01. Allen Clapp "Something Strange Happens"
02. The Strapping Fieldhands "Boo Hoo Hoo"
03. Chotchke "Same Mistake"
04. Further "California Bummer"
05. Eleanor Roosevelt "Head in a Hummingbird's Nest"
06. Uncle Wiggly "Fruit Stand"
07. Sixteen Deluxe "Idea"
08. The Mommyheads "Blind Like a Camera"
09. Bunnygrunt "Superstar 666"
10. R. Stevie Moore "Lifelike"
11. The Lettuceheads "Open Air"
12. Mercy James "All I Took"
13. Panic Ear Service "Action"
14. Licorice Roots (Raymond Listen) "September in the Night"
15. The Sneetches "And I'm Thinking"
16. Nothing Painted Blue "Big Pink Heart"
17. Lonely Trailer "Kiss Me into the Ground"
18. Powerdresser "Split Fingered Fastball"
19. Philistines Jr. "We Will All Go Down Together"
Although independent labels have existed as long as rock has ("Louie Louie" was released by an indie), "indie rock" has come to delineate a certain set of early-'90s styles, much of it forged by music-obsessed, middle-class college students. Following the diverse leads of successful indie bands like Beat Happening, Hüsker Dü, and Sonic Youth, these new bands put aside dreams of commercial success and indulged their whims, no matter how grand or slight. With the advent of cheap home recording (and few restrictions on what qualified as releasable audio quality), a band could put out a seven-inch for under a thousand dollars. Distributors and labels sprang up to support the flood of low-budget rockers, and an international scene took hold. Sebadoh, Unrest, Superchunk, Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Guided by Voices, the John Spencer Blues Explosion, and others became stars of the indie rock world. While many bands today seem insulated from each other, the indie bands of the early 90s looked to their peers for ideas and encouragement.
Although largely apathetic towards political issues, the fans and musicians of this scene were fiercely passionate when it came to protecting their own territory, chastising outsiders and doling out cred like it was Willy Wonkaıs golden ticket. But with Nirvanaıs early-90s success came the impossibility that "indie rock" could survive the intrusion of major labels scrambling to gobble up the Next Big Alternative Thing. As "alternative" became the marketable mainstream, the scene lost its logic and its innocence; "alternative" became a marker of commercial aspiration rather than creative independence.
The guitar reigned supreme through the first half of the 90s, but its dominance ended as grunge lost its momentum. Two bands in the forefront of changing that hegemony were Stereolab and Tortoise. By finding inspiration in formerly unhip source material like exotica, jazz, dub, and prog, these bands offered an exciting new path to circumvent rockıs pervasive influence. Elements from dance music began to infiltrate the indie culture as well, particularly drum and bass and hip-hop. Overall, music became more self-conscious and retro as the '90s progressed, with surf, lounge and swing all enjoying brief, insincere revivals. Public interest in these "fads" was fleeting, and the damage wrought on authentic purveyors of these genres has proved difficult to overcome.
Looking back now, it's surprising how many unique sub-genres sprang from the early-'90s indie rock scene. Shoegaze, emo, math rock and indie pop were all defined in this fertile period. The notion that landmark albums like My Bloody Valentineıs Loveless, Guided by Voicesı Bee Thousand, and Sunny Day Real Estateıs Diary initially appealed to the same audience is equally astounding in hindsight, as many of these subgenres have grown isolated from one another.
For this compilation, my goal was to find bands from the heyday of early-90s indie rock whose records were out of print, unknown, or worthy of renewed attention. I avoided anything on more prominent indie labels like Matador, Teenbeat, and K, all of which are still thriving to this day and probably will soon release retrospectives of their own. Indie giants Merge and Darla have already done so. The compilation is meant to be a mere sampling, and by no means representative of all regions and sounds.
