This is a big year not only for music, anniversaries, but also Indie Vision Music in general. Yes, my friends, this year is the 20th Anniversary of the website/store/label and everything IVM means to me. I thought of a few different things I could do for the anniversary but due to time constraints and well, this pandemic which has completely changed EVERYTHING about our daily lives, I decided to keep it simple. I have put together this little write up on what I consider to be 20 of my favorite albums of that monumental year in music history. These aren’t the most well known, or recognizable to everyone but they freakin’ rocked and here is why….
1. Too Bad Eugene – At Any Rate [Rock City Recordings]
There are a few reasons this album comes out of the gate at #1. First, the album featured Adam and Andy formerly of Craig’s Brother. When they departed that famed melodic punk band and started their own 3 piece (with Adam’s brother Sam on drums), a lot of us knew it would be good. Boy, we weren’t wrong. This album was produced by Mike Herrera of MXPX at his own studio and released on his label, Rock City Recordings. Mike didn’t just produce this mighty fine album, he also lent his BGV to several songs. This album is melodic pop-punk at it’s finest. While “Moonlighting” (2002/T&N) was good, it was nowhere near as powerful as this debut 15 song record. Some of my faves from this album are “Drawing Straws”, “Everybody’s Gone”, “Walking The Dogma”, “Punk for Dummies”, and “Wedding Story”, although all the others are just as good. Happy 20th Too Bad Eugene!
2. Dogwood – Building a Better Me [Tooth & Nail]
I have a deep affection for this band and their music. Their lyrics have got me through some tough times and “Building a Better Me” is one of those albums that just takes it to the next level. I love everything about this record. The solid punk rock tunes are undeniably awesome in every ounce of energy this band puts forth. There is nothing quite like aggressive, fast, in your face melodic punk with a slight dose of “pop” underpinnings to keep the album flowing. Songs like “Mycro” “The Good Times”, “Comes Crashing”, and the unforgettable title track, “Building a Better Me”. This album helped kick start the band down a path of getting smiles and head nods out of even the toughest of tough guy punkers. Well done Dogwood, well done.
3. Five Iron Frenzy – All The Hype That Money Can Buy [5 Minute Walk]
This album was a game changer. Like every album this band had released, this one was filled with socially conscious, tongue in cheek, and uplifting, thought engaging rock-ska songs. So much can be said for the diversity of this very album but one thing is for certain, it was a winner. After the tragic shooting at Columbine, a song “A New Hope” just fit so well. It was uplifting, hopeful, and really captured that broken hearted fatigue so many of us experienced at that particular time period. Other fun songs like Me Oh My, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Solidarity, and the fabulous, fists held high anthem for all those Camaro loving, southern bros with a penchant for 80’s rock – The Phantom Mullet. It was like the anti-anthem that became an anthem. Does that make sense? I loved the Tom Jones cover “It’s Not Unusual”, and the sad un(love) song, “Ugly Day”. Songs like Fahrenheit with it’s focus on love despite identity, and Four-Fifty-One about well Christian radio/market and their avoidance of hard hitting subject matter, really made me stop and think and ponder some new ideas that I hadn’t thought much about up to that point. The album closer “A World Without End” was a perfect way to close out this excellent collection of songs and was a punk-ska worship like song that would never be sung in Church but definitely should have, you know? Not sure where this ranks on my FIF love list but you know what, I can honestly say I love each FIF album in their own unique way and this album is no exception.
