These 20 OC Albums Are Turning 20 in 2016

The ’90s were obviously an important time for OC music. It’s typically the period that most people think of when they slap a label on our native sound—the flourishing third wave ska movement, pop punk and FM alt rock. And while ’96 in particular did furnish with more than a few OC classics, the artists of the era are way more interesting and diverse than people give us credit for, even after looking back 20 years later. There’s naturally going to be some gems in this list you haven’t thought of since Baywatch was on TV and Bill Clinton was in the White House, some you never even knew existed. Some of them have a fixed spot on your road trip playlist for all eternity. In the spirit of brushing up on some of our unique OC history at the beginning of a brand new year, we take a look at 20 albums celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2016.

The Vandals

The Quickening
The average full length album ranges between 10-12 songs and usually runs anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. But The Vandals were never known to follow the rules, and their album The Quickening is a testament to that. With 15 songs squished into less than 30 minutes—28 to be exact—the album runs the gambit of irregular subject matter. From dumb girlfriends to vegetarianism and Allah, the subject matter is relative only under the pretense of sheer randomness. Yet, somehow, The Vandals pull it off with grace, making it one of their best albums, ever. (Mary Carreon)

Fu Manchu
In Search Of
For a band from San Clemente, one of the sleepiest—if not the sleepiest—town in Orange County, Fu Manchu’s In Search Of blends head banging guitar solos, gorgeous riffs and percussive breakdowns reminiscent of Black Sabbath. The not-so-sleepy band artistically defies the music that comes out of OC. It’s not really punk. It’s not quite heavy metal. It’s not exactly psychedelic rock, either. Instead it’s an evenly divided mash up of all of the above. It’s rebellious, sludge-y and alluring in all the ways a great rock band should be. And In Search Of highlights the band at their best. (Mary Carreon)

US Bombs
Garibaldi Guard!
U.S. Bombs were still a pretty new band in ‘96, the year they solidified the second (of many) lineups with frontman Duane Peters’ bruised and bloody punk rock side show. Anchored by co-founder Kerry Martinez on guitar, Steve Reynolds on bass, the late Chuck Briggs (of the Dischords) on guitar and Alex Gomez on drums, the band put out their second album on Alive Records. While Warbirth will always top our list of the Bombs’ classic releases, Garibaldi Guard is definitely worth owning, if nothing else for Peters’ monologue intro that sounds like one of the greatest punk rock valedictorian speeches ever rambled from a bar stool. Songs like “All the Bodies” and “Go Back Home” are a couple highlights that will still inspire plenty of bone breaking stunts in dry, abandoned pools. But no matter what activity you may engage in while listening (even some extreme garage cleaning on a Saturday afternoon) the energy of this album should allow you to unleash your inner Master of Disaster. (Nate Jackson)

Mr. Mirainga
Mr. Mirainga
This Fullerton four piece (by way of Mesa, AZ)  always occupied a weird space in OC’s punk scene. Their sound incorporates a fusion of pop, Latin and alt rock to their sound in the vein of bands like Big Drill Car. Through the mid ‘90s, they played Warped Tour and hit the road with the likes of 311, Sublime and Space Hog. Their biggest break of all during this time appears to be the octane-fueled tune “Burning Rubber,” which made it onto the Ace Ventura II: When Nature Calls soundtrack. It came out on their ‘96 debut release on a short-lived contract with ill-fated MCA records, full of zany punk energy and mispronounced Spanish words (see the track “Jalopeno Eyes”). The song “57 South” is a manic ode to the Orange Crush that deserves to be played at high volume as you honk at swerving assholes trying to cut you off. (Nate Jackson)

Agent Orange
Virtually Indestructible
This album came out 10 years after This Is The Voice, which didn’t only prove the endurance of Agent Orange.It also confirmed that punk rock wasn’t just a phase. What makes this album particularly interesting is that Mike Palm—the creative brains behind the band—made changes to his line up for this album, and the band experienced little to no hiccups. Agent Orange brought the juice, like they always have, despite having new band me mbers. Although Palm’s vocals and guitar power stand out over his other bandmates, Palm and crew concocted an album good enough to please the critics and fans alike. (Mary Carreon)

Dick Dale
Calling Up Spirits
Popularly known as the king of the surf guitar, Dick Dale’s Calling Up Spirits is an ode to the Native Americans. Although the album blends of cover jams, fresh renditions of his surf hits and ecologically driven songs, it was scrutinized in many ways back in ’96. But what fails to be pointed out is that the album beautifully weaves homage and artistry praising a group of people who deserve to be recognized for multiple reasons, including their simplicity of life. Looking past music critics’ judgments about how albums are supposed to be, Calling Up Spirits is one of Dale’s musical gems and one of the best album to come from an OC musician. The album proves to have a timeless quality, as it continues to catch the ears of both the youthful and the wise. (Mary Carreon)

