Best of 1994

I started these best-of lists last fall with the goal of finishing them by the end of 2007. That was a ridiculous goal. Now I will finish them, eventually. A million reasons why I have put them off, number one is the fact that I am now a father and have much less free time. Another reason though is because they are about to get hard. 1994-1996 are the prime musical years of my life. These are the years I truly discovered great music that not only changed my taste, it changed my life. The first of these three years is 1994, which was the transition between my JR and SR years in HS. This was also the year I started listening to the A-Zone, the radio show that opened my ears to independent music (at the time we called it "alternative"). I tuned into the show because my favorite band of the time, Dakoda Motor Co., was releasing a new album and the A-Zone was going to debut tracks from it. Little did I know that those Dakoda songs I heard that night, while loving them, were the least important music I would hear.
Also, starting with this 1994 list, finally I am writing about albums I heard and bought near the time of their release. I have been working on this post on and off for six months. Is it finished? Probably not, but it is as close as it is going to get.

1. Poor Old Lu- Sin**
This is my second favorite album of all time. Poor Old Lu is my co-favorite band, and this is their masterpiece. One of the reasons I love the band is they are so unique. They sound like no other artist I have ever heard; they are indescribable. They are from Seattle, and started during the grunge movement. They are "four degrees of separation" from Nirvana, yet they are not remotely grunge. ("Four degrees of separation": Sprinkles, Hunter and Barber in Poor Old Lu; Sprinkle, Hunter, Barber and Enigk in Tears of a King; Enigk and Mendel in Sunny Day Real Estate; Mendel and Grohl in Foo Fighters; Grohl and Cobain in Nirvana.) The first two songs I heard from this album were "Ring True" and "Bliss Is", both heard on the A-Zone. Those two songs led me to buy this, my first Poor Old Lu album. Best song: "My World Falls Down"

2. Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary*
Obviously closely linked to the first album on this list, I didn't hear it until two years later. My friend Matt lived next door to me in Smith Hall (freshman dorm at Samford), and he recommended SDRE to me near the time we met. He knew I liked Poor Old Lu, and let me know of the Jeremy Enigk connection. It took me a few months to finally take him up on borrowing 'Diary' and 'LP2', which had already been released. In Spring of 1996 I fell in love with 'Diary' and it's amazing cover, one of the best I have ever seen. This album changed indie rock forever, with its dynamic guitars and vocals. It is truly emotional, and led unfortunately to the term "emo" which now has a completely different meaning. Best song: "In Circles"

3. Mortal- Wake

This is the 3rd and last great Mortal album. It is the first Mortal album I owned, as the song "Filter" was the first I had heard from the band (also heard on the A-Zone). Drastically different than the first two industrial Mortal albums, Jyro and Jerome dropped the electronic elements and went with organic, raging guitars. Jyro also started singing (rather than screaming), and did so very well. "Moons and Suns" is the first song that comes to mind when I think of the album, not because it is the best song, it's not, but because I read the lyrics at my senior FBC Panama City camp. Mortal 'broke up' after this album, although they did release three more (sub-par) Mortal albums over the years. Jyro and Jerome of course went on to play together in Fold Zandura. And just a few months ago I discovered Jyro has a new band called Lucena, or LCNA. Their first EP you can get on emusic. While Jyro and Jerome have remained active in music, nothing comes close to the first three Mortal albums. Best song: "Oceanful"

4. Sixpence None the Richer- The Fatherless and the Widow

The debut album from my other co-favorite band. The first Sixpence songs I heard were the original version of 'Spotlight' (rerecorded for this album) or 'Bouquet' (a Steve Taylor cover, which was released on his tribute album this same year). I can't remember when or where, but they led me to buy this album. As much as like this album, I don't have many memories of it. It wasn't until the next album and the following year that Sixpence became my favorite band. 'Meaningless' is far and away the best song on the album, and probably in the top 5 of all Sixpence songs. The song could sometimes last 15 minutes in concert as the band incorporated covers into the instrumental jam at the end. Sixpence has reunited in 2008, as I have talked about a lot in my blog. You can get their new EP for free on www.noisetrade.com and they have a full length Christmas album that was just released and is available everywhere (get it off emusic).

5. Starflyer 59- Silver
** & She's the Queen EP
Silver, which is actually a self-titled album, is the first of 11 Starflyer LPs. The band has also released a dozen or so EPs, boxed sets, etc. They are easily one of, if not the most, prolific band of the last 15 years. (So prolific that in 1994 they released an LP and an EP.) Stylistically they have changed a lot over the years, but even their most different songs are distinctly Starflyer. I was fortunate enough to hear the albums in the order in which they were released as my brother bought Silver near its original release date. This is the noisiest and rawest Starflyer album, in the shoegazer style. Jason Martin recently said in an interview that Silver is going to finally be released on vinyl! Best song: "2nd Space Song" (Which I heard first on the A-Zone.) Funny fact: original pressing has "Starflier 59" printed on the CD.