4. Value Pac – Incognito [Four Door]
No “punk” album got as many plays as this one over the years. I love the MXPX, Dogwood, Slick Shoes, Relient K, and all the other Christian influenced bands I found in the 90’s and 00’s but this one album made a huge impact. Knowing about Ryan’s (Lead Singer/Guitar) mom’s passing makes the bitterness of some of these songs sink so much deeper. This bitter pill and heart on the sleeve direction “Incognito” took was something rare for “Christian” music and something that kept them from being played on most CCM “Radio” stations at the time. Produced by Dennis D. of Social Distortion shortly before his passing was like a punk rock gift to all of us fans of the genre as well as Value Pac followers. You could sort of sense what was coming after Jalapeno released in 97′. “Corporate Cover Up” was a big ol’ middle finger to their former label which you can either agree with or disagree and cringe over. It’s really up to you and how you absorb this album’s content. Like I said before, the poignant, heart on the sleeve, broken hearted nature of these songs take on new relevance when you knew what the songwriter was struggling with at the time. I knew these guys from years before when we hung out and I put together some shows they played at. I didn’t always see eye to eye with them especially after their manager became a total jerk but it’s understandable now that I look back. We were the same age, Ryan and I (Ben too but he left) and we graduated high school the same year. To have 3 albums out by the time you’re 21 was crazy (unless you are MXPX of course). Value Pac created an album that was years above the rest and the pure honesty conveyed in these songs like “Bad Bad Me”, “Dear God”, “Prodigal”, etc. was unbeatable. The guest list of players on this record was always impressive as well. Chuck Cummings on Drums (Dakota Motor Co, Aunt Bettys, etc), Ethan Luck, Russel from Dogwood, Mike Knott, and more. I loved the premise of Chuck’s (Cummings) record label which was to be an online, internet based Record Label called “Fourdoor Entertainment”. I think he just arrived too early on the scene and people weren’t ready for something like that. He had another awesome band, No Tagbacks which was really House of Heroes when they were all just out of high school age. I’m 42 now and these songs still hit me directly in the chest and give me something to sing out from the top of my lungs. Some bands should be left in the dust of years past but Value Pac had a unique punk rock sound and could have really evolved in their music. Look at Ghoti Hook and “Two Years To Never”. RIP Value Pac, you will be missed.
5. The O.C. Supertones – Loud and Clear [BEC Recordings]
I absolutely hate that FIF and OC Supertones always get lumped together and end up on people’s lists at the same time but it has to be done. Both bands were worlds apart in style but always get lumped together as “Christian Ska”. It couldn’t be further from the truth. This album was heavier than “Chase the Sun” but still light, and commercial sounding. You had songs like “Escape From Reason”, “Pandora’s Box”, “Another Show”, up against songs like “What It Comes To”, “Lift Me Up”, “Spend It With You” and you could see the back and forth. Then add in more commercial “Catchy” songs like “Jury Duty”, “Wilderness”, “Father’s World”, “Forward to The Future”, and “20/20”, then this album really takes on a new shape. I loved “Chase The Sun” when it came out and fit that 1999 time period perfectly. When they added Ethan Luck on guitar starting on this record, they really introduced his unforgettable punk edge and brought them a more classic Supertones sound again. While the next album went back to more CCM friendly material, this one stands apart and really makes you appreciate the band for what they were, game changing christian-rap-ska-pop-rock with biblically driven songs meant to lead one to worship while at the same time stage diving. Oh and those Orange Jumpsuits, sorry guys that just didn’t work. lol.
6. Twotimer – See What Happens From Here [Screaming Giant Records]
After I started Indie Vision Music, this was one of the very first albums I had to get to sell in my store. I remember hitting up Kendall Nadeau at Screaming Giant/G-Rock HQ (his house) to buy some SGR titles for my store and loving this one. Steven Welch was one of those excellent pop punk vocalists, able to convey emotion with a slight grit in his voice and melodies to die for. While this album is out of print and only available on SGR bandcamp, there is word they will be re-releasing this in the near future. I listened to these songs so much in the early 00’s. I remember cruising around Kauai on vacation with this CD an Value Pac’s on loud repeat. My wife probably would have killed me if I shared one more early 00’s pop-punk album with her haha. This little known album suffered from bad artwork, lacking promotion, and touring that dried up. These guys could have been just as huge as Slick Shoes and MXPX at the time had they been on another label. It’s all good though because we have old albums like this to enjoy over the years that brings out tears of nostalgia. “I’ve Tried”, “Around and Around”, “Easy”, “Just Change”, are some of my faves but truthfully, they are all good.
