In celebration of Election Day and the relaunch of IVM I thought it’d be cool to take a look back at albums released 20 years ago that hold a special place in my heart. Thank you all for the support over the years and sticking with me through turbulent times, peaks and valleys with everything in between. It’s because of fans, friends, and my love of music that I am relaunching this website. Can you believe we’ve been off the net for almost a year and a half? Wow. Here we go..
It’s hard to believe that nearly 20 years have passed since I graduated high school and this year for whatever reason, holds some of my most treasured releases. Not all of these are “Christian” releases so browse with caution because some language might not be safe for the kid’s ears. I think this year and some of these albums shaped my viewpoint on the world at large as well encouraged my walk with God. So, without further interruptions, let’s get on with the show.
These are my top 25 favorite releases from the year 1996 covering a broad range of genres and styles but I think you can tell what I most enjoy from browsing through these titles. This isn’t some definitive list from 1996, I’m just one guy and this is MY list.
25. Jimmy Eat World “Static Prevails”
One of my all time favorite bands. Why is this release so far down the list? Well I didn’t discover Jimmy Eat World until “Clarity” and didn’t fully appreciate their music until “Bleed American”. So I’m a late bloomer. I think this band (and this album) were ahead of their time. JEW goes full on “emo” like so many bands did in the mid-late 90’s and they did it with ease.
24. Poor Old Lu “A Picture of the Eight Wonder”
I think any Poor Old Lu album deserves a mention from some critic’s list whether it be mine or any number of publications. The sad reality is that there is a lot of music from this time period that has been forgotten and left to the dust heaps of thrift store shopping aisles. This band was anything but “junk” and deserve the most profound thank you’s for what they did for underground “Christian” music back in the 90’s. They much like The Prayer Chain, made experimentation cool again (see ‘Rail’) and something you could get away with but still hold a commercial edge. The band had released “Mindsize”, “Sin”, and then this remarkable full length in 1996. This is another band that went away too soon but at least we got so many great bands out of these former members. Oh and I hear Aaron Sprinkle and his brother Jesse are talented producers now.
23. Huntingtons “Sweet Sixteen”
Ramones and 50’s combine to make this really great garage-punk debut record from east coast band, Huntingtons. This was my first exposure to the band. What’s weird is that I knew more about the Huntingtons than I did about The Ramones (sorry, wasn’t a classic punk rocker). The vocals were a little annoying at times but there was just something nifty about this band and an endearing quality that has lasted over 20 years now. I always loved their version of “Be My Baby”.
22. Rainy Days “Homecoming”
What can be said of this band that featured members of such groups as Unashamed, Bloodshed, and in the future Stairwell, Fanmail, and Value Pac. This super indie group of like-minded musicians and friends made the ultimate emo-pop-punk album in 1996 all without the use of “distortion” and guitar feedback. This “clean” sound was one of a kind and I can’t think of any other artists who sound (even today) like Rainy Days. It’s a shame no one heard this record and it disappeared into the budget heaps of local thrift shops. Songs like “Cha-Cha-Cha”, ”Aubrey’s Fall”, ”Adam’s Bomb”, “Fight”, “The Gunslinger”, are just a few examples of a group just having fun and making enjoyable music along the way. It was a tad bit goofy but not so much that it would push fans away. I booked this band when I was in high school and even after I graduated. The band changed members a few times over the years but the fun always stayed in place. I loved watching Jeff Jacquay (Unashamed) jump around on stage like he was still in Unashamed. Good times indeed.
21. Weezer “Pinkerton”
Why is this not higher on this list? What is this insanity? “Where is your mind you foolish critic?” Well I’ll tell you straight up, I HATED this record when I first heard it. It was just so weird and all over the place. A spastic, experimental lump of songs meant to completely distance themselves from the commercial success of the predecessor. I loved Weezer from the blue album and all the unreleased tracks from that period (Jamie, Mykel and Carli). It was like a modern day garage version of The Beach Boys, a band I adored. Rivers knew how to write a catchy single meant for true indie music fans but enjoyed by a much larger demographic. “Pinkerton” for me was a disappointment but now when I look back, it’s not as bad as I initially thought and actually stands the test of time. Sure, there are a few filler tracks but then there are some tasty singles (The Good Life, You Gave Your Love to Me Softly, Why Bother)
20. Puller “Sugarless”
This band featured a few former members of the band For Love Not Lisa which were an indie-alt rock band in the early 90’s. Mike Lewis led this band with big crunchy guitars and a gritty yet smooth voice meant for a rock band. Puller were not the typical T&N “punk” band that came out around the same time so their fanbase was more than fickle at the time. They shared much more in common with their label mates Stavesacre than they did with the more pop-punk/ska bands of that time period. That was perfectly fine with me. It’s funny, I wasn’t a big Puller fan when this record came out but the more I listened to the songs over the years, the more I appreciated them. Songs like “Shut Off”, “6×6” showed the true nature of their songwriting talents. It was as if Helmet, Jawbox, and Quicksand had a baby and that baby was Puller. They had the talent because they’d been through the industry for years so this album is exceptional in that aspect. Go listen.
