Our hit parade
10 music writers share their favorite Sacramento acts from the last 25 years
How, exactly, do you distill two-and-a-half decades of Sacramento music down to its essence? It’s not easy, but we tasked 10 writers to try by naming three local artists from the last 25 years that they consider most important, influential or just damn great. The results are hardly definitive, but here, each writer reveals favorites, must-hears, and sometimes, a personal history as told through the soundtrack to a particular point in time. Whatever the parameter, all selections remind why the scene remains great: It’s quirky, eclectic and, in the best way possible, difficult to define.Janelle Bitker, SN&R
The Cramps: Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, the mainstays behind the Cramps for more than 30 years, met in Sacramento before diving into New York’s new-wave punk scene. With mock-goth costumes and outlandish theatrics, the Cramps basically—and accidentally—invented the whole psychobilly subculture.
Cake: Few can deny that “The Distance” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” are a couple of the most ubiquitous, lasting alternative rock hits of past 25 years. And fewer can resist the joys of John McCrea’s deadpan vocals paired with soaring trumpet lines.
Tera Melos: Math rock is about pushing boundaries, but Tera Melos doesn’t make complex music just to be complex. As major innovators of the genre, Tera Melos blends a bunch of styles of rock and jazz and does weird, avant-garde things to it—in a sort of accessible, catchy way.Jonathan Carabba and Melissa Welliver, Submerge magazine
Death Grips: Even though they flaked on Sacramento Electronic Music [Festival] a couple years back, Death Grips did a lot to get Sacramento’s name out to the masses when their aggressive, in-your-face blend of hardcore punk and rap took the music world by surprise.
Dance Gavin Dance: Ever since
Downtown Battle Mountain came out in ’07, despite multiple lineup changes, DGD has churned out amazing albums and toured almost year-round, representing Sacramento hard all along the way. Post-hardcore/screamo may not be as popular these days, but these guys are staying true to their roots.
Red Host: RIP Red Host! If you blinked, you probably missed it. This grunge-esque trio consisted of Chelsea Wolfe on vocals and guitar, Jess Gowrie on drums (who went on to play in killer bands like I’m Dirty Too) and Ian Bone on bass (now in Darlingchemicalia).Jackson Griffith, formerly of SN&R and Pulse!
Frank Jordan: That this melodic hard-rock trio never made it to the big time is a massive head-scratcher. Its live shows were jaw-dropping great, and its 2004 album Milk the Thrills contained a complex and heady mixture that referenced Led Zeppelin, the Cure, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and others, but in a wholly original and not-at-all derivative way.
Deathray: This quartet, perhaps the closest thing to a homegrown American version of the Kinks, consisted of the former rhythm section of Cake plus its guitarist Greg Brown and ex-Little Guilt Shrine frontman Dana Gumbiner. The band’s two albums were loaded with great songs, but both albums fell victim to record-label politics and ineffective promotion.
Daisy Spot/Mike Farrell (solo): While Mike Farrell may be better known in these parts as a supporting guitarist in a number of bands, and for the thrilling onstage moves that have marked him as Sacramento’s only true rock star, his more tender songwriting side, both under his own name and as the guiding creator of Daisy Spot, have been eclipsed somewhat. Too bad, because Farrell’s softer creations are complex and delicious, drawing from nuanced Brazilian pop, sweet lounge jazz, ’60s English rock gone all sensitive, and other forms.Blake Gillespie, music writer
Hella: The slang came before the band. Regardless, the continued formation of experimental outfits proves we never recovered from Hella’s spastic assault manned by Spencer Seim’s mathy guitars and the primal crash of Zach Hill.
X-Raided: Gangster rap was strictly entertainment in the ’90s, unless you’re referring to X-Raided, whose 1992 Psycho Active album—produced by Brotha Lynch Hung—contained enough true-to-life rhymes to help indict him for gang-related murder and a 31-years-to-life sentence.