1. Allen Clapp
"Something Strange Happens" 1994
Before he released 100% Chance of Rain in 1994 on the Bus Stop Label, Allen Clapp cut his teeth in a Foster City, CA garage band called the Morsels. When that quartet broke up, two members joined the Mummies, the novelty garage combo that released records on Estrus. The other two joined the Himalayans, which featured future Counting Crowsı singer Adam Duritz. Duritz didnıt stay with the Himalayans for long, but later made a hit out of "Round Here," which was co-written by Clapp's ex-bandmates. Alone, and with a lot to sing about, Clapp used what he calls "guerilla recording methods" to record lo-fi masterpieces like "Something Strange Happens" and "She Grins and Waves Goodbye" by himself, using a portable four-track and a clip-on microphone in various locations around Northern California. Although originally intended as album demos, Bus Stop owner Brian Kirk insisted on releasing 100% in its raw, unspoiled form. Ten years later, this collection of "demos" sounds just as inspired and vital as it did then. With respectable sales and a growing fan base, Kirk repressed the album in 2000 and it is still available from Parasol. Clapp can now be found fronting the Orange Peels, who have recorded albums for Minty Fresh and spinART.
2. The Strapping Fieldhands
"Boo Hoo Hoo" 1994
Like the other "old guy" band, Guided by Voices, the Strapping Fieldhands made lo-fi pop heavily influenced by late-60s / early-70s rock and folk. An early incarnation recorded two singles as King of Siam between 1978 and 1980. With an avant-pop sound not unlike Pere Ubu, the group was courted by Bearsville and A&M but signed nothing. After nearly ten years apart in the 80s, the musicians reformed in 1990 as the Strapping Fieldhands. Joining them was singer/songwriter Bob Molloy, an engineer and producer (the Dead Milkmen's Big Lizard in my Backyard). The Strapping Fieldhands formed, according to their official bio, "with no other goal than to play around with some sounds among friends and just tape some weird crap to amuse themselves." That plan went out the window when their first single ("Demiurge") on Siltbreeze caused an underground stir. The band set about releasing a slew of singles, later collected on Gobs on the Midway.
In 1994, the band released a debut LP on its own Omphalos label. "Boo Hoo Hoo" leads off this long collection of Barrett-esque whimsy and psychedelia that Spin called "One of the Ten Best Records You've Never Heard" of the year. The Fieldhands played shows with luminaries like Guided by Voices, Pavement, and the Grifters but never broke past cult stardom. After two more EP's and a second full length (on Shangri-La), the band took a lengthy break, reemerging in 2002 with Third Kingdom.
"Same Mistake" 1993
During a five-year lifespan that began in 1993, San Francisco's Chotchke released only one seven-inch; still, that lone record earned the band slots opening for the Thinking Fellers and an extensive interview in Snipehunt magazine. Carrie Barclay, who played bassoon with Chotchke, gave the group its distinctive sound, a great asset in the quirky SF scene. It also didn't hurt that the band had three guitarists. The band recorded in '93 and '95 at Guerilla Euphonics in Oakland; the first produced the three songs on its single, including the band's finest moment, "Same Mistake." In its second recording bout, the band added elements of lounge and surf, reflecting the increasingly retro tastes of indie bands in the mid '90s. With practice spaces and venues rapidly disappearing during the dotcom boom of the late '90s, many bands found it hard to go on. Barclay left the band due to illness, and Chotchke called it quits in 1998, reforming once in 2003 to play the Mission Creek Music Festival.
"California Bummer" 1995
Fronted by LA-based brothers Brent and Darren Rademaker, Further made two long, murky albums of lo-fi pop noise (Grip Tape and Sometimes Chimes) before hitting the jackpot with the more concise and better conceived Golden Grimes EP in 1995. Album opener "California Bummer" nicely marries the group's oversaturated four-track aesthetic to a wonderfully catchy Beach Boys-inspired melody. Released on Fingerpaint records, Golden Grimes is out of print, as are all of Further's releases. Before becoming Further, the brothers recorded one album on Geffen as Shadowland. Generally regarded as a bad example of late 80's psychedelia, the brothers have since disowned the album. Brent now admits "it was watered-down by the producer, the A&R man and our own laziness." With Further, the band stripped away all traces of commercialism, seemingly recording everything on a boombox and turning down all major label offers. The band toured moderately, and recorded one session with the legendary John Peel in London. After an acrimonious breakup in 1997, Brent joined Beachwood Sparks and Darren formed the Tyde. Drummer Kevin Fitzgerald now tours with the Circle Jerks.
