Underrated Albums of the '90s -- Part 4

I started this series to shine a light on some stellar records from the '90s, now that enough time has passed to get some perspective. These are in no order but eventually this will make a great long list. Here are the next five in the series:

16. Los Amigos Invisibles -- The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera (1998)
Regardless of your ability to speak or understand Spanish, you can't help but dance and sing along with this deeply funky and charmingly cheeky ode to the disco lifestyle. The production and performances are clean and lean, and the music is full of grooving bass lines, vintage keyboards, chicken scratch guitar and gang vocals that will amp up the party whenever played. The cool grooves and tight rhythms on songs like "Ultra Funk", "Sexy" and "Cachete a Cachete" are balanced by the cool Latin lounge influence on songs like "Aldemaro en su Camaro" and "Mango Cool," making for a superb funky party soundtrack and a hell of a live show. This sophomore album perfectly encapsulated the vibe of the band and set the stage for their next record Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey into Space, which won a Latin Grammy, a feat they would repeat with 2009's Commercial. Regardless of their current and future success, Los Amigos Invisibles dropped a masterful funk record in 1998 that still holds up today and is worth your discovering. www.amigosinvisibles.com

17. Stress -- Stress (1991)
Oh what a shame this record is virtually unknown and the band has disappeared. When UK's Stress was released by Reprise/Warner Bros Records in 1991, it made barely a splash and fell off the radar pretty quickly. The music was quite similar to Lenny Kravitz, who they opened for on the Mama Said tour, but despite the trio's Beatle-tinged songwriting and bohemian wardrobe, they somehow missed finding a similar audience. But the album itself is still satisfying, from the Kravitz-like opener "Indian Summer's Dream" to the epic percussion-frosted closer "Red Sun," with some classic rock/pop songs in between. Listen to the lovely "My Father Once Said" and the funkier "Beautiful People" and you'll hear a band who had a lot more potential than one album. Though singer Wayne Binitie and drummer Ian Mussington went on to record an album in 1997 under the name Inqbator (and Mussington played drums for Soul Asylum for a few years after that), the Stress record is a cool lost gem worth digging around for. Find and enjoy!

18. Sugartooth -- The Sounds of Solid (1997)

Listening to this record, one can see how it slipped through the cracks back in 1997. It didn't follow any trends or sound like anything on the radio and it didn't even sound exactly like Sugartooth's self-titled 1994 debut, which yielded the minor alternative hit "Sold My Fortune." But The Sounds of Solid was (and is) a really cool alternative rock record that pushed boundaries in its own way. Kick ass guitar work, wicked drums, clean production and tones, sometimes oddly reminiscent of an alt-rock Led Zeppelin. It's hard to explain what kind of music this is~ kind of heavy like a funkier Helmet ("Club Foot"), some drumming that feels like it's imitating electronic beats and loops ("Booty Street"), odd time signatures ("Spiral") and strange instrumentals that cause air drumming ("Harajuana"). Maybe it was the lack of a single, but this album's relative obscurity is no good~ if you dig 90's post-grunge alt-rock (or just love cool rock music) this should be on your playlist pronto.

19. Alice in Chains -- Sap (EP) (1992)

This mostly acoustic EP was released between Alice in Chains first two albums and it still remains one of the coolest things they did. It set the precedent for Jar of Flies, which came out in 1994 after their second "heavy" record Dirt. This more introspective and dare I say mellow side of the band really showcased late singer Layne Staley's deep register and mined a different side of his emotions. There are only a few songs and it's really the first four that matter. The opening song "Brother" is a gorgeous acoustic tune that features a striking harmony from Heart's Ann Wilson. The more upbeat "Got Me Wrong" has a really strong dual vocal from Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell. Staley's creepy baritone permeates "Right Turn" and is eventually joined by Chris Cornell's counter-vocal over a rollicking ending. Finally comes the woozy "Am I Inside" featuring Wilson's powerful harmonies on some unsettling melodies. As grunge rolled in to our consciousness, this dark gem snuck in amidst the feedback and riffing, setting it's own little zone for a respite amidst the rock carnage. www.aliceinchains.com

20. Saigon Kick -- Saigon Kick (1991)

There were a select group of rock bands that appeared between Jane's Addiction's debut release in August of 1988 and Nirvana's Nevermind in September of 1991 who didn't fit in the Ratt/Poison school of metal but got swept up in the mass exodus from Hair Metal to Grunge. South Florida's Saigon Kick is one of them, a band whose only transgression was a ubiquitous power ballad; in this case, their Top Ten hit "Love is On the Way." As lovely as that song was, it in no way represented the bands sound, which more reflected alternative bands like Jane's Addiction and Mother Love Bone rather than Motley Crue and Bon Jovi. The band got signed in 1990 to Atlantic Records and put out two classic records (also check out 1992's The Lizard) before breaking up. Their first record was their transition from top local band to national and it has some truly heavy moments. Overall, their sound has a mystic vibe stemming from the shamanistic vocals of Matt Kramer, whose harmonies with lead guitarist Jason Bieler really elevated the well-crafted melodies and hooks. Right from the epic first track "New World" the band unleashes it's own style, flowing the trippy intro music into drummer Phil Varone's tribal beat and Bieler's huge guitar riffs. Veering from U2 territory ("Love of God") to mosh pit metal ("What Do You Do") to Beatlesque pop ("My Life") the band created a unique blend of rock and roll and really brought it live. I know because my first gig was playing offstage keyboards for the band on The Lizard tour, which was a truly life-changing experience. And lucky for you, after 20 years apart, the band has just reunited for some dates across the States so you can go check them out in LA, Vegas and NYC! If you're a fan of rock and roll, highly recommended on every level both live and on record. Get tour dates and more info at www.saigonkick.com

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series and feel free to comment on these albums or your own personal faves from the era! Part five coming soon...