19. Common Children “Skywire”
I played the heck out of this album back in the day although I’m sure it wasn’t enjoyed much by a larger audience. In fact, I didn’t know too many people that even had this record. I felt like the only one in a room listening to a band like this and that made me feel all giddy. This grunge-lite band made commercially acceptable music meant to engage the audience and get them humming along. Imagine the sounds of Filter, Bush, Plankeye, and The Prayer Chain joined together into perfect harmony and you’ll get the taste for Common Children. Perfect mix of ballads (Wishing Well) and straight up rockers (Throw Me Over, Drought).
18. Driver Eight “Watermelon”
This brit-pop-alt-rock band led by Matt McCartie made dreamy music that pulled on the heartstrings. Similar to groups like Oasis and Blur, but holding an altogether original sound. Songs like the single “Watermelon”, “Strange”, “Brown Paper Bag”, showed a band on the rise and their fully capable songwriting talents. Like all good stories, this one came to an end much too soon. You can now find Matt in his new band – Theft.
17. Ignite “Past Our Means”
It’s hard to believe that this release came out 20 years ago and that the band is over two decades old now. Their sound is just as current as every other band to come and go over the years. This record holds up incredibly well. The production sounds good and has that full punk sound so many bands shared from that time on bigger indie labels like Fat Wreck and Epitaph. This band I believe should have always been “bigger” than they were in a commercial sense. Posi Hardcore-Punk. Zoli’s voice is like none other in the scene.
16. Bloomsday “The Day The Colors Died”
Released on Brainstorm Artists International in 1996 to little fanfare. In fact, there were mostly crickets the one time I saw them live at Capo Beach Calvary in 96’ with Rasberry Jam and Driver Eight. It was sad, this is a truly underrated band. They had that dreamy, shoegazy type sound that just brought up so many thoughts and moods. Moody yes, inspiring yes, commercially successful, probably not but still bands like this gave me hope for “Christian” music. The fact that this record hasn’t been re-released or celebrated is a criminal shame. Shame on you Christian Music industry for forgetting some of these legends of alt-rock and for letting these albums disappear to budget heaps and thrift store cd racks. Songs like the title track, “Patience”, “Just The Same”, and the moody ballad “Song of Five” is enough to make a fan out of any skeptic. They wore their Washington state influence clearly on their sleeves but they weren’t just another grunge wannabe band.
15. Focal Point “Suffering of the Masses”
This heavy band was unlike any other hardcore band in the scene. This release had bigger budget than the albums that came before and that sound is clearly reflected on this one and only full length. I remember getting their first 7” on Life Sentence Records at a Tooth & Nail Fest in 1996 and then hearing this album a few months later. This heavy metallic hardcore band would give us Ryan Clark who went on to do Training for Utopia with his brother and all the other bands like Demon Hunter, Low & Behold, and more recently NYVES.
14. Unashamed “Reflection”
Another truly great hardcore band that broke up far too soon. While this album suffers from production issues and vocals that sound a little strained and not as on point as their “Silence” record. It didn’t matter though because what this band had was real heart and explosive live show. There was no other hardcore band in our spirit filled scene that was as powerful and over the top explosive than Unashamed. Their cover of “Awesome God” is a classic and they always closed their shows with this track. Drummer Jason Carson went on to form Saved which changed their name to The OC Supertones and we all know the rest is history.
13. Every Day Life “Disgruntled”
The talent of Every Day Life (EDL) was unmatched. Their live show was insane and Ted’s screamed vocals were unlike anything else I’ve ever witnessed. These guys were tight and such talented musicians. I remember seeing them for the first time in the back parking lot of a surf shop in Laguna Beach and being floored by their passion and aggression. There were hardly any people at the show and they still knew how to bring it. Their audience grew over the years but never at the level as similar groups like P.O.D. and Project 86. Was it because of Alarma Records and their limited audience? Was it because of marketing? Or were people legitimately scared of their controversial album art and lyric delivery? Whatever it was the fact that this band didn’t “blow up” always bummed me out. I still remember booking them with Klank and Officer Negative in 97’ at a little club in Santa Ana. Great show even if Klank was a little weird (at the time). Good thing is that this band has reunited and will play some reunion shows in 2017! Songs to listen to “Bystander”, “Look”, Ecolli, “Perseverance”.