5. Eleanor Roosevelt
"Head in a Hummingbird's Nest" 1994
This St. Louis band started out as Enormous Richard but shed that name when lead singer Chris King, an African history teacher, tired of telling people his band was called Big Dick. As Eleanor Roosevelt, they recorded "Head in a Hummingbirdıs Nest" and three other tunes for their only release, an EP on the short-lived Faye Records (named for owner Jerry Kern's grandmother, who funded his releases). Meghan Gohil, who recorded the four tunes at Webster University, won a production award from the college for the recording. According to Chris King, the lyrics of "Hummingbird" were based on a Quicha Mayan proverb. The group later recorded a diverse album -- drawing on blues, South American folk, country and rock -- but it has never been released. Although the term alt-country had yet to enter musicıs vernacular, another St. Louis band, Uncle Tupelo, would soon come to define the genre.
6. Uncle Wiggly
"Fruit Stand" 1992
All three members of New York's Uncle Wiggly wrote and sang, but it was bassist Mike Anzalone whose catchy, retro pop songs shone through the brightest. "Fruit Stand" is a brief glimpse of this man's genius, and drummer James Kavoussi calls it one of his all-time favorites. In the '80s, Kavoussi and Anzalone were members of Fly Ashtray, who still play to this day. The third member of Uncle Wiggly, Bill Berger, was a WFMU radio DJ who played with Smack Dab, another fixture in the downtown rock scene. Both Fly Ashtray and Uncle Wiggly released early singles via Kramer's Shimmy-Disc label. Uncle Wiggly had already recorded most of the material for Across the Room and Into Your Lap at Kavoussi's studio in Tribeca in 1991; they mixed it with Kramer, using his patented blend of copious marijuana and reverb (according to Kavoussi, Kramer chain-smoked joints as if they were cigarettes, refusing to mix-down any other way), and he released it. First There Was an Elk, released in 1993, is a much more diverse and ambitious album, an early avatar of indie bands' obsession with kraut rock and hazy psychedelia. 1996's Jump Back Baby came out on Teenbeat. Anzalone quit the band in 1998, moving to Croton, New York with his wife Jean to start a successful landscaping business. Berger now lives in South Jersey with his wife and son. Kavoussi still plays with Fly Ashtray and records as Phoaming Edison.
7. Sixteen Deluxe
Sixteen Deluxe were just one of many great Austin bands in the '90s. Released on King Coffey's now-defunct Trance Syndicate label, the band's debut was a loud, psychedelic swirl of pop and noise. The first single, "Idea," was voted by Spin as the #7 single of 1995. After an EP, the band was signed by Warner Bros. and released the mediocre Emits Showers of Sparks. The album sold poorly and the label promptly dropped the band. The band built a studio and intended to carry on, but vocalist Carrie Clark called it quits and that was that.
8. The Mommyheads
"Blind Like a Camera" 1992
Although the Mommyheads changed labels with every release, they never changed their cringe-worthy bandname. Tired of being asked to explain it, singer-guitarist Adam Cohen told his label in 1997, "Hey, waddaya want? I was 17 at the time." Formed in high school by Cohen and bassist Matt Patrick in 1987, the band was formed in opposition to the white-boy ska that was popular at the time. After playing for a few years, the band released Acorn on Fang Records. Dan Fisherman and Mike Holt, who played in the Connotations, joined. Jenny Toomey of Simple Machines liked the album and agreed to release Coming Into Beauty as a one-off. Although it didn't sell well and remains out-of-print, this album is a great artifact of the 90s. With Cohen and Patrick splitting the songwriting duties, the healthy competition between the two ensured stellar contributions from both. Patrickıs "Blind like a Camera" is a highlight. Patrick quit, making way for the slick, professionally minded Jeff Palmer, who steered the band towards a more mainstream, organically funky sound on Bingham's Hole, leaving behind the eclectic diversity and indie charm of Coming into Beauty. This professionalism impressed Don Was though, who signed the band to Geffen. After putting much money and time into the recording of the self-titled album, the label completely abandoned the group after a tour with Cake fell through. The blow to the band's spirit proved too much to overcome, and the Mommyheads split for good.
