Monday, October 27, 2008

Ammonia - Mint 400 (Epic, 1995)

Australian band Ammonia were the first act to sign with Sony Music Australia's imprint label, Murmur.  As fate would have it, it was the label's second signing, Silverchair, who would achieve breakout success, while Ammonia remains a fairly obscure name outside of their native Australia. The band formed initially in 1992 under the name Fuzzswirl before changing monikers a year later. The band's 1995 debut, Mint 400, was an immediate success in Australia, prompting Sony to release the album in the states under their Epic Records branch.

The album's lead single "Drugs" (video included below) received some frequent airplay on MTV here in the states, but the band wasn't able to recreate the success they had achieved in their homeland. Ammonia's second effort, Eleventh Avenue, which was recorded with Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips) and released in 1998, saw the band moving away from the grunge-inspired sounds of their debut and towards a more experimental sound and would serve as the band's last record before disbanding in 1999. 

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Speaker - Model Citizen (Capricorn, 1997)

Long Beach, CA's Speaker formed in 1995 as a creative partnership between friends. Guitarist/vocalist Tom Gonzales and bassist/vocalist Matt Jacovides played with various people in the local scene, but when Jacovides tried to help Gonzales find bandmembers, he realized that their collaboration was better than his current band. Drummer Scott Devours completed the lineup, and the trio began writing and playing their brand of dynamic, diverse music. Speaker's first release, Model Citizen, came out in 1997 on Capricorn Records, and after spending much of 1998 writing and recording with producer and friend Rich Mouser, they released Orizaba in 1999. (

There appears to be barely anything written online about Speaker and their debut EP, Model Citizen. The band certainly earn some cool points in my book for having choosen Don Fleming as producer, the man responsible for producing some of my favorite records (Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, The Posies, among others). The result was six songs of fairly average post-grunge guitar crunch typical of the era. The band did however employ an interesting use of Prince-esque falsetto vocals at points, effectively adding a heavy dose of quirkiness to their sound. The band followed this EP with the more groove-oriented full length Orizaba two years later, which appears to be the last the world heard from Speaker. 

Listen @ allmusic
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Sparkler - Wicker Park (1997, Warner Bros.)

Sparkler was formed by L.A. native Rick Parker, formerly a member of Lions & Ghosts, the "college rock" band he led in the late 80s with Michael Lockwood (husband of Lisa Marie Presley and sometimes guitarist for Aimee Mann). After Lions & Ghosts split, Parker released a solo album, Wicked World, for Geffen in 1992 before later starting Sparker. The band's 1997 debut, Wicker Park, was recorded with Keith Cleversley (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips) and drew comparisons to Mathew Sweet, Oasis, and Jellyfish with its mix of classic power pop and glam influences (though I think the best comparison might be Spacehog). Interestingly, the list of bands mentioned in Wicker Park's liner notes reads almost like a who's who of similar sounding (and similarly forgotten) 90s LA bands, including Summercamp, Campfire Girls, Agnes Gooch, Super Deluxe, and Gwen Mars. Check out the single "Discover" (video included below) for a good example of Sparkler's brand of hook laden power pop. This would be Sparkler's first and last record, though Parker would later work with artists such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Miranda Lee Richards.

Download @ PowerPop Overdose
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tripmaster Monkey - Goodbye Race (Sire, 1994)

"Lots of loud, crunchy guitar, poppy hooks buried in noise, smacking drums and randomly eccentric titles to the songs. In some respects, this is almost a picture-perfect Sire band, from the confusedly youthful looking personnel to the earnest semi-alternative rock riffing. There are times when Tripmaster Monkey aren't sure if they're trying to turn into a hardcore band or an incarnation of the Rezillos. They do have moments where they're able to grab attention, as happens with "Valium" and the moody opening of "Roman Catholic Haircut," but good ideas are too often let go in favor of more smack'n'thrash." (

Tripmaster Monkey formed in 1992 in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, and released the Faster than Dwight EP on See How! Records the following year.  1994 saw the release of their major label debut full-length, Goodbye Race, on Warner Bros.' Sire label. The album was recorded with Paul Q. Kolderie at the noted Fort Apache studios in Boston, and you can hear the influence of Fort Apache alumni (The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.) on its sound. The band made the jump from Sire to Elektra for their second (and final) effort, Practice Changes, in 1996. Members of Tripmaster Monkey continue to play music in Chrash Flood and Tenki, both part of the Future Appletree Records family. 