12. Texas is the Reason “Do You Know Who You Are?”
This was another Revelation Records release (see Sense Field, Farside, Gameface) that floored me. These guys were so far ahead of their time that it’s just ridiculous. Solid “emo” before there was such a thing. This band Mineral, Sense Field, Jimmy Eat World, Farside, Gameface, really set trends and didn’t follow them. Listen to “Johnny on the Spot”, “The Magic Bullet Theory”, “Back and to the Left”.
11. Social Distortion “White Light, White Heat, White Trash”
Led by the single “I Was Wrong”, this band came back strong in 1996 with this album and won over a fan like me. I discovered this album when it released which caused me to go back and discover the rest of this band’s great discography. I had always heard the singles “Ball and Chain”, “Ring of Fire”, “Story of My Life”, and “Bad Luck” but never got into them until this release. There were some heavy hitters on this record songs like the single, “Dear Lover”, “When The Angels Sing”, and “Don’t Drag Me Down”. I can’t name a single filler track on this record. I love it so much still even to this day.
10. Ghoti Hook “Sumo Surprise”
Argue with me all you want but you can’t deny that this was the strongest debut of any Tooth & Nail band at the time. The production is perfect, songwriting on par with some of the biggest bands in the scene, and it had just the perfect mix of tongue in cheek humor that set it apart from the pack. Songs like “Seasons”, “Body Juggler”, “Tract Boy”, “Shrinky Dinks”, and “Never” were just perfect tracks. I’m truly disappointed in myself for never catching this band live. I had the opportunity a few times but always missed out for whatever reason. I still remember getting the 2 song single with label mates Value Pac as a promotional CD back in early 96’ as promotion for their upcoming album(s). Everyone that heard these songs loved the bands instantly.
9. The OC Supertones “Adventures of the….”
This band was unique and unlike any other ska-punk band of their time period and I think that’s why so many people were drawn to them. I was at so many of their shows in the mid-late 90’s and their crowds were HUGE. They were playing mega church sanctuaries which you have to realize were bigger than most clubs in the area and they were always full to capacity. There were several shows I went to that were almost shut down by the fire department for packing too many people into a space meant for smaller crowds. So crazy, times back in the 90’s. It was an explosive time for music and this band was no exception. The only downside about this release was the production (sorry Bob Moon). I remember seeing them live and hoping for a huge album and then I heard this release and was a little disappointed in it. The horns sound incredible but guitars and vocals sound a little weird on this album. Still, this was a great great record. Songs like “OC Supertones”, “Adonai”, “Never Want to Fall”, and “He Will Always Be There” are stand out tracks. Kevin Chen has always been a talented guitarist but his skills were under used on this album. Matt, Tony, Jason, and Darren knew how to carry this sound through generations (they still do as is evidenced on their 2012 comeback record). This band delivered great ska and punk for nearly two decades and I was so bummed when they first broke up after 10 years as a band. Their comeback excited me for sure and the album is an underrated hit in my mind. It’s crazy to think that Matt and Jason are both full time pastors now and I believe Darren is involved with ministry as is Tony.
8. Black Eyed Sceva “5 Years, 50,000 Miles Davis”
This album would rank higher on my list had it been an actual “new” full length. The first record was absolutely stunning as a collection of music. This one was a collection of “new” songs, “live” tracks, and a cover of Sting’s “Invisible Sun”. This great collection of songs by Jeremy Post and the gang served as the perfect introduction to the group and a great launching point when they changed their name to “Model Engine”, releasing “The Lean Years Tradition” the very next year. So much about Black Eyed Sceva spelled out “underrated” and they were more than just a critically acclaimed alt-rock act, they were LEGENDARY! Great musicians, solid songwriters, and had an absolutely incredible live show. While contemporaries like Plankeye, Bleach, and Switchfoot were taking the world by storm this was the little engine that could. They chugged along up the hill and just about the time they reached critical adoration, they broke up. Where Jeremy is right now is anyone’s guess. I’ve tried reaching them to no avail. Frank and 5 Minute Walk certainly had their finger on the pulse of popular music that would reach the masses and also cause the audience to think. Yeah, the lyrics to this band’s music was something I had never witnessed in a “Christian” band before. Some of it at the time went over my head but maybe that’s why I continued to be influenced by it and felt moved. There is something awe inspiring when you find that special artist that draws you in and creates a one of kind connection. I felt that with Black Eyed Sceva/Model Engine and I missed them sorely when they broke up. They should have been as big as Switchfoot were/are and could have had an enduring legacy much like them. Oh well. Check out “Ryan’s Driveway”, “Ecumenical”, “Soapbox”, and the LIVE tracks (from the album ‘Way Before the Flood’).