"Superstar 666" 1995
Along with Small Factory, Bunnygrunt stand as one of indie pop's finest groups. Embodying the best qualities of the genre and none of its foibles, Bunnygrunt crafted cute anthems for the cardigan and horn-rims set. Applying a steadfast DIY attitude to romantic bedroom pop, the genre equally drew on the sunny innocence of early Beach Boys and the primitive strumming of Beat Happening. However, indie popıs open invitation cluttered the scene with mediocrity, and many wrote-off the genre as a whole. Worse still, some groups further coated the sound with a childish, sugary sweetness, earning the much-derided "cuddlecore" term. Bunnygrunt's rise to the top of its field is largely due to the group's consistently strong writing and persistence. With little label support, they managed to play close to 50 out-of-town shows a year from 1995 to 1998 with such fellow travelers as Tullycraft, the Softies and Versus. The group split when Jen Wolfe left in 1998, but reformed five years later with bassist Lauren Trull.
10. R. Stevie Moore
Ah, R. Stevie Moore. What would this compilation be without the veritable grandfather of DIY? The son of Bob Moore, a legendary Nashville session bass player who played with Elvis, Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline, little Stevie was around music since he popped out of his mother's womb in 1952. After trying his hands at session work, Moore relocated to New Jersey and began to concentrate on home recordings, eventually releasing his first collection, Phonography, in 1976 on his uncle Harry Palmer's HP record label.
After a long stretch of epic productivity (185 albums in 20 years!), Moore's output slowed down considerably in the '90s. Song titles like "Fucking Idiots Everywhere" and "Who Gives a Fuck?" testify to a lingering bitterness about the public's inexplicable indifference to a great artist.
Moore's albums are a hodgepodge of nearly every music style imaginable: punk, county, power pop, spoken word, hip-hop, new wave, etc. "Lifelike," a beautifully simple song that Moore calls "hillbilly hick," is a particular standout on the dispirited Unpopular Singer Vol.3. In addition to endlessly eccentric and endearing originals, he covers anything that strikes his fancy, from "Black Hole Sun" and "All Apologies" to "Hey Paula."
Despite cataract surgery and some minor heart problems, Moore is alive and well, and is still churning them out by the truckload, thankfully. To order his titles, check out www.rsteviemoore.com.
11. The Lettuceheads
"Open Air" 1993
The Lettuceheads were another St. Louis band that used to play shows with Eleanor Roosevelt. Their lone album, For Promotional Use Only, was only released on tape. Keyboardist-bassist Carl Pandolfini, who had previously done time in Grateful Dead cover band Jakeıs Leg, wrote all the standout tracks on this psych/country obscurity. His five contributions including "Open Air," which updates folk-rock harmonies for the Nirvana era -- exhibit a timeless, tuneful quality so rare in '90s indie rock.
12. Mercy James
"All I Took" 1995
Mercy James' (James Gerdeman) first band, the Youngies, was a part of Gainesville's thriving indie scene in the early-90s that included River Phoenix's band Aleka's Attic and the highly influential Radon, among hundreds of others. (Both of these are featured on Volume Two of this series, which focuses exclusively on Florida.) The Youngies released one album, Let It Leak, which received good press and contained the fan favorite "Joanna I Love You," a catchy, glam-infused rocker. The band fell apart, and James retreated to Coral Springs to record new material. "All I Took" was one of the first compositions on a self-released album, Another Desperate Mile, that had a Xeroxed album cover and came in a Ziplock bag. Although the song was praised at an ASCAP seminar, James had difficulty finding an audience in south Florida, and in 1997 moved to Boston, where today he still lives and plays as Mercy James. As for the devastating lyrics of "All I Took," Gerdeman wrote this: "In high school I had really strong feelings for this one girl who didn't like me. It filled me with all the standard suicidal angst of a teenager. I kind of channeled her when I wrote it. But I also channeled OJ Simpson who didn't seem to handle his break-up with Nicole very well. That was big news at the time. However, suicide seemed more reasonable than homicide as a song topic."
