The 90’s were a really great time for experimental music — especially for noise and psychedelic rock music. The explosion of bands like The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Radiohead and a laundry list of other like minded acid eaters and dope smokers lead the way for some of the most interesting music of the previous century. I’ve spent a little time writing about noise rock, no wave, now wave and other sort of “angular” music, but I think I should take a little time to talk specifically about some of my favorite bands of the last century.
In an attempt to make things easy, we’ll just do a list of my favorite 90’s psych rock bands, which should help set up the late 90’s really nicely. I like lists, you like lists lets make a list! This is by no means definitive of anything other than bands I like. I’m not Rolling Stone or Spin magazine and I’m not going to rank things in a way that’s outside of my own taste. You might disagree — I HOPE you disagree! Make your own list! Comment with your list.
- MEDICINE (and really anything Brad Laner does)
I saw Medicine open for someone… Swervedriver maybe? I don’t know. I saw the video for 5ive on 120 Minutes, bought SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING, but was not prepared for what I saw. Holy shit. God damn.
Seeing them at THE METRO here in Chicago was an experience. For a very long time, I felt that the historic Chicago venue had the best sound system in the city and even after they updated it to compete with The House of Blues, with the right engineer at the helm, the system still slammed. I’ve heard bootlegs of MEDCINE at Lounge Ax and it just didn’t seem like it was the same. That Metro show was a revelation for me. I didn’t want to play punk anymore. I didn’t want to be hardcore or metal bands anymore. I wanted to do whatever the hell MEDICINE was doing and after graduating high school, I did just that.
- THE FLAMING LIPS
So back in the 80’s and 90’s my grandparents lived in Ukrainian Village on the near west side of Chicago. We lived on the northwest side. I spent a lot of time in Ukrainian Village, West Town, Wicker Park and Bucktown as a child in the 1980s, but at that time, those parts of town weren’t the yuppie and hipster wastelands the are now. Back then, it was rough and gritty. There were drug dealers, prostitutes and a slowly growing artist and punk community coming up. I hate comparing things to New York, because Chicago isn’t and never will be New York (it’s much better in every possible way… except the subway system), but for people who aren’t from here, Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town and Ukrainian Village were essentially the Lower East Side and East Village. After my step-grandmother died, my grandfather would commonly come over on Sundays and then we’d have to drive him home, which I always liked because it was an adventure. In 1992, when I was seventeen years old, I went with my mom to drop him off. On the way back, I decided we were taking the scenic route so she could see where these stores and venues I frequented were. As we drove up Damen avenue, we rolled passed the newly opened DOUBLE DOOR, which was a 21+ venue that I’d never been to (obviously). What grabbed my attention was on the fence under the L tracks next to Double Door were all of these posters that just said “FLAMING LIPS.” My mom was like “what are Flaming Lips?” I took a guess and said “they’re a band, mom.”
Anyway, I went to the RECKLESS RECORDS on Broadway and stumbled across their section and bought HIT TO DEATH IN THE FUTURE HEAD and was blown the fuck away.
- MY BLOODY VALENTINE
Do I need to go into this? Do I? Really? OK, I won’t. LOVELESS is the best album of the 90’s and one of, if not THEE most inventive psychedelic rock albums of all time. If you can find the all analog remix of the album MBV released a few years back, pick it up, because it’s earth shaking and brilliant. I legitimately cried after hearing it. Also, pick up the analog remix of ISN’T ANYTHING, because it sounds far and away better than the original version.
- OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL
I did an entire post on this band a while back that you can find here. They’re awesome, I named my daughter after them and I don’t know if I can say anymore than I already have elsewhere.
- TRIPPING DAISY
Obligatory sophomore slump statement. Their second album isn’t great. It’s good, but not great. Yes, the single I Got a Girl is kind of annoying and paints them as a shitty post grunge alt rock band. None of that is true though. They’re a fan-fucking-tastic psych rock band that spent their career flying under the radar of so many people who should LOVE this band.
Like most people who aren’t from Texas, I heard TRIPPING DAISY because of the single, “My Umbrella” from their first LP, BILL. I was hooked on how fucking catchy it was and how much I felt like they sounded like an American NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN or a British JANES ADDICTION. You pick. I don’t care. The album is so great beginning to end. It was the soundtrack to the summer after my senior year of high school. However, I don’t think TRIPPING DAISY really hit their stride until their third album, JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB. They fell into a peer group with bands like THE FLAMING LIPS, MERCURY REV and GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI. I feel like on some tracks they even channel — and maybe even pre-date WILCO at times (I’m gonna have to revisit those early Wilco albums, because I keep hearing SUMMERTEETH when listening to songs like Sonic Bloom).
So this brings me to the point. The late 90’s got really exciting if you were into weird music. While the mainstream was skanking to third wave ska and mainstream pop punk, the freaks were in ecstasy with the eruption of bizarro noise and sugar coated fuzzed out melodies. It felt like every city in the United States had a band or three doing exciting stuff. In Chicago, we had a few — NOVASONIC DOWN HYPERSPACE ( who would later change their name to MIDSTATES), PLASTICS HI FI and I’d even dump WILCO into this family. (The band I was in at that time was in this group of bands, but not nearly as successful or recognized, which is fine… really. No, I’m fine. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Dallas Texas was no exception; they had TRIPPING DAISY.
TRIPPING DAISY was a band I’d all but forgotten about — for the most part. I still listened to BILL pretty regularly and the follow up never grabbed me. Then out of nowhere, I saw a promo copy of JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB at EVIL CLOWN RECORDS. I took it over to the listening station and was floored. I bought it, popped it in the CD player, turned it up and went for a drive. My best bud was sitting shotgun and we couldn’t get over how great it was! It was one psych rock gem after another after another after another. We were in love.
Flash forward to THE YEAR 200o. The self titled album came out. We got word that their keyboard player, Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose and his father played his parts on the new album. Tours were canceled and the band broke up. We were heartbroken. Anytime a talented person dies it’s sad, but this one hit a little harder. We felt like we’d just rediscovered the Daisies and they were on a whole new trajectory into musical greatness.
Most of what followed for the members of the band was found in the POLYPHONIC SPREE, who were good, but never grabbed me the way TRIPPING DAISY grabbed me. Do yourself a favor — if all you know by the Daisies is I Got a Girl, go listen to the last two albums in order. If you don’t fall in love with them the same way you fell in love with other like minded bands, then I don’t know what to tell you. They’re awesome and deserve to be heard, celebrated and sung from the rooftops.
While you’re at it, go check out Tim DeLaughter’s current project, PRETEEN ZENITH. It’s in line with everything we’ve talked about here today. Super pretty psych rock that grips your heart strings.