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Claw Hammer - Hold Your Tongue and Say Apple (Interscope, 1997)

"Claw Hammer formed in 1986 in Long Beach, California; its members were from several neighboring municipalities. Their name was taken from a Captain Beefheart song. The group released a cassette and some small-issue EPs and singles before signing to Sympathy for the Record Industry, who released their debut LP, an eponymous effort, in 1990. Another EP and two full-lengths followed on Sympathy; the group won acclaim for its live shows before signing to Epitaph Records for their 1993 release, Pablum. In 1994, Claw Hammer performed as the backing band on Wayne Kramer's Epitaph release, The Hard Stuff. Jumping to major label Interscope, they released two more LPs, the last being 1997's Hold Your Tongue (and Say Apple). The group played live until 2000." (

Though they may have named themselves after a Captain Beefheart tune, Claw Hammer was more sleazy punk rock (and roll) than beefheartian avant-garde. For "Hold Your Tongue...", the band's second album on Interscope, they made the switch from longtime producer, Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz (also the owner of their former label, Epitaph), to Memphis-native Jim Dickinson.  Dickinson, known for his work with Big Star and the Replacements, effectively brought out the more "rock & roll" side in Claw Hammer. Unfortunately this would serve as Claw Hammer's last release before disbanding in 2000. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dirt Merchants - Scarified (Epic, 1996)

"Boston rockers Dirt Merchants were formed in March of 1992 by the guitar-drums brother duo of Mike and John Malone. Enlisting Maria Christopher on vocals and a college friend of Mike's on bass, Alex Kisch, Dirt Merchants issued a debut single shortly thereafter, "Mindfuck" b/w "Beware of Dog," released in 1993 on their own V-Hold label. Another single was issued in 1994, "Purple Barrel" b/w "Love Apnea," making the quartet one of Boston's fastest rising rockers on the scene (winning radio station WBCN's Rock 'n' Roll Rumble the same year). By 1995, the group was signed to the New York independent label Zero Hour, issuing their debut full-length in April of the same year, titled Scarified. The album attracted the attention of Epic, who signed the band and reissued the album in February of 1996." (

Being the very generous people that they are, the members of Dirt Merchants have offered what appears be their entire recorded output for free download on their wesbite, including their excellent Tim O'Heir-produced major label debut, Scarified. Also available is their unreleased followup to that album, The Speed At Which You Speak, which was originally shelved by Epic. Dirt Merchants' sometimes noisy/sometimes poppy brand of female-fronted indie rock is sure to please any fans Kim Gordon, Mary Timony, Dahlia Seed, etc.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Agnes Gooch - Blind (1997, Warner Bros.)

"The Los Angeles quartet Agnes Gooch's unusual moniker can be traced to an early drummer whose babysitter used to threaten him with retribution at the hands of said character. In actuality, Agnes Gooch is a character from the musical Mame. Finding common musical ground upon meeting in a club, guitarists Nathan Ehrenfeld and Mat Baker chose to form a band, soon adding a bass player going by the name Johnny Lonely. After several false starts, drummer Scott Bushkin completed the lineup and the group began to play out, attracting a following on the L.A. club scene and signing a record deal with Revolution. With a sound that drew as much on traditional, power pop influences as the darker, alternative rock of the period, they released their debut, Blind, in 1997. It would prove to be their only release and, with Baker and Lonely playing in separate bands, it seems likely to remain so." (

The above blurb about the band must have been written prior to 2004, because it was during that year that Agnes Gooch returned from their 7-year hiatus to release their sophomore effort, Now I See, on the independent ATM Records. You can check out that record at their CD Baby page, which includes a short bio that clues us in a bit to the Agnes Gooch story: "After several successful tours, including Lollapalooza, X Games and opening for a variety of bands from Incubus to No Doubt, Agnes Gooch succumbed to the curse of major label politics, drifted apart & decided to go different musical directions. Seven years later.... They're back; stronger, wiser and hungry." 