7. MxPx – The Everpassing Moment [A&M/Tooth & Nail]
“Don’t Hate Me Forever I’m Better Late Than Never, I Failed You I’m Sorry, That’s Simply My Life Story”… It sure started off right off the bat with the perfect song. I have to be honest, I absolutely adored “Slowly Going The Way of the Buffalo” and this one took a little bit longer to jump into. It is a great album don’t get me wrong but a little more uplifting and dare I say, “happy” compared to the more melancholy “Slowly…”. I think it was in the production style but you know what, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that these songs have longevity and our love for MxPx is never ending. I may not share the same life story (bad pun) with Mike these days but I appreciate his style and songwriting. There hasn’t been a more prolific punk band than MxPx for our time period. Look at their past discography and how many albums have come out between 1994 and now. It’s beyond crazy. These guys are only like 44 so expect 20 more albums in the years to come 🙂 Favorite songs “My Life Story”, “Responsibility”, “Prove It To The World”, “One Step Closer To Life”, “Foolish”, “Misplaced Memories”, “Without You”, “It’s The Next Big Thing”. Oh and I have a bone to pick with lazy journalists (yeah, I remember reading those critiques back in the day) who lumped these guys in with Green Day. Totally different bands y’all, totally different punk rock styles. It just goes to show that one lemming follows the other lemming right off the cliff. end rant.
8. Slick Shoes – Wake Up Screaming [Tooth & Nail Records]
This release followed 2 years after “Burn Out” and marked a new direction for the band. The sound was similar to past material but Jackson was out and in his place was Greg Togawa. They had different styles and distinct characteristics. I really missed Jackson’s frenetic approach and wild solos throughout the prior two albums and ep. This full length wasn’t without it’s winning formula and bright, sunny sounding pop-punk. Perfect for year 2000. Ryan’s voice had grown more mature by the time of this record and vocals were easier to hear and a bit more clear, not that the prior 2 albums were bad by any means. Songs like “Angel”, “Constancy”, “Peace of Mind”, “Have I Said Too Much”, “Good Intentions”, and the EP rerecorded track, “I Guess” are some really solid songs in the Slick Shoes discography. The whole album works seamlessly together and production was really perfect. This set the stage for the last 2 albums before the band’s hiatus.
9. Ghoti Hook – Two Years To Never [Tooth & Nail Records]
After 2 full lengths and a “Covers” record, the band took a departure into straight up rock n’ roll with “Two Years to Never”. The “punk” element was more the undercurrent on this album and not as much of a guiding force like on “Sumo Surprise” and “Banana Man”. Gone was the goofiness and humor laden tracks, in place was a sense of confidence. This was a serious record by a band that wanted to be serious and be taken seriously. Some really great songs are on this album, songs like “One Step Closer”, “All That I Am”, “Mach 3”, “Two Years to Never”, the ballad “Lullaby”, and the epic “Next to Me” which is a 6 minute rock opera of sorts in that signature Ghoti Hook sound. Imagine “Gold & Silver” by Stavesacre and you have a good idea as to the depth of “Next to Me”. This album was somewhat overlooked by long time fans and was unfairly critiqued because of the departure in sound, I was even guilty of it back in the day. I have grown to love this album though and even though Conrad bolted after Banana Man, the band found it’s footing and confidence that really shaped their sound and pushed them in new directions. It’s a shame the band only released a follow up Ep on Velvet Blue then called it quits. Long live Ghoti Hook and I can’t wait for the 25th anniversary vinyl release of “Sumo Surprise” that yours truly wrote a piece in the liner notes for 😉
10. Living Sacrifice – The Hammering Process [Solid State Records]
The album immediately hits you in the face with a full frontal metal attack in the form of “Flatline”. The one thing that immediately stands out on this record is all the added bonus percussion ala Matt Puttman. The extra percussion was an added bonus that strengthed the sound of Living Sacrifice and pushed them beyond the standard follow up record. I would say sophomore release because technically it was a new band with Bruce on lead vocals but then that would be unfairly distancing from their earlier death metal sound with DJ. I loved “Reborn” and “The Hammering Process” was like this thick sounding metal album that ruled in almost every way possible. Oh hi ZAO so you released “Self Titled”, well I like this much better [wow emojiis]. “Flatline”, “Bloodwork”, “Local Vengeance Killing”, “Hand of the Dead” which was a different sounding LS song in the fact that it had back up singing, was really special. This album marked the first time Rocky Gray, Arthur Green, and Matthew Putman had joined Living Sacrifice and their own unique stylings were felt all over this record. Lance as always is a tremendous drummer, blowing everybody away in the process except maybe Jim Chaffin and Sam West. Really great record.