An Angle: Plagued by claims of Kris Anaya biting off Bright Eyes in its 2002-2007 run on Drive-Thru Records, the missing narrative from the record books is An Angle’s contributors such as Angel Deradoorian, Chelsea Wolfe, Terra Lopez and Evanescence’s Tim McCord—among dozens of others—began recording alt-rock jamborees in The Hangar.Becky Grunewald, music writer
Daisy Spot: I vividly remember the first time I saw the two beautiful dreamers in Daisy Spot at The Guild Theater in 1997—so catchy that I could sing you a couple of songs from that night, even though I never heard them perform again.
Yah Mos: The biggest band from the Loft scene and one that was instrumental in my transformation from shy Lincoln kid to downtown punker, and I have never left.
The Bananas: I experienced possibly the most freedom and joy of my life when I toured with them twice, and I am married to the drummer—need I say more?Rachel Leibrock, SN&R
DJ Shadow: The former UC Davis deejay’s 1996 debut full-length Endtroducing… earned acclaim for the way it turned modern hip-hop into a bold, jazzy and gorgeous amalgamation of found record-store sounds.
Tiger Trap: Short-lived ’90s twee-pop band. Some bands just make you miss everything and everyone you used to be.
Anton Barbeau: Barbeau, who now lives across the pond, writes weird, wonderful and supersmart pop music. Mostly though, I have to thank him for all those early ’90s-era cassettes, energetic house shows and kinda awkward cafe gigs that fueled my enduring love for Sac’s fun, sometimes oddball and always unparalleled scene.Chris Macias, The Sacramento Bee
Deftones: Founded in a south Sacramento garage, this multiculti band somehow connected the dots between Anthrax-style guitar chunk and brooding Depeche Mode-isms. Many of their peers have turned into nu-metal punch lines, but Deftones are still cranking out some of the most righteous music of their multiplatinum career.
Brotha Lynch Hung: Straight outta south Sacramento’s infamous “Garden Blocc,” Brotha Lynch Hung put the 916 on the country’s hip-hop scene with spitfire raps and NC-17 lyrical imagery from a splatter movie.
Trash Talk: Hella hardcore anthems, like Suicidal Tendencies reborn in Sacramento, and the first non-hip-hop crew in the Odd Future collective. Now, how about a Sacramento gig, already?Jerry Perry, Alive & Kicking and music promoter
Earwigs: This psychedelic swig of surf riffs, country twang, and Stones infused rock ’n’ roll was the coolest Sacto band of the late ’80s and early ’90s and a helped usher in an amazing era of music in the scene.
Las Pesadillas: This 2000s-era fearless foursome could tackle anything musically, including Mozart, Gypsy polka and the Pixies, and their CD Quantum Immortality is a true high-water mark among any and all local releases to date.
Low Flying Owls: Haunting melodies, swirling musical arrangements, mesmerizing stage shows, and a series of lushly produced CDs made for a very exciting era where these guys were the hippest band in the late ’90s, early 2000s scene.Dennis Yudt, music writer
Mayyors: If a meteorite slammed into Earth, and there was only 10 minutes left before all life was destroyed, I would throw Mayyors on the stereo as it is the sound of the world being torn asunder and the perfect soundtrack to the end of everything on this shitty planet.
Thin White Rope: My all-time favorite band from around here was the heat-warped desert psych of this Davis band—NorCal’s psychotic answer to Television, replete with twin guitars blasting off to the heart of the sun and vocals (courtesy of Mr. Guy Kyser) that sounded like the death croak of the last man standing in Death Valley.
Th’ Losin Streaks: If life was fair—which, in case you didn’t know, it ain’t—the busts of Tim Foster, Mike Farrell, Stan Tindall and Matt K. Shrugg would be erected in lieu of a stupid arena for their 1965-garage-meets-1977-punk combo. Every song by this band was an ode to juvenile delinquents (of all ages); the wrong side of the tracks; and the belief that real rock ’n’ roll can still make people shimmy, shake and tear this motherfucker down.