6. 77s- Drowning with Land in Sight
This was the first 77s album I bought. Strangely enough, the first song I heard from it was a Led Zeppelin cover, "Nobody's Fault but Mine." Even stranger, I heard this song for the first time ona regular WAY-FM (CCM) morning show (not the A-Zone). I really liked it, and I am not sure at the time, with my limited music knowledge, if I was even aware it was a cover. The second song I heard from this album was "Snake", which is probably the weirdest song the 77s ever recorded. The album starts out with 3 or 4 hard rock songs including the ones I just mentioned, but then becomes very mellow. Still my favorite 77s album to this day, mainly due to the diversity of it. Best song: "Alone Together"

7. L.S.U.- Graceshaker
I am pretty sure this was my introduction to Michael Knott and the first album I bought of his (heard on the A-Zone). 1994 was still in the middle of his insanely prolific period. He released two of his best 5 albums in this year.The album is divided in many ways. It is half hard rock, half acoustic; half about Jesus, half about alcohol. Sounds like a weird mix, but it works. Best song: "Grace."

8. Dakoda Motor Co.- Welcome Race Fans
A lot of my musical history revolves around Dakoda Motor Co. They opened the door to the world of independent music for me as I explained in my 1993 list and at the start of this blog post. The album is edgier and weirder than their first. Peter King sang more, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except it meant Davia sang less, which is definitely a bad thing. The "Welcome Race Fans" tour was the first big-time indie rock concert I went to. It was them, Hoi Polloi and Johnny Q. Public all at the original Rocketown in Franklin, TN. I went with Keith, Jay, Bethany, Larissa and I think one other person. I bought two shirts, including a Hoi Polloi "ringer", which was a huge departure from my normal average, conservative wardrobe. The saddest thing about the concert is that it took place after Davia left the band, but even with their new singer Melissa it was still terrific. DMC has re-united, sort of, with David in the lead once again. They are supposedly recording an album, but they have been working on it since late 2006. Best song: "Alive"

9. Michael Knott- Rocket & a Bomb
Second Knott album on the list, but much different than the first. Where as "Graceshaker" is more personal, this album is more random stories about other people. And the stories are hilarious. I developed a much greater appreciation for the album in the late 90's when I saw Knott in concert for the first time with my sister. He told tons of stories about each song, including, "John Barrymore, Jr.", which is supposedly about Drew's father. Whether or not the stories are true is irrelevant, they are hysterical. You can hear great live versions of most of these songs along with Knott's stories on the album, "Live from Nashvegas", which may have even been recorded at the show I went to at Jammin' Java in Franklin, TN. Random fact: Aaron Sprinkle was also at this show and this is where I met him for the first time. Best song: "Rocket & a Bomb"

10. Blenderhead- Prime Candidate for Burnout
I am generally leaving out most album covers, but this one I must include because not only is it a literal version of the band's name, it also explains what their music sounds like:

Heard first on the A-Zone, of course. My primary memory of this album is listening to it in my car with my friend Greg. I am pretty sure it was unlike anything he had ever heard; I could have said the same thing about myself a year earlier. Best song: "Power Trip"

11. My Little Dog China- The Velvis Carnival

This was the first release from Kevin Clay, who has gone on to have many projects under many monikers. It is far and away the best thing he ever did, followed by the couple albums he released under his own name. Heavy Nirvana influence, but still fairly original. I think this was one of the first couple CDs my brother bought, and it turned out to be a great one. If I am remembering correctly he might have bought it solely based on the band's name and cover artwork. I don't remember hearing it on the A-Zone first, unlike much of the stuff I discovered in 1994. Most radio-friendly song on the album, "Eggshells", sounds dated because of it's references to David Koresh. Speaking of David Koresh, some friends of mine and myself filmed a reenactment of the Kool-Aid drinking incident as a school project in 1994. Random fact: other members of MLDC went on to form the band Pave the Rocket which released one album on Deep Elm Records. Kevin later referenced the band in the lyrics of his song "Super Sucker Salvation" ("You paved the rocket for free...". Best song: "Listen"

12. Weezer- s/t* (The Blue Album)
People often ask me if I am a Weezer fan. Honestly, no I am not, their discography as a whole doesn’t do much for me. Their radio singles are fun, and ‘Pinkerton’ is a good album, but the blue album is the only one I love. The first song I heard was “Buddy Holly”, which didn’t grab me until I saw the incredible video. “The Sweater Song” really pulled me in, and then “Say it Ain’t So” followed soon after. My favorite song on the album though is “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.” Chris Higdon of Elliott (and now in 2009, Frontier(s)) recorded an incredible mellow, slowed-down cover of it which you can listen to here.