13. Panic Ear Service
Formed at SF State in 1989, Panic Ear Service is a band very much of its time and place. Dissonance, weird time signatures, odd instrumentation and an arty approach signified a San Francisco address, although the band most associated with this sound, Thinking Fellers, were actually from Iowa. Bandmates Mike Giordano and Derall Garrison also ran the Echonet label and released seven-inches by Panda, Chotchke, Marzipan and Daisy Spot. The label also issued Panic Ear Serviceıs only album, Grand Rapids. Panic Ear Service never toured and thus remain largely unknown outside of San Francisco. Giordano left in 1997 due to stage fright and, though the remaining members tried to continue, failed to do so. An unreleased final album is reported to exist. As for the bandname, drummer Thomas Marzella explains, "Derrall had a box of large plastic letters from his uncle's funeral home... He and Duncan made up a game called lawn scrabble where they would try to spell stuff with the letters. Someone came up with Panic Ear Service and they mounted the letters on the side of the building they were living in out by the beach in the avenues...one day a girl tripping on LSD was suffering from aural hallucinations and saw Panic Ear Service and knocked on their door asking for help...it was on that day they decided to name the band!"
14. Licorice Roots (Raymond Listen)
"September in the Night" 1993
Released in 1993, Licorice Roots Orchestra is knee-deep in reverb and drenched in magical, phantasmagorical imagery, a creepy, beautiful thing that has inspired devotion among its cult. Although Kramer's stoned guidance was not always conducive to quality productions, his whimsical recording techniques worked wonders for Raymond Listen's dreamlike chamber pop. Sounding at times like minor-key Marc Bolan or John Lennon, the record maintains its slightly sinister, otherworldly tone throughout all thirteen cuts, and remains one of the era's most cohesive, original documents. Shortly after the album's release, singer/songwriter Edward Moyse renamed the band Licorice Roots and in 1997, the group released Melodean on the Mood Food label. Their output since then has been non-existent, but Moyse insists the band is still active. Essay Records plans to reissue an expanded edition of the band's first CD under the Licorice Roots name. Moyse currently works at a library in Maryland.
15. The Sneetches
"And I'm Thinking" 1994
Any band that names themselves after a Dr. Seuss book is going to have a cute streak, but the Sneetches offer far more than meets the ear. Their addictive, shiny songwriting concealed a dark cynicism, and their songs frequently explored failed dreams, lost loves and dreamy nostalgia. Covers of Buffalo Springfield, the Zombies, and the Easybeats give a good idea of their heroes, but the Bay Area band managed to synthesize the '60s and '70s into a unique hybrid that was very much of its own era. After releasing three albums on Alias from 1989 -1991, the Sneetches moved to the smaller Bus Stop label to release two EPs in the mid-90s. ("And Iım Thinking" is from one of those.) The Sneetches broke up in 1998 but reunited once in 2000 to play the BayPop festival. Bassist Daniel Swan built a booking agency called Swan Entertainment and plays in a couple of bands, one of them a Pretenders tribute. Alejandro Palao works for England's venerable Ace Records (who released Zombie Heaven, an extensive Zombies boxed set), and Matt Carges is a clinical psychologist in Oregon. Mike Levy still records as the Fireflies but hasn't released a new record since 2000.
16. Nothing Painted Blue
"Big Pink Heart" 1992
Who else but philosophy-student-turned-rocker Franklin Bruno could sing, "I wanna sit in your office / I wanna play with your office supplies" and mean it? That song, "Swivelchair," was just one of many singles Nothing Painted Blue released from 1991 to 1993, but it is "Big Pink Heart" that best portrays the bandıs strengths, brainy lyrics, and muscular power. Formed at Californiaıs Upland High with the moniker Born Leaders, drummer Kyle Brodie and vocalist Franklin Bruno morphed into Nothing Painted Blue by 1988. Early singles on Baby Huey, Jupa, and Scat were promising stabs at lo-fi pop. The widely distributed "Swivelchair" marked significant improvement, and it wasnıt long before Nothing Painted Blue became the star pupils of the Inland Empire lo-fi scene. "Big Pink Heart" was released on Shrimper's Swing Set EP compilation. The band recorded with Kramer to produce the Placeholders LP, but this and their subsequent releases on Scat never quite captured the youthful exuberance of their early singles.
