Surreal Spring: A Retrospective of Three Albums from April 1993

Primus, alongside VJ Kennedy, on MTV’s Haunted House Party, October 1993.

For the entirety of this blog’s existence, its subject matter has remained solely political. This month will be a (much needed and long overdue) departure.

In western popular culture, the early 1990s were an anomalous period, comparable to the late 60s, where elements of various subcultures of the past two decades found their way into the mainstream. There were few realms in which this was more obvious than music. No Wave, hardcore punk, post-punk and noise rock of the late 70s and 80s found new visibility among audiences of the time, with the bands/musicians of said genres (Big Black/Shellac’s Steve Albini and Black Flag’s Henry Rollins are just two examples out of many) suddenly sharing the spotlight with a number of newer groups bearing their influence. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil both attended Big Black’s 1987 final show in Seattle. Within a few years, the two were giants of the now wildly popular “alternative” music scene.

At the same time, a vibrant musical underground flourished, playing host to a plethora of acts that would eventually break into the mainstream (The Butthole Surfers, Helmet, The Melvins, Primus,) others who didn’t but proved to be greatly influential in the long-term (Breadwinner, Today is the Day,) and a remaining smattering of obscurities and curiosities (False Sacrament, Shorty.) Independent labels like Sub-Pop and Amphetamine Reptile, along with tape trading, fanzines and mailing lists, all played a significant role in enabling a varied array of bands and artists to keep making music that reached audiences, both large and niche.

Lollapalooza attendees at the World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, Illinois, July 2, 1993. (Chicago History Museum)

The early years of the decade saw a truly dizzying array of seminal releases from a diverse range of artists: Built to Spill, Bjork, Dr. Dre, Eazy E, Faith No More, Helmet, Ice Cube, Jamiroquai, Jane’s Addiction, The Melvins, Meshuggah, Ministry, Mr. Bungle, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Primus, Public Enemy, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shellac, Skinny Puppy, Sonic Youth, They Might Be Giants, Tool, Tom Waits, etc.

The list, of course, goes on. For the rest of this month, however, I’m focusing on three records from 1993. Why 1993? As a teenager, it was a year of immense importance to me solely because Pork Soda, an album that completely blew my mind a decade later, was unleashed on the world. Since then, I’ve obviously become aware of the multitude of other fantastic records from that year. I discovered last fall, though, that three of my favorite ’93 releases, including Pork Soda itself, all dropped in April, the two others being False Sacrament’s April 1993 and Today is the Day’s Supernova.

These three albums encompass the aforementioned paradigm of early 1990’s “alternative” music: The formerly unknown hitting the mainstream. The weirdos who’d go on to influence entire generations of musicians. The even weirder weirdos whose demo tapes, seven inches, EPs and LPs exist in the present day as relics of a bygone era. They’re all equally deserving of recognition on their 30th birthday. This month will be devoted entirely to them, with each entry posted the day of the original release if available. Hopefully, you’ll come away from each post either knowing a bit more about the music in question or having discovered it for the first time.

Encapsulation of an era: The Melvins, with Kurt Cobain, circa 1992 during the recording of their 1993 album, Houdini. L-R: Buzz Osborne, sound engineer Jonathan Burnside, Lori Black, Dale Crover, Kurt Cobain.