11. Thrice – Identity Crisis [Independent/Hopeless/Sub City]
This is the album that started it all for not only the band but a local scene here in So Cal. as well. This record was put out independently in 2000 and re-released by Hopeless/Sub-City Records shortly after. The opening chords of title track “Identity Crisis” with the melodic punk rock sounds and screams of Dustin Kensrue are what differentiated this album from so many other pop-punk records of the time. The production wasn’t huge major label stuff but for an independent recording by a new band on a limited budget showcased what was to come in the next 20 years. Every good band has a beginning and this was Thrice’s. I spun the heck out of this CD back in the day, probably etching my passion and tears of joy stained on that plastic disc. I think every song was equally loved and it’s hard to pick just a few. The title track, “Phoenix Ignition”, “To What End”, “Ultra Blue”, “T&C”, “In Your Hands”, are all great songs. To see a band progress from this first record to “Palms” is huge. They truly have grown and matured as songwriters/musicians. As much growth as there has been, I can help but feel heaps of nostalgia while listening to their early recordings. I got into them with this release and have pretty much enjoyed each album/ep moving forward. I wonder where they would have been in their career trajectory had they signed with Tooth & Nail Records back in the day?
12. Embodyment – Narrow Scope of Things [Solid State Records]
A huge thing happened with this band between their last album and the release of “The Narrow Scope of Things”, it was like an entirely different style of music. Death/extreme metal into Hard Rock/Post-Hardcore. Was it for the best? I really believe it was. This record pushed the band out of the confines of a specific metal only genre and into a more commercial sound that would attract the masses. The lead vocalist on this record and into the next 3 was nothing short of magical. Smooth vocals and unique presence that really needed to be felt in the modern day Christian music. Songs like “Winter’s Kiss”, “One Less Addiction”, “Pendulum”, and “Confessions”, and “Killing The Me in Me” all showcase a great band with loads of talent bubbling up waiting for the world to consume.
13. Brandtson – Trying To Figure Each Other Out [Deep Elm]
This was the Brandtson EP that made me a fan of the band and really got me pumped. Letterbox was a really great debut record and Fallen Star Collection had it’s moments but this EP is where it’s at. The opening song “Sic Transit Gloria (Glory Fades)” is one of the greatest Brandtson songs and a reigning champ of “emo” if I’ve ever seen one. The 6 songs on this ep showcase a band that was about to explode in terms of popularity and influence. It’s hard to believe that a couple of guys were in a spirit filled hardcore band called Six Feet Deep after spinning this EP. There was some edge to these songs but they were a far cry from Hardcore and for that I commend them. I think Brandtson was an amazing band and I really enjoyed their vast, diverse discography. The follow up record, “Dial In Sounds” and then “Send us a Signal” are two of the greatest emo records of all time.
14. Project 86 – Drawing Black Lines [T&N/Atlantic]
P86 was back and explosive for their 2nd full length record. This was meant to be a launching point for the band to reach the masses in the age of nu-metal. The band even signed with Atlantic Records for the general market. For whatever reason, the album became a critical hit but didn’t reach that monumental mass appeal success that some of their fellow rock bretheren received. I would much rather have listened to this record over and over again then stomach another Limp Bizkit track back then. I believe even a former member of NIV played on this record and toured with them for a short while. “Stein’s Theme”, “One Armed Man”, “Me Against Me”, “Chapter 2”, and “Sad Machines” were stand outs.
