Music

Rabbits of the ‘90s: A Niche’s Core

todayOctober 2, 2022 169 12 5

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By Morgan Hirosky

Assistant Music Director

 

Spiraling down a ‘90s, alternative, post-rock rabbit-hole has led me directly into the den of the trailblazers: Fugazi, Built to Spill, Heatmiser, Duster, Beulah, Starflyer 59, Quasi, and Sparklehorse. The result is an unavoidable obsession with the subtleties this age of music embodies.

 

My humble pilgrimage is spurred by a phenomenon I like to call “accidental consistency”: a concept well-encompassed by the act of impetuously sorting through hours of random Spotify playlists and AI-generated radios only to find that the blindly curated collection consists of music from the same decade, the same genre and the same community. I don’t think my unintentional regularity is a testament to my trained ear (that I absolutely, unironically do not have) but rather an indication of how well-refined and recognizable the genre is when produced by its innovators.

 

Before going a single step further, here is a list of the songs that are audibly in love, holding hands and marking an era.

 

In no order:

Caricature drawing of two people with exposed hearts holding hands
Caricature drawing of two people holding hands. By Claire Phillips
  • “I’m So Tired” by Fugazi
  • “Twin Falls” by Built to Spill
  • “Cleo” by Built to Spill
  • “Some” by Built to Spill
  • “Half Right” by Heatmiser
  • “Gold Dust” by Duster
  • “Inside Out” by Duster
  • “Silverado Days” by Beulah
  • “Fell In Love at 22” by Starflyer 59
  • “The Star You Left Behind” by Quasi
  • “Gold days” by Sparklehorse
  • “Sea of Teeth” by Sparklehorse

*‘Rabbit Hole’ Spotify Playlist

 

All eight groups emerged around the mid-’90s, and the influence of the decade radiates throughout every discography, including the albums made presently. Collectively, I’d describe the sound as raw, modest and almost pathetically feeling-based. Even bands like Duster, which are heavy on instrumentals with very few lyrics, are pumped full of sensitivity. I find it admirable that these groups have somehow managed to orchestrate noise epitomizing what a sore spot on your heart would sound like if it could transmute into a wavelength.

 

The music itself is guitar-centric, both acoustic and electric, with the occasional experimental instrument added for texture such as the synth, piano, flute or other. The music’s intensity is generally diluted by slower tempos and solemn moods but equally characterized by long builds to cathartically loud solos (“Cleo” and “Some” by Built to Spill are good examples of this).

 

Music aside, the artists writing these songs are reminiscent of the self-proclaimed, sad and misunderstood poets of the past—the ones that wandered around the countryside while cyclically falling in love, hating themselves, crumbling under the alleged weight of the world, then aptly feeling sorry about it all. To clarify, I’m not suggesting that someone like Elliot Smith has the same profundity as Edgar Allan Poe or William Wordsworth; I am suggesting that (maybe) fragments of their tormented spirits would get along.

 

In a few of the songs I mentioned, it’s prevalent that the lyrics are not meant to take the foreground. However, these songs also prove that minimal lyrics are not an excuse for minimal lyricism.

 

Sparklehorse’s lead singer and writer Mark Linkous, demonstrates this in the track “Sea of Teeth”; the song is a mere eight lines long yet includes figurative language like, “Stars will always hang in summer’s bleeding fangs” and “Can you taste the crush of a sunset’s dying blush?”. Although this sort of poeticism isn’t present in every song, the emotionality is incredibly typical for the genre.

 

All eight bands pair gentle sentiments with instrumentals that either perfectly corresponds or intentionally clash. The songs that are left deliberately lyric-less are brutally maudlin, as if specially made to coax your rumination out of its ugly little mind chasm, yet it hurts so good. With or without lyrics, their discographies all share a commonality that is arguably one of the most valuable components of music as a whole: their ability to stimulate thoughts and feelings.

 

Music is meant to be relatable in an “on-the-nose” sense but also intrinsically. The core of this niche’s allure is its elicitation of self-understanding and introspection. The mid-’90s era of post-rock is truly defined by its ability to assign the audience the role of association. The receiver is the projector, casting their feelings onto the music for absorption instead of the inverse; the songs reflect the listeners’ emotions back at them, undistorted and without refraction. Because of this, the songs are constantly fit for any frame of mind, allowing fluid interpretations with unwavering sentimentality. In other words, what a wonderful rabbit hole.

 

Featured image from Ellie Phillips.

 

 

Written by: Preethi Mangadu

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