In an informative and entertaining list, SPIN magazine recently compiled 40 of the most head-scratching major label releases of the early 90's. No doubt, most of these are a product of Nirvana and the idea that ANYTHING underground and independent could sell some copies. Obviously, this wasn't true, and by the late 90's record labels were a bit more hesitant to put out stuff like this, but we're left with some interesting artifacts of the era.
Some of my favorites are V-3's amazing album 'Photograph Burns,' recorded for a scant $500. The Columbus, OH band was the final incarnation of lo-fi weirdo Jim Shepard's live band. Shepard's discography is just now being pieced together (he committed suicide shortly after the release of this album) and it's an art project unto itself. I spoke with an acquaintance of his who explained how Shepard would press up 10 copies of an album and leave them at various pawn shops around his town. This 'let them find it' attitude kept him from being well-known on any level, but the music he produced is amazing. This album has all the catchy melodies and angst of a Nirvana release, filtered through basement-quality equipment and general drunkenness.
Another release featured is Mr. Bungle's 'Disco Volante.' Famously-weird frontman Mike Patton (also the frontman of Faith No More) got this freakshow act signed on the strength of his Faith No More debut 'The Real Thing' and its mega-single 'Epic.' Bungle, however, was a different beast altogether. Coming on like every type of music EVER thrown into a blender and spiked with Peyote, the band had actually been around since Patton's high school days by the time they put out their first album in '91. This one, their second release, takes all the best parts of experimental music and combines them with a punk rock attitude and a truly deranged sense of humor. Faith No More might not have ever followed up the success of 'Epic,' but Patton is now one of the most highly-respected singers in modern music.
SPIN seems to think the absolute weirdest one is the Boredoms' 'Pop Tatari,' and I guess I can't disagree. Often described as the 'Japanese Butthole Surfers,' Yamatsuka Eye and his rotating cast of cohorts make some of the most challenging, irritating, mind-boggling and downright fun music you'll ever hear. They started as a hardcore punk/noise act called The Hanatarash who were legendary for demolishing a music venue with a small bulldozer(!). By the time of this release, they were a finely-tuned experimental ensemble with about three drummers and five vocalists. Or something like that. The music is basically beyond description. You might have to speak Japanese to truly 'get' it, but you should let it assault your eardrums anyhow. Eye has gone on to do some truly creative projects, like a massive drum jam in downtown New York and a group featuring a drummer and two turntablists.
Pretty much the whole list is worth checking out, and almost serves as Kurt Cobain's list of favorite bands.
Photo by P.B. Rage from USA.