From the Cocteau Twins to Bowery Electric to the late, great Gravediggaz, we could really use some bands that were either born or broken in the 90s. I injected Gannett/Tribune/Metromix with a potent dose of the decade’s greatest noises.
Although this Scottish trio careened from stark gothtronica to lush dream-pop throughout the ’80s and ’90s, it is 1990’s “Heaven or Las Vegas” that marked Cocteau Twins’ peak of accessibility.
Breathed into spiraling life by Elizabeth Fraser’s uncanny ululations and buttressed by guitarist Robin Guthrie’s gear-headed atmospherics and bassist Simon Raymonde’s rumbling backbone, Cocteau Twins dazzled on alt-rock classics like “Treasure,” “Blue Bell Knoll” and “Victorialand” in the ’80s, then crossed over on the strength of “Heaven or Las Vegas” and subsequent ’90s efforts like “Four Calendar Cafe” and “Milk and Kisses.”
Reunions rumors have come and gone, but the Twins still remain beautifully enigmatic and heartbreakingly distant. For now.
A virtually unknown band that mashed rock, drone, hip-hop and much more in arresting, captivating ways, guitarist Lawrence Chandler and bassist Martha Schwendener’s Bowery Electric could reform tomorrow and the world probably wouldn’t even notice. But it should.
Spiraling guitar epics like “Next to Nothing” from their self-titled 1995 debut, skewed the genes of grunge and trip-hop in strange and fascinating ways, while their 1996 effort “Beat” was nearly as compelling as DJ Shadow’s more popularly lauded “Endtroducing,” which came out the same year. By the time Bowery Electric got to their rocktronic 2000 masterpiece “Lushlife,” the world had moved on.
But a decade later, Chandler and Schwendener’s dizzying, experimental compositions remain as challenging yet accessible as ever.
A stone-cold supergroup featuring Wu-Tang Clan’s unhinged genius RZA, producer par excellence Prince Paul and rappers Too Poetic and Frukwan, Gravediggaz anticipated our currently terrorized pop-cultural landscape with graphic and often hilarious horrorcore hip-hop.
In visceral, spine-shaking tracks like “1-800-Suicide,” “Blood Brothers” and the sublime “Here Come the Gravediggaz” from the group’s 1994 debut “6 Feet Deep,” Gravediggaz married everything from sci-fi, horror, street knowledge and humor to portray a world slowly losing its way and mind.
After that, the fragmenting supergroup released two less influential efforts—1997’s “The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel” and 2003’s “Nightmare in A-Minor”—the latter after Too Poetic passed away from colon cancer. But Gravediggaz’ nightmarish legacy lives on, in a bloodthirsty world they correctly presaged.
Like Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, Medicine delivered potent doses of lush atmospherics and surround-sound songcraft, energizing the ’90s. Driven by Brad Laner’s exploratory guitar, fed through a Yamaha four-track recorder, Medicine also skirted the boundaries of avant-garde sonics trail-blazed by artists like Captain Beefheart and Throbbing Gristle. Its continually shifting lineup nevertheless churned out stunning releases like 1992’s “Shot Forth Self Living,” 1993’s “The Buried Life” and 1995’s “Her Highness,” before shutting down in 1996. Laner resurrected Medicine in 2003 at the behest of his pal and Tigerbeat 6 label head Kid 606 and released the busy effort “The Mechanical Forces of Love — with Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon on vocals. But since then, it has been sick with silence.
Like the immortal Velvet Underground, Louisville legends Slint are known more for the musical genres and various bands they created and influenced. Namely, the mostly instrumental, jagged experimentation routinely called post-rock and math-rock. From Tortoise to Mogwai to Pinback and beyond, they’ve had no shortage of more successful disciples whose musical worlds were torn apart by the quintet’s angular 1991 classic “Spiderland.” But that foundational effort — as well as 1989’s “Tweez,” a self-titled 1994 EP and an appearance on the soundtrack for Larry Clark’s destabilizing film “Kids” — were all the band managed to produce before parting ways in the early ’90s to form or join other bands like Tortoise, The For Carnation, The Breeders and more. The band reformed for a scattering of shows in 2005 and 2007, but hasn’t been heard from since. Which sucks.
