About a two-hour drive from Hollywood (depending on traffic), San Diego doesn't boast the rich musical history of Los Angeles, but if the last two decades are any indication, that might change. From the punked-up rawk 'n' roll of Rocket from the Crypt to the lush soundscapes of the Album Leaf and arena-ready pop-punk of Blink-182, "America's Finest City" has given music geeks a lot to be happy about. Today, in honor of this beatific SoCal burg, Diffuser.fm is taking a look at the 10 Best San Diego Bands.
Rocket from the Crypt
Rising from the ashes of hardcore punk band Pitchfork in 1990, Rocket from the Crypt would go on to become one of the most important acts in San Diego rock history. Meshing elements of garage rock, punk and O.G. rock ‘n’ roll, RFTC arrived on the scene sounding (and looking) like no other band. RFTC’s ‘Circa: Now!’ (1992) and ‘Scream, Dracula, Scream!’ (1995) albums deserve to be held in the same regard as other seminal records from that era.
Drive Like Jehu
Around the same time singer/guitarist John Reis started Rocket from the Crypt, he and his former Pitchfork partner in crime, singer Rick Froberg, began Drive Like Jehu. Rounded out by bassist Mike Kennedy and drummer Mark Trombino, Drive Like Jehu only released two albums – 1991’s ‘Drive Like Jehu’ and 1994’s ‘Yank Crime’ – but their noisy, tension-filled style of songwriting would prove to be essential in the evolution of post-hardcore.
The artistic union of Froberg and Reis has proven to be a potent one. In addition to working together in Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu, the singer/guitarists joined forces in Hot Snakes. Formed in 1999, the combo shared many of the same stylistic traits as Jehu, but Froberg’s singing and lyrics came more clearly into focus. The snakes split up in 2005 but have reunited for sporadic touring and a 2012 performance at the Metallica-curated Orion Music + More festival in Atlantic City, N.J.
Recording under the name Pinback, multi-instrumentalists Zach Smith and Rob Crow create music that is allergic to genre conventions. Since 1998, the duo has created their own musical language, utilizing crystalline guitar and keyboard lines, bouncy rhythms and off-kilter yet instantly memorable vocal melodies, throughout their discography. Often imitated but never topped, Pinback are true indie-pop innovators.
Pop-punk is all about the hooks, and few groups have delivered them better than Blink-182, the next entry in our Best San Diego Bands list. The power trio’s earliest output was OK enough, but it wasn’t until ex-Aquabats drummer Travis Barker entered the fold for 1999’s blockbuster ‘Enema of the State’ album that Blink-182 truly became a pop-punk killing machine. Despite their past image as the clown princes of the San Diego music scene, no one can dispute that when Blink-182 was firing on all cylinders, few other acts of the Warped Tour generation could write songs as irresistible as ‘What’s My Age Again?’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me.’
The problem with many of the groups that fall under the “math rock” umbrella is that they tend to spend way too much time worrying about the technical side of their arrangements, rendering a lot of their material unmemorable. No Knife, next on our list of the 10 Best San Diego Bands, rose above it all, always proving that they knew their way around a tasty melodic vocal or guitar line, no matter how busy their arrangements got. ‘Riot for Romance!’ (2002) should have been garnered the same kind of praise within emo circles the Dismemberment Plan’s ‘Emergency & I’ and Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Clarity’ albums have been showered with throughout the years.
Featuring former members of Some Girls and the Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, Crocodiles marry classic Brill Building songcraft with the bubblegum noise-pop of those early Jesus and Mary Chain records critics on both sides of the pond went mental for in the late ‘80s. Crocodiles enlisted Sune Rose Wagner of the Raveonettes to produce ‘Crimes of Passion,’ their forthcoming fourth studio album. 'Cockroach,' the first track leaked from the album, suggests 'Crimes of Passion' might feature their best material yet.
Heroin only released two 7-inches and a 12-inch EP during their short time together in the early ‘90s, but bands are still aping their style 20 years later. Pioneers of the screamo sound (characterized by short songs featuring blasts of discordant guitars, chaotic rhythmic shifts and screamed vocals), Heroin were massively influential and can be heard in current groups like Touché Amoré and La Dispute.
Initially a bedroom-recording project of teenaged singer/guitarist Nathan Williams in 2008, Wavves have blossomed into a full-fledged international touring outfit. Whereas early Wavves material shared much in common with the lo-fi pop of Times New Viking and Japanther, this year's ‘Afraid of Heights’ album finds Williams and his cohorts firing off Nirvana-like grunge hooks.
The Album Leaf
The Album Leaf is the all-instrumental project lead by former Tristeza guitarist Jimmy LaValle. A gifted songwriter with a masterful command of mood and tension, LaValle creates atmospheric tracks that always have a cinematic quality to them.
What's Your Favorite San Diego Band?
Is our list of the 10 Best San Diego Bands missing your favorite? Holler in the comments -- or better yet, form a band with John Reis and write a song about what idiots we are.