In 1993 I was finally able to land myself my first real job...at a local bookstore making $4.25 an hour. It was easy work, and most of the customers were older women who reminded me of my Grandmother. Since I was interested in music, and since I was the only one working there under the age of 40, I was allowed to help with the "music" section. Now before I go any further, this "bookstore" was also a "Christian" bookstore...a bookstore that sold "Christian" music exclusively. I won't get into arguing about how music, in my opinion, can't be one "faith" or another...that is an entire months worth of blog posts that very few people would enjoy. Needless to say, the music section was a plethora of really bad stuff. It was divided into two sections: "Gospel" and "Metal"...the latter having less to do with real "metal" and more to do with anything that wasn't "Gospel" music. It included a lot of great stuff at the time...The Crucified, The Violet Burning, The Prayer Chain, L.S.U., and Adam Again...but it was relegated to a tiny, dusty corner and was in no discernible order. Since I was already a fan of many of these bands, I took it upon myself to make the "metal" section (which I renamed "alternative" after a lengthy debate with my boss on what "alternative" meant) something worth stocking. A few weeks later we got a shipment of albums from a small indie label called Tooth & Nail Records from Irvine. I quickly purchased the first 3 releases from them...Wish For Eden, Focused, and Starflyer 59...and later that afternoon I was hooked. It was great music, and it was music that I wasn't embarrassed to show my friends. Sure, I bought it from a "Christian" bookstore, but the music was on par with all the other bands I was into at the time (Helmet, Earth Crisis, and My Bloody Valentine). Over the next few years I ended up going to more local shows (that featured T&N bands), and buying every release by T&N artists (I actually owned the first 50 releases from them at one point) I could get my hands on. Southern California was a pretty cool "scene" for music back in the early 90's, and much of the T&N roster was from the area which made it easier to see them perform...and easier to get into more bands that were similar. I always thought the "Christian" tag marginalized T&N...but then again that is only my opinion. I thought the music was great on it's own, and that it didn't need a disclaimer. Now that they've been in business for almost 20 years...and they've released hundreds of records...I thought I would take a stab at my top 7 Tooth & Nail records of all time. This list isn't definitive...and I'm sure that a label purist (read: some Christian kid in Iowa ready to take me to task) could argue whether or not any of these albums are "important" (or have the proper "gospel" message)...but it's my blog (and my opinion), and this is my snapshot of albums I've enjoyed over the years.
- StrongArm - "Advent Of A Miracle": This record was akin to being hit by a sledgehammer...and enjoying it. It was passionate, heavy, and wildly intricate. It (along with bands like Shai Hulud) opened my eyes to hardcore being more than just mindless "chugga" riffs. I consider this album to be one of the best hardcore releases of all time.
- Starflyer 59 - "Silver": It was a wall of distortion, feedback, vibrato and chorus pedals. The hushed vocals wove their way through huge riffs...the guitars (endlessly multi-tracked) were big, and the shoegazing was on "11". This album sounded like nothing else...and still sounds that way.
- Stavesacre - "Speakeasy": Although it wasn't their first record, "Speakeasy" contained their best "songs", and their best riffs. The music was heavy, driving, and the vocals (Mark Soloman) were tops. This record was so good it should have catapulted them into teen-aged stardom...they should have been huge.
- Roadside Monument - "8 Hours Away From Being A Man": This album covered every dynamic sound-wise...it was loud, soft, and everything in between...with pure emotion dripping off every note and with every lyric sung. The term "emo" could apply...but then you'd probably be thinking Fall Out Boy when you should be thinking Rites Of Spring. "8 Hours..." is an incredible record.
- Pedro The Lion - "Whole" Ep: This was my first taste of David Bazans work...a great little EP of indie-rock goodness. The music was great...and the lyrics were even better. "Almost There" is still one of my favorite Pedro The Lion songs.
- Further Seems Forever - "The Moon Is Down": This band featured members of Strongarm...and to me it sounded a lot like a mellower version of them. The songs were intricate, the arrangements were full of different movements, and the vocals (Chris Carrabba) soared. This album did a great job capturing the spirit of what "emo" had become in the early 2000's...and it's still one of my favorite records from that time.
- Plankeye - "The Spark": Plankeye was one of the bands I used to drive all over Southern California to see. Their live show was always great, and this album did a good job capturing the energy of their live performances. It's a great piece of alt-rock/power-pop circa 1995.
Buy these records...thank me later.
Note: There have been a lot of great releases by T&N that I didn't get to...and would once again call for another post to fit them in. I still listen to albums by As Cities Burn, Dogwood, Driver8, Morella's Forest, Za0, Underoath, Anberlin, and Mike Knott to name a few.