13. Vigilantes of Love- Welcome to Struggleville
I definitely heard VOL first on the A-Zone, and I didn't really like them at first. Bill's voice got on my nerves, and the overall style of the band was too "normal" for me. Well, in 1995 I saw VOL play live in Birmingham and they blew me away. This was the first over-18 show I went to. What I remember most about the show is that I didn't know Bill was the leader of the band. Barefooted Chris Bland was the bass player at the time, and even though Bill did all the singing, it was Chris who did all of the talking between the songs. I thought maybe Chris wrote the songs and Bill sang them. It is ridiculous to even say this now after owning all the VOL stuff and seeing Bill play with and without the band 15 or so times. This was the second VOL album I bought, and I didn't get it until 1996 or so. Best song: "Vet"

14. Toad the Wet Sprocket- Dulcinea*
I told all my good Toad the Wet Sprocket stories in my 1991 list. Nothing much to say about it, but this is probably Toad's best overall album. I just visited their Myspace page, and learned that they are playing shows! Might have to find a way to get to one. Best song: "Windmills"

15. Sometime Sunday- Stone
Doesn't really hold up very well today, but at the time, very few albums made as big an impact with me, musically and lyrically. "Blue" is the best song I have ever heard about man's struggle with lust. I saw them once in concert at the Crush Warehouse in Birmingham, and people swore I looked exactly like their lead singer, Mikee. I didn't see the resemblance except that we are both tall with shaved heads.

Other notable 1994 albums:
Havalina Rail Co.- s/t
I rarely listen to Havalina anymore, but Matt Wignall and co. have a terrific body of work. This was their first album, and while on Tooth and Nail, completely different than anything else the label was putting out. This album was a blend of jazz, blues, country, etc. Havalina was definitely a live band, they were meant to be seen in concert. I saw them twice at Cornerstone and once at the Crush Warehouse in the late 1990s. The show at the Crush is memorable because it was in the summer so Keith and Brent and I drove down for it. We ended up dragging couches up to the front of the stage and had our feet propped up on the stage as the band played. Best song: "Ragtime" ("Elvis!")
Pearl Jam- Vitalogy* ("Nothing Man" is one of my favorite songs)
The Cranberries- No Need to Argue (Zombie!)
R.E.M.- Monster*
MxPx- Pokinatcha (Probably a rip-off of older punk bands, but it was my introduction to the genre.)
Collective Soul- Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid (Most people have only heard "Shine", one of the most over-played radio hits of the 90s. But the rest of the album is much different and very good.)
Smashing Pumpkins- Pisces Iscariot* (B-sides)
Beastie Boys- Ill Communication
The Offspring- Smash
Jimmy Eat World- s/t (terrible demo-quality punk album, but they obviously figured things out eventually)
Third Wave: Reality Rock Complication (Lots of good stuff on this comp, but the best song is "Low" by the Violet Burning. It is a demo version of the song, but was my introduction to the band. A couple of years later my brother Keith heard a different version of the song on the radio and he was tireless in his search for a Violet Burning album. We eventually found and bought the album at our one and only visit to the original True Tunes store in Wheaton, IL.)
Steve Taylor Tribute- I Predict a Clone (Compilation featuring Sixpence, Argyle Park, Fleming & John, Dighayzoose, Circle of Dust, Starflyer 59, Bride and others)


Top albums through the years...

Recently on the Northern Records message board someone posted a topic with the challenge to list our top albums for every year. The limitations were that we had to actually buy the album the year it was released, and it had to be the album we listened to most that year. If you read my blog, you know I love lists, so this is right up my alley. I have been working on top-10 lists for every year from 1991 until the present (and I am currently working on 1994), but I thought I'd post this in the meantime. My list is pretty funny at the start. I didn't discover music until fairly late (age 13) and it wasn't until 2 years later that I started listening to "good" music. 1990 was the first year I actually purchased music of my own, so I will start there.

1990- Michael W. Smith- Go West, Young Man
1991- Amy Grant- Heart In Motion
1992- Bride- Snakes in the Playground
1993- Dakoda Motor Co.- Into the Son (everything changed in 1993 for me musically)
1994- Poor Old Lu- Sin**
1995- Sixpence None the Richer- This Beautiful Mess
1996- Poor Old Lu- A Picture of the 8th Wonder
1997- Sixpence None the Richer- s/t**
1998- Sunny Day Real Estate- How It Feels to be Something On*
1999- The Juliana Theory- Understand this is a Dream
2000- Sunny Day Real Estate- The Rising Tide*
2001- Jimmy Eat World- Bleed American**
2002- The Gloria Record- Start Here*
2003- Fountains of Wayne- Welcome Interstate Managers
2004- Brandtson- Send Us a Signal
2005- Eisley- Room Noises**
2006- Fair- The Best Worst-Case Scenario
2007- Thrice- The Alchemy Index Vol. 1 & 2**
2008- Mates of State- Re-Arrange Us**

Looking through, about half of them are still my favorite album for their year of release. If you look at my other lists you can see the changes.