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Red Five - Flash (Interscope, 1996)

You may have noticed a lack of female fronted bands on this blog, so in an attempt to make up for that a bit I'd like to discuss a band fronted by not one but two girls: Red Five. The band did the kind of dual-female-singer approach associated with Veruca Salt or The Breeders, but also added a fair amount of punk energy ala 7 Year Bitch, L7, The Lunachicks, The Red Aunts, etc. Its no surprise then that the band appeared on the 1996 Vans Warped Tour. Red Five released one EP before signing with Interscope, who released their lone album, Flash, in 1996.

Flash was recorded with noted producer Matt Wallace who is probably best known for his work with Faith No More.  After their second effort, Wink, was shelved in 1999, Red Five decided to go their separate ways.  Their song "Shipwrecked" did, however, turn up in the 2001 movie Orange County, though not actually on the soundtrack release.  More recently, front-woman Jenni McElrath has started a new project with husband and former Fluorescein drummer Rocco Bidlovski called Mostly Sunny, which you can check out on MySpace.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Dig - s/t (MCA, 1993)

"Alternative pop/rock quintet Dig formed in Los Angeles in early 1991, with vocalist/guitarist Scott Hackwith (a producer who worked for the Ramones), guitarist Dix Denney (ex-Weirdos and Thelonious Monster), guitarist Jon Morris, bassist Phil Friedmann, and drummer Matt Tecu. After gaining a following around the area and releasing the Runt EP in 1992, the group signed to Radioactive/MCA late that year and released their self-titled debut album in 1993. The single "Believe" spent almost three months in MTV's Buzz Bin, and prompted the release of Dig's second album, Defenders of the Universe, in mid-1996. Life Like followed in early 1999." (

Apparently the story behind this album is that the band was told by their record company to "make an alternative record".  This certainly seems plausible, as it sounds essentially like paint-by-the-numbers alternative rock (which if you've followed this blog at all, you know isn't something that I necessarily find to be a bad thing).  Still, gotta give the band a little credit for doing this relatively early on, considering bands would still be rehashing this approach for the next 10 years. The band was also wise enough to get Janes Addiction/Alice in Chains producer Dave Jerden on board for the recording.  A good 15 years after the release of this album, Dig, according to their myspace page, have recently reunited and recorded material for a new record. 

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fulflej - Wack-Ass Tuba Riff (Scratchie, 1996)

"An actual wack-ass tuba riff would have been an interesting thing to have, but even without it, Fulflej creates a reasonable enough set of mid-'90s semi-alt-rock with what sure sounds like inspiration from early-'90s shoegazing, as well. Similar to fellow Chicago denizens Catherine, Fulflej owes a certain debt to the Smashing Pumpkins' fusion of styles -- heaven knows opening number "Quite Like This" could be a Siamese Dream B-side, thick crunch, massive, soaring guitar solos, and all. That James Iha and D'arcy make guest appearances makes even more sense, but then again it was their co-owned label Scratchie which released the album in the first place (another Scratchie-connected musician, Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, pops up as well). Singer and main instrumentalist MC No Joke G has a much more breathy, whispery way around singing, though -- those put off by Billy Corgan's wracked screams may find Wack-Ass Tuba Riff a much more tolerable prospect as a result. There are also a lot more overt humor and funny good times -- the various credits and nutty cover art help show that much -- which gives Fulflej more of its own amiable identity." (

Fulflej initially caught the attention of Smashing Pumpkins bassist Darcy when they were opening for her husband's band, Catherine, who I previously featured here. Darcy was so impressed that she brought to the band to the new Polygram/Mercury-distributed label she had founded with fellow Pumpkin James Iha, Scratchie Records. And as mentioned in allmusic's review, Fulflej weren't too far off from Catherine or the Pumpkins, sonically speaking. Unfortunately the Pumpkin connection didn't translate to widespread attention for Fulflej, though they were able score a spot in a promotional ad for a Power Rangers movie in 1997 (included below). 