17. Lonely Trailer
"Kiss Me into the Ground" 1991
Lonely Trailer, a trio from Champaign, Illinois, recorded a late-80s/early-90s brand of indie prog that inspired Parasol to dub them, in the mid 90s, "the Guided by Voices of 2001." Although they went through several bass players, it was bassist Nick Rudd (also of Blown) who was on board for the band's most fertile period. That yielded a slew of gems, "Kiss Me Into the Ground" being a particular standout, although it was only released on a seven-inch and isn't on the self-titled two-disc retrospective issued in 1994. The band's other full-length albums are Yeah, So? (1994) and Multimeteor (1997). Nick now plays with Water Between Continents. Drummer Brian Reedy is focusing on his artwork, and vocalist Tim Stephens is raising a son. Lonely Trailer never officially broke up, but since 2000 has only released one new song on emusic.com.
"Split Fingered Fastball" 1992
San Diego's indie explosion of the early 90s included Heavy Vegetable, Truman's Water, and Rocket From the Crypt. Powerdresser, while neither the most popular nor influential band of the scene, is probably the most tragic. Lead singer and guitarist Denver Lucas drowned under mysterious circumstances in 1994, just before the band was scheduled to record new material. He was 22. Drummer Lee Chapman had recently left the band, leaving its future unclear. Denver's death ended it. The band's tricky time signatures owed a debt to prog, but the short run-times, mumbled vocals and dry guitar sound made the sound startlingly unique, if a bit obtuse. Math rock begins here. The band's only official releases were a split single with Heavy Vegetable and "Split Fingered Fastball," which appears on Ask for Disorder, a San Diego compilation. Their entire recorded output can be downloaded for free at www.mp3it.com.
19. Philistines Jr.
"We Will All Go Down Together" 1995
The Philistines Jr. were yet another band courted by the majors in the mid-90s alternative feeding frenzy. However, Peter Katis and his brother Tarquin never got the chance to sign the dotted line. The closest they came to a major deal was with Geffen, but their A&R guy was fired a week before their contract was supposed to be served. This was in 1995, just after the Connecticut band self-released The Sinking of the S.S. Danehower, which sold a few thousand copies and features "We Will All Go Down Together." The Philistines enjoyed a much greater level of popularity in England, where they toured regularly and recorded three Peel sessions for the BBC. According to Peter Katis, most Americans, including their friend Moby, just didn't get them. "But that was exactly the point," he told me. "We worked very hard at making our music not quite right." The band's ironic use of cheesy drum sounds was a harbinger of things to come in the indie world. Although Stereolab popularized the practice, it is certainly possible that they lifted the idea; Stereolab were big Philistines Jr. fans. Peter Katis recorded all of the band's output in his studio. In addition to the other bands released on his Dot Dot Dash imprint (including the Mommyheads' Bingham's Hole), Katis has recorded projects for Interpol and Rainer Maria.
Compiled, produced, and annotated by Mark Griffey, 2002 - 2004.
All copyrights to the individual songs collected here are owned by the artists, and were given by permission. For publishing info, please contact me at email@example.com
Many of the artists still have copies of these albums and singles, and anyone interested in this material should contact the email address above for more information. Also, if you know of any other gems from this era, Iıd love to hear about them.
This compilation is copyright Snowglobe Records, 2005.
Cover art: Dave Muller.
Layout and design: Allyson Vieira.
Editorial guidance: Tina Kukielski, Ira Robbins
Special thanks to:
Lenny Kaye, Betsy and Larry Griffey, Dave Muller, Gabe Fowler, Ira Robbins, Tina Kukielski, Gerald Hammill, Carrie Barclay, Brent Rademaker, Friendster, Parasol, Amazon, Mike Levy, Patrick Stolley, Robert Griffin, Doug Mosurock, Matt Harnish, R. Stevie Moore, Peter Katis, Adam Cohen, Jacy, Chris Berry, Jim Gerdeman, Thomas Marzella, Spin, Edward Moyse, Mike Bowman, Allen Clapp, Drew Dobbs, Carrie Clark, and Tim Stephens.
