1. Material Issue Destination Universe
Though their previous album "International Pop Overthrow" sold more copies, the production on "Destination Universe" was more solid, bigger, punchier, and the songs a bit more cohesive. (Anyone remember when "What Girls Wants" was played in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210?) At one point I think I learned how to play every song from this album on guitar. I've re-purchased this cassette/CD about 8 times. It keeps getting worn out. Jim Ellison, you are missed all these years later; you and your band mates made several damn fine pop albums that I am still listening to, to this day. Evidence: the band Stereofuse had a semi-hit with their cover of "Everything" and there's an entire festival named after the "International Pop Overthrow" album. Oh yeah, and my old band covered "Next Big Thing about a dozen times too.
Highlights: What Girls Want, If Ever You Should Fall, Next Big Thing, Everything, When I Get This Way, Who Needs Love
2. E - Broken Toy Shop
Before it was called "The Eels" (or "Eels"), E released 2 solo records. Less garage-y and more focused pop/songwriter-esque than the Eels records have become (not that I don't love those albums too...I buy everything he/they release). It's the most beautifully depressing pop songwriter album. Everyone I've played it for either falls in love with the disc, breaks down crying, or both. (Tangent: one day I was talking to my friend Marvin about E / The Eels...he asked me to pull the CD cover off my shelf and turn it over...all these years I've known Marvin, and I never knew that he was thanked in the credits on one of my favorite albums. Apparently he'd helped E with some MIDI/Keyboard programming work on this and the previous solo album.)
Highlights: LA River, Manchester Girl, Tomorrow I'll Be Nine, Shine It All On
3. Possum Dixon - s/t
Local radio picked up Possum Dixon's song "Watch That Girl Destroy Me" and we got a regular dose of that song on the airwaves, leading up to Possum Dixon opening for The Lemonheads at The Crest Theatre that summer. The show on my birthday that year; my buddy Aaron bought me the Possum Dixon CD as a birthday present. It was months later before we could finally stop listening to this album. Incredibly upbeat catchy 2 minute pop songs, with just enough quirky things thrown in to separate it from being a generic 3-chord pop album. It ebbs and flows, and has all the components of a great pop disc.
Highlights: Nerves, Pharmaceutical Itch, In Buildings
4. Crumb - Seconds Minutes Hours
I first heard Crumb when they opened for Far at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and bought this CD at the merch table (and since then I think I've had to replace it 2 or 3 times). Josh Freese played drums, Blair Shehan, Petra Haden and Jani Lane (not kidding!) sing on it. Beau Hill produced it. HOW did this record not end up selling a bazillion copies? Or did it? I only ever met 2 or 3 other Crumb fans over the years. I've got everything they ever released, but this is by far the best produced album from the band. (There used to be a website where somebody had written out the guitar tabs for all the songs from this disc. I really should have saved those when I had the chance.)
Highlights: Record Company, Overboard, Thermostat, Exhibit A
5. Dead Milkmen - Soul Rotation
The album when Dead Milkmen "signed to a major". It's different than the others, but in a good way. This is the most "mature" of the Dead Milkmen albums -- better production, just as much quirkiness in the subject matter, but better orchestrated overall. Some jokes are more subtle ("Silly Dreams" doesn't SOUND like a joke until you really pay attention to the lyrics). It has the great delivery of all their previous albums, and uses the DM magic to discuss some real-world topics...live getting more complicated ("How It's Gonna Be"), religion ("God's Kid Brother"), weapons ("If I Had a Gun"). But it all still sounds like the Dead Milkmen that I love.
Highlights: God's Kid Brother, The Conspiracy Song, How It's Gonna Be, If I Had a Gun