Imaginary Friends (cassette)
Before finding his soul (and fame) in a stack of Motown wax, Laguna Hills-bred soul singer Aloe Blacc was spiting his heart out as the mouthpiece of Emanon on cassette. The OC-bred rap group spent plenty of years rocking the stage during early  Abstract Workshop parties at Detroit Bar (RIP). This was back in the day when Blacc actually did need a dollar. Backed by the nimble breakbeat production of DJ Exile, the pair released an indie-rap masterpiece called Imaginary Friends on cassette (re-released on CD in 2001) capturing the rhythmic cadence of the Golden Era with a little bit of dust kicked on it to give the record that dirty shine you just don’t hear in hip-hop anymore. (Nate Jackson)

The Ziggens
Ignore Amos
Smack dab in the middle of The Ziggens’ 12-album discography you get one of their lesser known gems that’s kind of a bitch to find for those of you still into those…what are they called again? Oh, CDs. But if you do manage to locate a physical copy of Ignore Amos, be sure to turn it up and let their ‘90s backwoods cowpunk and hilarious acoustic guitar folk wash over you. Skunk Records’ sturdiest signees are still plugging away after all these years, and these tunes are definitely emblematic of the bands endearing, all-over-the-place aesthetic. From the frothing, beady eyed opening salvo on “Domestic Violins” to the hilarious campfire jam “Orange County,” you’ll definitely get a taste of life in the burbs during a period of rock that took pride in being a No Man’s Land. (Nate Jackson)

Reel Big Fish
Turn The Radio Off
Regarded as one of Reel Big Fish’s greatest albums, Turn The Radio Off is fast paced and full of sarcasm, wit and energy, making it the quintessential mid-‘90s party album. With songs about quitting your day job, feeling the pressure to look cool in the public eye, and a girlfriend who becomes a lesbian, Reel Big Fish cover a spectrum of topics with an in-your-face sound that defined a large part of the ‘90s. As the local ska band from Huntington Beach, Turn The Radio Off is filled from front to back with reworked classics and newer jams that made Reel Big Fish a ‘90s OC staple. (Mary Carreon)

Jackson Browne
Looking East
In Looking East, OC’s Jackson Browne delivers graceful, enthusiastic pop that maintains the ‘70s style folk rock that he’s best known for. And although some critics claim maintaining the same sound and style is a sign of no progress, I’d like to offer the flip side. Perhaps maintaining the same sound is a sign of not selling out and staying true to what made you great, which is what Browne did in Looking East. Yet, his masterful songwriting chops offer a wide realm of diversity allowing for minimal repetition, as his catalog showcases his ability to rock, belt out ballads, write self confessing lyrics as well as songs containing social commentary. Browne’s upbeat guitar chords and messages about the power of positive thinking make Looking East some of his best. (Mary Carreon)


Straight Faced
You can’t talk about the golden age of Huntington Beach hardcore without a nod to Straight Faced, a band that bridged the gap between thrash metal and hardcore with smart lyrics that strayed from the typical tough guy bullshit. We put them in the same league as bands like Strife and Into Another, and they also share a sonic kinship with their pals Ignite which is apparent on the ‘96 release Broken released via Fearless Records. Johnny Miller’s fired-up,melodic vocal lines compliment the ferocity of drummer Ron Moeller, guitarists Kevin Grossman and Damon Beard and bassist Samuel Marrs. The stylistic fusion of fury created in this album still makes it one of the greats. (Nate Jackson)

Dystopia/Skaven Split “12
Dystopia were one of the most vicious sludge metal bands OC ever produced. They covered topics ranging from war, depression, racism, suicide, drug addiction, their social commentary on albums like this ‘96 split with Oakland band Skaven is still about as harsh as it gets. It’s hardly just an issue of manufacturing rage for the hell of it. This is some of the most unflinchingly honest metal we’ve ever heard. If you can still find it 20 years later, this release will still send a chill down your spine. (Nate Jackson)

Return Of The Aquabats
Despite the title, Return Of The Aquabats is actually the bands debut album, and it brought a rough personality to ska the genre hadn’t quite seen before. (I mean, with a front man who goes by the name of the Bat Commander and sings for a band full of super heroes, a unique personality should be expected.) With all the elements of the typical ska band exaggerated, Return Of The Aquabats put the band on the map. Although the trumpets are a lot louder and in your face on this album than the band’s later releases and the vocals being a little rough –like when the Bat Commander decides to rap— the Aquabat’s debut made for a character building, rough around the edges album. With intense energy, self-insulting jokes and angst ridden humor, their 34-minute debut record set the tone for the group and carved out a spot for them in OC music history. (Mary Carreon)

