“Obscure” is hardly a relevant term in the music world anymore. Nearly everything is accessible through the internet. The days of rummaging through used CD bins for hidden treasures or special ordering a title from a music store are long gone.
That said, we’re also in the age where everything is flash-in-the-pan. Since nothing is scarce or difficult to find, it’s hard for anyone to feel very invested in an artist. You’re lucky if anyone listens to your whole song or watches your entire film even if they downloaded it illegally.
It’s not easy to keep making music or art that goes against the grain over and over. My taste in music was forever changed when my friend Ben Hedquist was the first in our little group of 12-14 year old skateboarders to love Faith No More’s hit “Epic”. After that came Primus, Butthole Surfers and NoMeansNo. Then Nirvana and grunge changed MTV and Top 40 overnight. By the time I was 18 or 19 I was looking for hard to find albums by groups like Naked City and Ed Hall.
My favorite albums ever include some pretty obscure stuff and a few really mainstream entries. I don’t think you’d find many of them on Rolling Stone’s top 100 or even top 1000 list:
- NoMeansNo – Wrong
- Opposite Day – What Is Is
- Van Halen – Fair Warning (had to sneak this one in here!)
- Sonic Youth – Dirty
- Neko Case – Fox Confessor
- Dead Kennedys – Frankenchrist
- Showbusiness Giants – I Thought It Was a Fig
- Reverend Horton Heat – Smoke ’em if Ya Got ‘Em
- Faith No More – The Real Thing
- Mr. Bungle – s/t
- Don Caballero – 2
- Megadeth – Rust in Peace
- Frank Zappa – We’re Only In It for The Money
- Jesus Lizard – Down (I know… but it’s my favorite by them!)
- Ed Hall – Motherscratcher
- Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese
- Godflesh – Pure
- Ween – God Ween Satan
- Rabbinical School Dropouts – Cosmic Tree
- Secret Chiefs 3 – Book of Horizons
- Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On
and so on.
There are tons of bands I’m so grateful to for making weird music that’s so much more interesting than young people on The Voice or American Idol singing the hits of yore.
Stinking Lizaveta, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum & Free Salamander Exhibit, Victims Family, Steel Pole Bathtub, Shudder to Think, Fantomas, Melvins, Octopus Project, John Zorn, Captain Beefheart, Black Flag, Shellac, Alice Donut, Scratch Acid, Brown Whornet, Shaolin Death Squad, Stop Motion Orchestra, Zeni Geva, Kayo Dot, Hammers of Misfortune, Churchwood, New Pornographers, Estradasphere, Naked City, Faraquet, Sebadoh, Tortoise, Brian Kenney Fresno, Mirthkon, A Minor Forest, Slint, Neurosis, etc., etc., etc.
I’m grateful to all of them and more for making really cool music that was never going to be a hit and I really admire the ones who turned their obscure thing into a career or at least a non-money-losing venture.