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Drill Team - Hope and Dream Explosion (Reprise, 1998)

"Drill Team is a post-grunge alternative band formed in Los Angeles in the mid-'90s by San Jose natives Michael Long (vocals, guitar) and Jeff Watson (bass) upon the latter's leaving Lutefisk.  They were joined by drummer Apollo Strange and, at first, guitar Chris Etzler; Etzler left in 1995 and was replaced by Timothy LaRue.  Drill Team signed with Reprise and released a self-titled debut in late 1996; it was followed in 1998 by their first full length album, Hope and Dream Explosion, which was recorded with noted producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley." (

Most reviews for Hope and Dream Explosion gave the band a hard time for being bland and unoriginal - and I can't say that I disagree (check out the Pitchfork review for an example of this). That said, Drill Team could write a radio-worthy chorus with the best of them. Certainly one of the great should-have-beens of the era. 

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Head - Endless Bummer (Capitol, 1996)

"Endless Bummer is the one and only major release from alternative hard rock outfit My Head. Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Adam Siegel, drummer Greg Saenz, and bassist Dave Silva, My Head made a guitar-heavy, almost psychedelic brand of sometimes funky rock that, while not entirely unique, had a swirling, organic texture that sounds something like Cream meets Alice in Chains. Seigel's guitar work is gritty and surprisingly fresh as he tosses out a multitude of diverse '70s grooves that conjure up past heroes like Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, and Tom Morello, sometimes all in one song. Unfortunately, the guitarist's vocal work lacks the color and imagination of his fretboard exploits. Occasionally derivative, My Head comes a little too close to some more recognizable alternative and grunge artists, as in "I Don't Want Nothing," when the band does an almost note-for-note Nirvana impersonation that self-consciously twists into a classic rock refrain before falling back into a very Cobain-esque coda. A respectable effort, Endless Bummer is an interesting collection of well-executed ideas that unfortunately just doesn't quite add up." (

Also of note is that Endless Bummer was produced by the extremely talented production duo of Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock, known for their work with Beck and Elliott Smith, as well as founding Bong Load Records. Prior to forming My Head, frontman Adam Siegel had been a member of Suicidal Tendencies spin-off band Infectious Grooves with current Metallica member Robert Trujillo (as well as Brooks Wackerman from THIS comedic gold-mine of a band fronted by "Bobby Budnick" from Nickelodeon's Salute Your Shorts).  Greg Saenz would later spend some time as a member of infamous punk rock weirdos The Dwarves.

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Loud Lucy - Breathe (Geffen, 1995)

"In the mid-'90s, major labels scrambled to sign alternative bands in Chicago in hopes of finding the next big thing. However, most of the bands signed during this frenzy fizzled out after only one or two albums. Loud Lucy was one of those bands. Known more for their connections with other bands, such as Alanis Morissette and Veruca Salt, than for their talent, Loud Lucy released their only major label album, Breathe, in 1995. Comprised mostly of three-minute songs, Breathe features the band's bland guitar-driven alternative pop. Each song is built around a repetitive guitar riff and has lyrics describing relationship troubles, which singer/guitarist Christian Lane hoarsely delivers. Although the album is mediocre, one of its catchier songs, "Ticking," enjoyed modest success with both MTV and radio airplay" (

I can't do a much better job than allmusic of summarizing the Loud Lucy story. What I can offer you though is a bit of an update on what Loud Lucy members have been up to since this record. Frontman Christian Lane had been dating Alanis Morrisette around the time of their tour opening for her, but following the couple's breakup the band faded from their brief moment in the spotlight and dissolved not long after. Lane has since gone on to pursue a more rootsy americana type solo career, while bassist Tommy Furar has since been a part of Liz Phair's band and drummer Mark Doyle played with The Cells.

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