Social Distortion

White Light White Heat White Trash
When Social D dropped White Light White Heat White Trash, the entire punk scene caught aflame. It was the freshest version of Social Distortion yet, which shifted the way the band and punk as a whole were thought of forever. With lyrical content ranging from paying homage to grandmothers to the brutality of racism and nationalism, the band’s ability to write about such a wide range of topics showcased their talent as a band—and at the time, it was monumental. In fact, it’s safe to say White Light White Heat White Trash was a milestone in their legacy and punk rock as a whole. (Mary Carreon)

O.C. Supertones
Adventures of the O.C. Supertones
Since the (Immaculate) conception of their first album, The O.C. Supertones mantra has remained simple: Preach the Gospel, reach your heart and ska, ska, ska! Right out of the gate, the Supertones’ sound was third wave ska imbued with equal parts hip-hop and hallelujah spirit. Though they could be a little heavy-handed on the latter, the catchy nature of their songs allowed them to succeed regardless of religion. (Nate Jackson)

James Intveld
James Intveld
If OC ever had a homegrown facsimile of Johnny Depp’s character in Cry Baby, it has to be James Intveld. The timeless songs flush with lost love, jailbird woes and piercing sensuality makes his skill undeniable, not only as a vocalist but as a songwriter. The former leader of the Rockin Shadows offers up a honky-tonk confessional for his debut album, a place to bear his burdens and bad relationships. The goal isn’t as much to whine as it is to reminisce and weave candid tales to make your woman swoon. Ah, Classic Intveld. (Nate Jackson)

The Crowd
Letter Bomb
The Crowd is definitely one of punk’s most underrated bands—hands down. Predating NOFX and the Vandals, the Huntington Beach punkers helped mold the SoCal punk scene since the late ‘70s; and their ’96 release of Letter Bomb highlights the band at their sharpest. What makes it memorable is the fact that it’s not complex. In fact, it’s very simple and forward, as it sprinkles elements of street smarts and cultural events of the late ‘70s, similar to what the British punk rockers brought the scene. Sarcastic philosophy and organized chaos defined Letter Bomb which, more than likely, influenced every OC punk rock band that came after them. (Mary Carreon)

On Thee Path to Thee Golden Bird (cassette only)
We would love to describe what Instagon sounds like based on a single album, but that would be a mistake. As OC’s longest running auditory enigma, Instagon could never ascribe to merely one sound, one lineup or one idea of what it’s supposed to be. Yes, it’s creator and chief bassist Lob has been at the reigns since ’93, but aside from that, chaos and change are the only two major consistencies in their their discography of 40-plus (!) releases. It’s the music of avant jazzers, acid punks, conga tribalists and heavy metal journeymen that is always best served live. To that end On Thee Path to Thee Golden Bird is really nothing but a spec of dust in the hourglass of Instagon’s ever evolving sound. What we’re really trying to say is if you want a copy of this cassette, you’re best bet is to go ask Lob to dig one out of his garage. Otherwise, you ain’t hearing it. 
(Nate Jackson)

Yes, we are unapologetically adding Sublime to this list. Not just because “Garden Grove” is the best song on this seminal album, or the fact that if LBC fans want to visit Brad Nowell’s grave, they have to drive to Westminster. It’s because Sublime’s sound will forever be synonymous with sun-soaked OC beach bum culture in a way that constantly surrounds us in the thousands of rock reggae acts that try (and typically fail) to emulate one of the rawest bands that never got a chance to really get started. Without OC fans supporting the band before, during and after their success, Sublime would never be as popular as they became, a truth that even the members of the band can understand. So shhhhhh! (Nate Jackson)

Sense Field
It’s a shame this list comes just days after the untimely passing of Jon Bunch, who gave Sense Field its trademark melodic punk sound that refused to play by any of its regional or genre-prescribed rules. The Redondo/OC/LA bred band ended up being a staple of the classic set of emo bands to emerge during the ’90s. Even then, the inherent, wide-eyed optimism in the band’s songs still set them apart both on stage and off as they dealt with their nightmare major label deal with Warner Bros. that forced their next batch of recordings that would become Tonight and Forever into purgatory for years before being released. But Building, their final offering on Hunting Beach’s Revelation Records is a snapshot of the band at the peak of their powers. It remains a classic record among emo fans who will now have even more incentive to treasure it. (Nate Jackson)

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