7. Value Pac “Self Titled”
I wasn’t impressed with the production on this debut album and it might have been because of the high school ages of the musicians with little experience. Whatever it was, their live show just didn’t translate well to CD. However, I had a special place in my heart for these songs. I remember seeing them back in 1995 at some Church in Tustin and being immediately drawn to their brand of pop-punk. I still have their first demo as “One by One” (then One Bye One and finally Value Pac) recorded in 1995 when two of the guys were still in high school. I believe I even sent in a letter to T&N to check this band out (or was it an email?). Not sure if it reached them or not. I think some guys in Supertones were the ones that passed demos on up to Brandon Ebel. We all graduated the same year which is why I developed a special bond with Ryan and Ben. Some of their early shows were at my youth group basement and even a backyard birthday party for a friend (with Tasty Snax!). So when I heard “Graduation Day” on that 4 song pre-release promo cd (with Ghoti Hook) I was excited and thrilled that we all shared that in common. It should have been an anthem for all high school kids graduating in the 90s! The basic nature of this record from the trio of Ryan, Isaiah, and Ben can be over looked when you realize the band’s future potential and what they turned out to be. Sure they were short lived but that final “Incognito” album in year 2000 still ranks as a favorite record for me. Songs to check out on this record: “Graduation Day”, “Missing You”, “Final Request”, “Happy Star”, and yes, “Sunday Christian”. I got my name permanently in the credits on this CD which was the first time this ever happened to me (Thanks Ben!). PS- I never understood why they chose the name Value Pac, corniest name ever, it’s bad they couldn’t have kept One by One
6. Five Iron Frenzy “Upbeats and Beatdowns”
What can be said about FIF that hasn’t been said before? This 8 piece ska-punk band hit strides that most of their contemporaries only dreamed about. Their crowds were intense, their music was passionate, and they held just that tiny sliver of aggression to make them differentiate from other Ska-Punk bands of the time. Oh and Reese didn’t rap. Songs like “Where Zero Meets 15”, “Cool Enough for You”, “Anthem”, “Milestone”, and the single “The Flowery Song” were purely infectious. You couldn’t help but bob your head along with Reese’s vocals and the music of this 8 piece band. Also, how many 8 piece ska-punk bands can you name? (besides Mighty Mighty Bosstones of course). Lyrically this band was ahead of their time and wrote socially conscious songs meant to inspire and make people think. That I think is why their enduring legacy is so cherished by fans and future generations. They are like no other band out there whether it be the “Christian” music scene or general marketplace.
5. Face to Face “Self Titled”
This melodic punk band released a few albums before they hit their stride with this collection of great songs. I didn’t really discover Face to Face until the release of “Big Choice” which led me to pure excitement when I first spun this. I first heard this album in some CD listening booth at one of the local stores around the Orange County area back in the day and I absolutely LOVED it! Even though I went through the “Christian Music Only” phase for a few years this album slipped in and I held on to it. So much of this record is positive and the songs get you really pumped up. You know you’ve done your job when another band covers your song as Spoken did with “I Wont Lie Down” back in 2000 (original appears on this record). The reason for this band not blowing up as big as The Offspring, Green Day, and Blink 182 towards the end of the 90’s completely baffles me. Maybe their songs weren’t as goofy? Not as commercial? Whatever it was, most of general public missed out on a incredible melodic punk band. Their “Ignorance is Bliss” album (1999) as much as fans hated it back in the day, still ranks as a favorite album of mine this many years later. Songs like “I Won’t Lie Down”, “Walk the Walk”, “Blind”, “Ordinary”, and “Complicated” make this album all it is and more. If you listen to this record and don’t enjoy it then there is something obviously wrong with your head.
