have sounded like Flop. Rusty Willoughby’s smartass lyrics go a long way toward defining the band’s greatness, but it’s the breezy boldness of the group’s musical approach that’s the real charm here. “Port Angeles” is the best singalong tune about parental alienation and the apocalypse ever written. And, seriously, it costs a penny.
The Fluid, Glue/Roadmouth (Sub Pop, 1990; $4.49 at Half.com) The first non-Northwest band signed to Sub Pop, Denver grungers the Fluid brought a new sensibility to the label beyond just geography. Sadly, most folks only know them now for sharing a split 7-inch with Nirvana (their contribution, “Candy,” is included). This is a compilation of their 1989 Roadmouth LP and its more polished EP follow-up. The band’s finest moments are here, from the blistering high-octane rock of “Black Glove” and “Human Mill” to pummeling covers of Rare Earth (“Big Brother”) and the Troggs (“Our Love Will Still Be There”). The Fluid is reuniting to play Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary celebration this summer.
Junk Monkeys, Bliss (Metal Blade/Warner Bros., 1992; 75 cents at Half.com @)
Detroit’s Junk Monkeys had a lot in common with punk-fueled, melodic rock bands like Soul Asylum, Goo Goo Dolls and the Replacements, right down to the bacchanalian live shows and sugary hooks wrapped in brawny rock. The big difference: The Junk Monkeys never started sucking, much less reached the taint-tickling, sell-out lows of those aforementioned bands. While their third and best album would be a bargain at any price, snagging it for less than a buck is a steal.
Mary My Hope, Museum (Silvertone/BMG, 1989; $4.50 at Amazon.com) If he’s known at all, James Hall is most likely known for his New Orleans–based Pleasure Club or his work with Jimmy Gnecco of Ours. But Hall’s original stomping ground was Atlanta, as the leader of Mary My Hope. Museum’s sweaty grandiosity is unapologetically pompous and room-filling, so much so that he had to take the band to England for a while to get any attention. Still, the gothic tinges and simmering hostility of the disc predated the approach of the Twilight Singers by a decade.
Poster Children, Daisychain Reaction (TwinTone/Sire, 1992; $1.98 at Amazon.com @) Still going strong after more than 20 years of kicking out their wiry punk-rock jams, Poster Children’s creative high-water mark remains their second album. Produced by Steve Albini, Daisychain compresses all the wild energy of their debut and delivers it as a powerful musical wallop. Tight, angular songs that are as catchy as they are bruising.
Swell, 41 (American Recordings, 1994; $1.89 at Half.com @) In the grunge-obsessed early ’90s, a fucked-up acoustic act didn’t stand much of a chance. But for some reason, this disc from San Francisco’s Swell got a major-label push, which means that thousands of unlistened-to promos have populated bargain bins for 15 years now. Melodic and heavy, incredibly fragile and world-weary, 41 combines languid, semi-psychedelic acoustic passages with occasional flourishes of rock bombast.
Ultramarine, United Kingdoms (Sire, 1993; 75 cents at Half.com @) This crunchy-granola ambient house duo convinced Soft Machine main man Robert Wyatt to write (or co-write) and sing on three of this album’s songs. Alas, the early ’90s was not a kind era to aging progsters, and Wyatt’s presence was seen less as a momentous bridging of psychedelic cultures and more the ramblings of a doddering old email@example.com