Nada Surf – The Proximity Effect
Nada Surf exploded into our lives in the summer of 1996 with their witty instruction manual for teenage dating etiquette called “Popular.” The song kicked off the band’s brief run at mainstream success and helped bring attention to the band’s debut album “High/Low.” That particular album was mostly punk and grunge influenced, but also showed that the band had the potential to grow and evolve into something different. Their follow up, “The Proximity Effect,” was released in Europe in 1998 through Elektra Records and did poorly due to the label not able to find a good single release. After a brief tour through Europe the label dropped the band and the album would go unreleased in the U.S. until August of 2000 when the band self-released the album through their own label. By this time, four years had passed and most Americans had pretty much forgotten about the band’s one hit. The album featured more mature themes like rape, domestic violence, loneliness, and depression. A bit of departure from the more relatable teen angst ridden debut from the band. The album also helped to influence indie and emo bands of the 2000’s such as The Postal Service, Death Cab For Cutie, Further Seems Forever, and Something Corporate. The band failed to achieve the success of “Popular,” but thanks to television shows such as Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother the band enjoyed a brief revival with their ballad “Inside of Love” from their third album “Let Go,” but it failed to achieve the same success as “Popular.”
Primitive Radio Gods – Rocket
In the summer of 1996 it was incredibly difficult to turn on top 40 or rock radio without hearing “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand” at least once an hour. Fueled by its melancholy atmosphere and sampling of BB King’s “How Blue Can You Get,” the song became a massive hit. But despite the lead singer being a mega success, thanks in part to its inclusion on “The Cable Guy” soundtrack, the album itself failed to go anywhere and received mainly negative reviews. For fans of the single that hoped to hear an album full of similar sounding songs, they were sadly mistaken. Despite the fans not taking well to the album, the entire record is a journey of rock and roll splendor. It sounds exactly like what it is, a guy messing around with samples and a four-track recorder and making pure magic.
Superdrag – Head Trip In Every Key
If I could think of one sentence to describe this record, I think the title perfectly sums it up. After scoring a minor hit in 1996 with the angsty rocker “Sucked Out,” Superdrag were fed up with their label and decided to make the most non-commercial album they could possibly make. While the band wanted to make the album intentionally unlistenable, what they actually made was a pop masterpiece. However, the label didn’t see it that way and refused to market the album and its lead single “Do The Vampire.”
The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good
The Promise Ring is considered one of the bands that helped to usher in the emo movement of the 2000’s, and with their sophomore album, its very clear why people say that. The album is definite high point in the underground emo scene of the mid 90’s with songs like “Raspberry Rush” and “How Nothing Feels.” Its no surprise that bands like Fall Out Boy and Taking Back Sunday consider The Promise Ring to be a major influence on their sounds.
They Might Be Giants – Flood
The best part about alternative music is that most of the artists had sounds that could not be defined, hence why it’s called alternative, because its the alternative to everything else. No other band really encompassed that anything goes mentality of alternative music quite like They Might Be Giants. The band’s sound ranged anywhere from polka to ragtime to punk and everything in between, but always with a brilliant pop sensibility. The music and lyrics may have both been equally as strange, but there was no denying that the songs were catchy and could still fit in with anything else being played on top 40 radio at that time.
Death Cab for Cutie – Something About Airplanes
Death Cab for Cutie wouldn’t hit their mainstream success for a few more years, but it was their debut album released in 1998 that showcased exactly what the future would hold for the second wave emo pioneers. Th record also showcased songwriter and vocalist Ben Gibbard’s true abilities as a writer. Although the record didn’t spawn any hits, its still a classic alternative rock record released on the brink of the death of alternative rock and the mainstream breakthrough nu metal.
Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
Several years before the smash hit single “Stacey’s Mom,” Fountains of Wayne released this gem of a debut album. After already having two failed bands prior to FoW, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger decided to go at it one more time. They would meet at a bar and just jot down funny song titles attempting to make each other laugh. After having over a hundred song titles, they would decided which of them would write the song for each title. Its an unconventional method for songwriting which proved effective and lead to bassist and principle songwriter Adam Schlesinger penning the title song from the film That Thing You Do and landing numerous gigs producing hits for a plethora of other artists.