15. Philmore – Philmore [5 Minute Walk]
The first 4 songs off this record really struck me and made me a fan. Their cover of “Livin’ On a Prayer” was the best pop-punk cover of the song I’d heard. Their lead single “Our Finest Hour” was the greatest glam, 80’s hard rock inspired pop-punk song ever! So good and so fun too, isn’t that what it’s all about? Their fantastic follow up, “The Bare Truth about Philmore” was an underrated gem that went mostly unnoticed. RIP Philmore.
16. The Deal – Yesterday, Today, and Forever [Facedown Records]
Rough and Raw street punk from Southern California. These guys were real and honest, hitting you straight in the heart with a full frontal punk assault. I remember the first time hearing The Deal and loving this album. It was some of the first stuff I bought and carried in the Indie Vision Music webstore when I would buy direct. Remember CDs? This was an extremely well done album for that time period and still hits hard where it should, all these years later.
17. Pax217 – Two Seventeen [Forefront]
Boy oh boy was this a solid debut. I was most impressed with the flawless production and musicianship from these local boys. Sure they took on a bit of that 311 reggae-rock vibe but it didn’t matter because they put their own spin on it and dropped in tasty nuggets of Truth. Some faves were A.M., Sandbox Praise, Prizm, No Place Like Home, and the kickback, Free to Be. This band had punk roots and even Ska in their early days so seeing them on Forefront was quite a weird thing. In the end it all fit and this band would have fit along side Linkin Park, P.O.D., 311, Incubus, Alien Ant Farm, Hoobastank, quite nicely during that time period.
18. 7-10 Split – Force Beyond Strength [Screaming Giant]
Dude this EP was a BEAST! All 6 tracks were great and really showcased this melodic punk/hardcore band of what they could do. “Trial By Stone” was sort of juvenille but by the time this one dropped in 2000, all the childish pop-punk of the past was gone somewhat with a more serious outlook in place. The band would gone on to do 2 more fantastic full lengths on their new label home New School Records before calling it quits for a decade. Jon Ladd has such a strong and commanding voice and sounds perfect here. If you enjoy his voice/guitar playing, you should look up his new project – Courage, Dear Heart.
19. Spoken – Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell [Metro One]
This was a significant improvement over the band’s 2 prior albums for Metro One including “What Remains” and “On Your Feet”. Songs like “Forevermore”, “David”, and the Face to Face cover track, “I Wont Lie Down”, were just perfect for me. This album release set the stage for the next phase of Spoken and their eventual jump to Tooth & Nail for 3 albums. Believe it or not, Spoken were nominated for a Dove Award for the Face to Face cover until it was mysteriously taken down. I still remember.
20. Dogwood / Incomplete – Split Release [One Moment Records]
Last but certainly not least, two incredible bands came together for this epic one time only “Split” release on indie label, One Moment Records which was run by Lance Brown of Taken fame and who currently works for Dream Records/Management. The songs were a little rough around the edges but that same punk rock spirit people had come to love Dogwood for was clearly present. What really impressed me was the 4 Incomplete songs. The band who had been together for a number of years before this split, playing local shows around California and dropping songs on various comps. (plus a few indie demos and such) improved upon their sound with the edition of Brandon on Lead Vocals. He complimented the band well and added seamless perfection to the back up vocals from Mike Niednagel. I still love this band even after all these years and a short amount of songs released. “Too Late” and “Last Night” are two classics the majority of people have never heard. Go listen on bandcamp below.
Relient K – Self Titled
Squad 5-0 – Bombs Over Broadway
Huntingtons- Plastic Surgery
Terra Firma – Silence Cries
Custom Deluxe – Rookie
Onceid – Grey Dots and Gold Stars
Off The Record – Remember When
Element 101 – Future Plans Undecided (Re-Release)
Anguish Unsaid – The Chronicles of The Restoration of The Church
Brave Saint Saturn – So Far From Home
ZAO – Self Titled
Logos – When Life Seems Senseless
Buddy Ruckus – Time Enough at Last
The Juliana Theory – Emotion is Dead