Barcode: 625989323225. The indie rock Nuggets!!! The first volume in the compilation series, Tiny Idols. This compilation presents a pastiche of obscure, out-of-print, and unfairly neglected gems from the early '90s indie rock era in the United States. Styles range from alt-country and indie pop to avant-garde rock and shoegaze. Spanning the entire U.S., the compilation brings together a diverse group of both known and unknown gems. Mark Griffey, who researched the project for two years, has compiled extensive, 16-page liner notes on the artists and songs that make up this compendium. LA-based artist Dave Muller, included in the recent 2004 Whitney Biennial, contributed original artwork for the album's cover. From the producer's desk: "As someone who played in bands and was a devout fan of indie rock in the '90s, there is no denying that this is the music of my generation. Although I began to drift away from indie rock after the media nearly devoured it whole, the passage of time has helped me to see what a fertile, creative period the '90s truly was. Inspired by the challenge to create a diverse, consistently enjoyable album of obscure music, I set about tracking down indie rock's aging participants. "For me, the goal was not to wax nostalgic but simply to research music from this fascinating period with the clarity of hindsight. While I discovered many of these records for the first time over the past two years, some have been favorites of mine since they were released. Raymond Listen's brilliant Licorice Roots Orchestra for example, is just as likely to invoke memories of last week as it is memories of 1994, when I bought it in Iowa City. "Astute rock scholars may notice that Dave Muller's cover art slyly references the original Nuggets album cover. This is no accident. What I hope to do with Tiny Idols is to provide for my generation of audiophiles what Lenny Kaye's groundbreaking Nuggets series gave to his. I first bought the Nuggets double LP in 1989, thus ensuing a lengthy obsession with psych and garage, traces of which can be found in this very compilation. But more profoundly, it introduced me to the fascinating stories that populate the gutters and landfills of the music industry. " Mark Griffey.
1. Allen Clapp / "Something Strange Happens" / 1994 2. The Strapping Fieldhands / "Boo Hoo Hoo" / 1994 3. Chotchke / "Same Mistake" / 1993 4. Further / "California Bummer" / 1995 5. Eleanor Roosevelt / "Head in a Hummingbird's Nest" / 1994 6. Uncle Wiggly / "Fruit Stand" / 1992 7. Medusa Cyclone / "Chemical" / 1992 8. The Mommyheads / "Blind Like a Camera" / 1992 9. Bunnygrunt / "Superstar 666" / 1995 10. Sea Saw / "Jeff Koons' Three-Way" / 1994 11. The Lettuceheads / "Open Air" / 1993 12. Panic Ear Service / "Action" / 1993 13. Mercy James / "All I Took" / 1995 14. Sun Head / "Seasonal" / 1994 15. Licorice Roots (Raymond Listen) / "September in the Night" / 1993 16. The Sneetches / "And I'm Thinking" / 1994 17. Nothing Painted Blue / "Big Pink Heart" / 1992
18. R. Stevie Moore / "Lifelike" / 199419. Lonely Trailer / "Kiss Me into the Ground" / 1991 20. Philistines Jr. / "We Will All Go Down Together" / 1995.
R E V I E W S
TIME OUT NEW YORK:
One would expect a compilation with a title such as this to blast from the speakers like an angry teenager. The early '90s, at least as they're remembered today, were an angsty time. It's surprising then, how few bombastic guitars are to be heard on this album -- what little Sturm und Drang is captured. Instead, this is a disc of small, tinkly rock songs by laregly unknown acts. (R. Stevie Moore, the Mommyheads, Allen Clapp and the Strapping Fieldhands are the more well-known exceptions--and how many of their songs do you know by heart?)
The record's louder, more vibrant tracks are the ones that initially stand out. The jerky propulsive chorus of "Kiss Me into the Ground," by Illinois trio Lonely Trailer, and "Big Pink Heart," by brainy California stalwarts Nothing Painted Blue, crackle with exuberance. The Lettuceheads' folky "Open Air" and Eleanor Roosevelt's banjo-heavy "Head in a Hummingbird's Nest," meanwhile, possess a quiet beauty.