4. Stavesacre “Friction”
What can be said about this “super group” featuring members of The Crucified, Focused, and The Blamed? Well what can’t be said is that they were sloppy, pitiful musicians because that would be a flat out lie! This band was way ahead of their time and the production on this record was more than likely Tooth & Nail’s biggest investment at the time. Mark & company have continued to make beautifully aggressive music for over 20 years now. They stopped in 2009 with the release of their last ep but thankfully they came to their senses and will release a new album in 2017. So many solid songs remain a part of Friction. Songs like “Threshold”, “At The Moment”, “Suffocate Me”, “Tranewreck”, “Burning Clean”, and “Anna Thema” which struck me as solid hits that no one else would probably hear. I remember having a brief “discussion” with the member of a local OC hardcore band at school about the merits of Stavesacre and being told they sounded like Quicksand and Orange 9mm. I was like “yeah so” (not knowing who those groups were at the time). The debut fell mostly on deaf ears because the mid 90s were all about pop-punk and ska where as this record was a straight up rock album (dare I say Post Hardcore). Some of the most talented songwriters and musicians this scene has ever witnessed. They still rank as one of my favorite bands of all time.
3. Sense Field “Building”
From the opening chords of “Overstand” I was literally blown away. I hadn’t even heard music like this before from either a commercially successful “Radio” band or independent artist. There is something entirely original and engaging about the music of Sense Field. Their music transcends time and their legacy has lasted a few decades now. “In The Light of Things” is a simply beautiful song even still after all these years. When Jon Bunch left us earlier this year, I began to play their past discography and immediately fell in love with the music all over again. “Building” for me was the first official independent “secular” album that I enjoyed even though the spiritual nature of Jon’s lyrics could have even drawn in the most skeptical Christian music fan. Regardless of what you think about Jon’s life and how he went out, you can’t help but be influenced and spiritually connected to his songs. “Outlive the Man” “Different Times”, “Leia” and all the rest of the songs are some of the most impressive Revelation Records material they have ever released next to their other great bands like Farside, Texas is the Reason, and Gameface.
2. Plankeye “Commonwealth”
This record and the following list topper are in a dead heat tie for my favorite releases of 1996. Plankeye previously released “Spill” (1994 re-release), and “Spark” (1995) before unleashing this incredibly polished and well produced 3rd record. This is my favorite Plankeye album for a number of reasons. The music has just a slight experimental edge while incorporating Scott’s gritty melodic voice and catchy songs that are commercial enough to win over any Radio DJ at the time. The fact that the band was stuck to only the Christian market is a darn shame and something quite sad. They should have been the biggest “alt rock” band of the mid 90’s. Scott departed the band in 1998 after the release of One and Only which led the band to regroup and release “Relocation” which spawned the hit “Goodbye”. As much as I love “Goodbye” it’s always a little sad in my mind that the band couldn’t have enjoyed that same success with Scott behind vocals. Sure the band rode a bit of the alt-punk wave in the 90s but their sound is one of a kind and still something to be enjoyed 20 years later. Songs like “B.C.”, “Push Me Down (Veiled)”, “Struck by the Chord”,” Beautiful”, and “Who Loves You More”, are some of the finest Plankeye songs ever. Oh and that song “Bicycle” that Luis sang on was enjoyed by my girlfriend (soon to be wife) and I for several years.
1. MxPx “Life In General”
Holy crap, this album blew EVERYONE away in 1996. There was not one single pop-punk band like them at the time, that played with their ferocity, speed, and tight melodies. For a trio to sound this good was unheard of. Mix that with the aspect of being on an indie label at the time and coming from the Christian market was absolutely mind blowing. Green Day had nothing on MxPx and they were totally different bands by the way (stupid Christian market). While much of music has changed over the years along with attitudes and beliefs on life one thing is for certain, this album endures and leaves behind a legacy that will last decades. Some of my favorite classics from this album are “The Wonder Years”, “Today is in My Way”, “Middlename”, “Doing Time”, “Do Your Feet Hurt”, “My Mom Still Cleans My Room”, and “Your Problem My Emergency”, but all of them are great. “Chick Magnet” grew on me and I can appreciate that song even now when I look back.
Slick Shoes “Slick Shoes Ep”
The Suicide Machines “Destruction by Definition”
Strung Out “Suburban Wasteland Blues”
Ninety Pound Wuss “Self Titled”
Goldfinger “Self Titled”
Pushstart Wagon “Squeaky Clean”
Jawbox “Self Titled”
Less Than Jake “Losing Streak”
Spud Puddle “Linoleum”
Rage Against the Machine “Evil Empire”
Dogwood “Good Ol Daze”
Morella’s Forest “Ultraphonic Hiss”
Bloodshed “The Soft Spoken Words of Fallbrook” Ep