Like Kim Deal’s band The Breeders, UK upstarts Elastica specialized in deranged guitar pop that was as bouncy as it was crunchy. Formed by ex-Suede heads Justine Frischmann and Justin Welch, Elastica’s 1995 debut was a critically acclaimed blast of sassy rawk that charted across the world. But a turbulent period marked by shifting lineups and plagiarism lawsuits from legends like Wire and The Stranglers staunched their fire and creative flow. Five years later, Elastica managed to pound out the noisy but brilliant follow-up “The Menace,” before sadly flaming out altogether. But it would surprise no one if Elastica, whose various members have scattered across the planet, fused again for a fat payday at Lollapalooza or elsewhere. It fact, it would make perfect cents.
Guitarist and vocalist Dean Wareham actually has two reunion-worthy bands: His ’80s dream-pop outfit Galaxie 500 and this ’90s standout, which actually survived well into the ’00s. More uptempo and melodic than its atmospheric predecessor, Luna released eight fine albums between 1992 and 2004, especially 1994’s captivating “Bewitched” and 2002’s warm, fuzzy “Romantica.” Once the fetching talent Britta Phillips arrived in 2000 to replace departing bassist and founding member Justin Harwood, Luna fell in love. Wareham — whose music has appeared in films like “I Shot Andy Warhold” and “Sideways” — and Phillips — who has starred in television shows like “Jem” and the hilarious “Moral Orel” — formed Dean and Britta in 2003, married in 2007 and the rest, like Luna itself, is indie history.
A pioneer of the riot grrrl movement and influence to stunning bands like Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip, these Pacific Northwest radical feminist firestarters formed in 1990, swiping their band name from their political zine of the same name. Anchored by the ferocious vocals of Kathleen Hanna, who later formed New Wave retronauts Le Tigre, Bikini Kill was a middle-finger to the face of the masculinist rock industry. Its early releases “Revolution Girl Style Now” and a self-titled EP produced by Fugazi’s Ian Mackaye paved the way for collaboration with the influential Joan Jett on its full-length releases, “Pussy Whipped” and “Reject All American.” The foundational group disbanded in 1998, capping a decade of political and sonic influence whose legacy looms larger by the decade.
In 1990, the stellar synethesia of Ride’s “Nowhere” helped round out a so-called shoegaze scene pioneered by the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. Its reverb-drenched kinetics would kick off a decade of fabulous Ride output, where albums like “Going Blank Again,” Carnival of Light” and “Tarantula” delivered reliable spacewalks. But once Britpop took the world by storm, Ride’s creative differences became too pronounced to overcome; in fact, bassist Andy Bell joined Oasis after his foundational band broke apart in 1996. And other than a impromptu jam for a 2001 Sonic Youth documentary in which all four original members participated, Ride has come to a full stop. Rumors of a reunion are nevertheless rampant, and could result in Ride’s resuscitation. Rev it up, slackers.
Like this list’s other so-called shoegazers, Slowdive mastered the art of hypnagogic sound walls swirling with distortion and ethereality. Formed by vocalists Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell in 1989, Slowdive delivered three evocative albums — “Just For a Day,” “Souvlaki” and “Pygmalion” — between 1991-1995, as well a gripload of well-received EPs. But pop culture’s eventual predilection for grunge and Britpop doomed the band with crappy record and marketing deals, as well as a fickle populace in search of less compelling Beatles simulations. (See; Gallagher brothers.) Since that time, Slowdive’s reputation has only increased, but it’s too late. Halstead embarked on a countrified solo career, and the other members formed various bands. The dive is most likely done.
This photo gallery/explainer appeared at Gannett/Tribune/Metromix