Here at RVA Mag, we like to keep you posted on the latest happenings around our fair city. But sometimes it’s good to take a look back, and remember some of the great artists who helped create the cultural legacy we all enjoy today. This issue, we’re looking back at some of the great RVA bands of yesteryear. If you haven’t heard all of these albums, you’re going to need to do some crate digging, because they’re all essential artifacts that you need in your life.
This list was in the latest RVAMag print issue – #21 Summer 2015 – you can read the entire issue here online!
House Of Freaks – Monkey On A Chain Gang (Rhino, 1987)
In the heart of the glitzy, overproduced 80s, Richmond’s most popular musical export defied trends, anticipating the bassless-rock-duo craze by nearly 20 years. This heartfelt slab of minimalist rock n’ roll was too ahead of its time to receive the recognition it deserved, but it’s full of great riffs and excellent performances that still sound inspiring today. RIP Bryan Harvey.
Honor Role – Album (Merge; orig. released 1985-89, reissued 1997)
Some might prefer Pen Rollings’ later work with instrumental math-metal pioneers Breadwinner, but for my money his best moments happened when his guitar explorations were paired with Bob Schick’s spooky, thought-provoking lyrics. This posthumous collection pulls together Honor Role’s two LPs and several EPs, on which they test the limits of hardcore and create challenging, angst-ridden noise.
Four Walls Falling – Culture Shock (Jade Tree, 1991)
A decade after the birth of American hardcore, these veterans found a new approach to a sound in danger of getting formulaic. Culture Shock features stretched-out song lengths and an abundance of ideas, turning some songs into multi-part suites full of passionate fury and anger at the pathetic status quo–feelings that are all too relevant a quarter century later.
Avail – Satiate (Catheter-Assembly, 1992/Lookout!, 1994)
There’s no way to minimize the importance of this one. Avail’s debut LP singlehandedly put Richmond on the 90s punk rock map. Brilliantly unique tracks filled both sides of this album, and surely highlights like “March,” “Bob’s Crew,” and “Stride” are still stuck in the heads of anyone who caught one of Avail’s crucial live performances during this era.
Fudge – Southside Speedway (Caroline, 1994)
Fudge made waves throughout the indie rock scene of the early 90s with a series of charming singles, but their best work can be found on their final release. Southside Speedway is the perfect stock-car racing soundtrack; revved-up guitar riffs rub elbows with perfect pop choruses and 70s pop culture references galore–plus bonus harsh noise interludes.
Sparklehorse – Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (Capitol, 1995)
Born of dejection and frustration, Sparklehorse’s first foray into recording was, in spite of its major label release, a notably DIY affair. Recorded by leader Mark Linkous and some talented friends, including Cracker frontman David Lowery, this lo-fi indie masterpiece features found sounds, voicemails, and some of the most beautifully sad melodies you’ll find anywhere.
Mad Skillz – From Where??? (Big Beat, 1996)
Titled in reference to the overlooked state of VA hip hop 20 years ago, Mad Skillz’s debut album shows sometimes even the most talented MCs can’t catch a break. With some of the most inventive lyrics to be found anywhere, plus production from J-Dilla, Large Professor, and Buckwild, Mad Skillz nonetheless missed out on mainstream recognition for this forgotten classic. What a shame.
Inquisition – Revolution, I Think It’s Called Inspiration (Pop-A-Wheelie, 1996/A-F, 2005)
Inquisition’s posthumously-released final album is crammed with impossibly upbeat melodic hardcore tunes. Thomas Barnett’s hoarsely passionate vocals really did inspire a desire for positive revolution in every listener, while Mark Avery’s roaring guitar riffs were impossible to forget. Members went on to Strike Anywhere, River City High, and Ann Beretta, but this is the absolute goods right here.
Kepone – Kepone (Quarterstick, 1997)
Kepone were another of quite a few math-core bands to arise from the RVA scene of the 90s. Their third and final album is the best showcase of their ability to combine weirdly syncopated riffing and undeniably infectious melodies, which keep your toe tapping even if you can’t quite figure out the time signature.
Pelt – Pearls From The River (VHF, 2003)
Started in the early 90s as a noise-rock band, Pelt’s relentless experimental spirit had taken them to a very different place by the early 2000s. On their seventh album, Mike Gangloff, Jack Rose, and Patrick Best explore the possibilities of acoustic drone, using banjo, double bass, and acoustic guitars to simultaneously recall old-time string band music and psychedelic raga epics.