Mark Griffey of Snowglobe Records has taken on an ambitious task with this effort, which is the first in a projected series. He wants to do for indie rock what the Nuggets collections have done for garage and psychedelic rock: cast light on deserving unknowns while rejuvenating interest in the time period. Some of these nuggets should have been left in the ground, sure, but quite a few deserved the excavation. -- Alison Rosen, Time Out
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Tiny Idols, subtitled "Transmissions from the Indie Underground 1991 to 1995," aims to be a kind of Nuggets for the much further underground sounds coming out of the basements and bedrooms of the early-'90s American indie pop and rock scene. To call the bands included on the comp forgotten would imply that they were known at one time, and apart from a few like the Sneetches, Further, and the perennial R. Stevie Moore, the bands here are micro indies captured by ultra-limited 7" releases on tiny labels like Faye, Third Gear, and Echonet, and (slightly) bigger labels like Simple Machines and Shangri-La. Don't confuse obscurity with irrelevance, though, or write this off as a forced attempt to make something out of nothing, because Tiny Idols shines a light on a vital scene filled with bands and songs that are almost uniformly innovative, entertaining, and worthy of discovery. Kicking off with a four-track pop gem from Allen Clapp (who now fronts the lovely Orange Peels), the album incorporates lo-fi bedroom confessionals (Uncle Wiggly's "Fruit Stand," Mercy James' "All I Took"), arty weirdness (Chotchke's "Same Mistake," See Saw's "Jeff Koons Three-Way," the Mommyheads' "Blind Like a Camera"), lo-fi shoegaze guitar heroics (Further's shimmering "California Bummer"), and good old weird indie rock (the Lettuceheads' "Open Air," Sunhead's "Seasonal," Lonely Trailer's "Kiss Me into the Ground"). The standouts among the bunch are cuddlecore heroes Bunnygrunt's sweetly rocking "Superstar 666," Licorice Roots' gently psychedelic "September in the Night," which unspools like a template for the Elephant 6 sound, the Sneetches' major-label slick yet hooky as all get-out "And I'm Thinking," and Philistines Jr.'s endearingly cheap sounding "We Will All Go Down Together," which comes off sounding like the unofficial anthem for the whole scene. Credit Snowglobe's Mark Griffey for digging the crates and coming up with a collection that sounds great all the way through and will stump even the wisest record store clerks, fanzine writers, and scenesters. Tiny Idols may never reach the success of the Nuggets comp (Rhino will never do a box set), but it is a resounding success on a small scale. Just like the bands that inspired it.
BY DAN STRACHOTA
Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Back in 1972, Lenny Kaye put together the two-LP Nuggets compilation, a collection of artists from the mid-'60s who tried to match the Beatles and the Stones, and failed brilliantly. With Tiny Idols, Brooklyn's Mark Griffey attempts something similar, excavating the indie rock bands who swam in the wake of Pavement, Sebadoh, and Stereolab in the early '90s.
There are a few differences between the discs. Several Nuggets tracks, like Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," actually climbed the national charts, whereas most of the Tiny Idols material barely made it onto college radio. Also, while a major label funded Kaye's album, Griffey's tight budget forced him to eschew artists on big indies like Merge, Matador, and K.
Still, as any nerd collector hovering around 30 knows, the early '90s produced enough transcendent obscurities to fill 10 Rhino box sets. With the advent of cheap home-recording equipment and the spread of the DIY aesthetic, musicians all over the land were putting vibrant, cacophonous, and/or whimsical tunes to tape. What's mostly apparent from Tiny Idols is how wide-ranging the indie underground was (unlike the Nuggets bands, which used the British Invasion as their sole template). Any scene that can find common territory (and quality) in the big-guitar fuzz of Sunhead and the lonely keyboard plink of Philistines Jr. is impressive. Tiny Idols features everything from the fractured Cali-psychedelia of Further to the perky indie-pop bounce of Bunnygrunt to the oddball shut-in balladry of R. Stevie Moore. A quarter of the tracks are from the Bay Area, including jangly power-poppers the Sneetches, bassoon-fueled angular art-rockers Chotchke, and lo-fi Lutheran Allen Clapp. All told, the comp is like the perfect mix CD from your older brother, the one who spent every valuable moment with his radio tuned to the left of the dial. Just like Lenny Kaye.
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